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Inspiring Conversations with Chris Everett of Everwood Farmstead Foundation

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Everett.

Hi Chris, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
In 2010, my husband Bill and I lived in the North Loop, working and living downtown Minneapolis. We were craving a retreat close to nature out of the city. While MN has a strong lake cabin culture, we wanted land and space.

We started looking in Pepin, WI, and followed the Driftless area north. After a year of searching and a few rejected offers, we discovered a century dairy farm in Glenwood City, WI. The real estate photos weren’t compelling, but there was a picture of a gorgeous, tact barn that we wanted to stop and witness. The moment we drove onto the property, the place sparked something in us. We surprised ourselves by buying this 57-acre farm with around 8 buildings. The barn, it turns out, was built around 1914 and is made out of California redwood. It is an exquisite, church-like space.

After spending our first winter renovating the farmhouse inside, we shifted to the grounds and barn in the spring. After shoveling significant amounts of pigeon droppings and repairing portions of the floor, we felt the barn was speaking to us. We were dreaming about long tables and dinner gatherings. Maybe music. Something around building community. The following spring, we hosted an arts event for about 40 people, half local and half driving in from the Twin Cities. (We’re only an hour away from Minneapolis) Over the four days before the event, we hosted director Peter Rothstein, actress Sally Wingert, composer Arron Gabriel, and poet Patricia Kirkpatrick. They wrote stories, poems, songs, and a house blessing hymn inspired by their time on the land. The presentation on the final evening was moving for everyone. We were only made more magical by the field of fireflies that greeted us afterward.

That inspired us to continue to experiment and prototype. We formalized an arts non-profit two years later called Everwood Farmstead Foundation. Our focus is on the artists’ experience. We believe it’s good for everyone when our artists are happy, healthy, and nurtured. Ultimately, we hope that these evenings in the barn help remind us what community feels like and helps heal the rifts that separate us.

Our mission is to host inspiring spaces where artists can perform, teach and work in a natural environment.

The “perform” part is our Artist Series. We host 5 performances a year representing all art forms—from bands to opera to theater, dance, and spoken word. We’ve had some extraordinary artists join us, including Chastity Brown, Rogue Valley, Bad Bad Hats, Jeremy Messersmith and the Laurels String Quartet, Ten Thousand Things, Theater Latté Da, Kevin Kling, and many others. All performances are pay-what-you-can, and half the proceeds go to local school art teachers who apply for an Aspiring Artist Fund grant. We have donated almost $38,000 to local schools over the last 10 years.

The “teach” part is our Artist Workshops. We host small groups, both aspiring and professional, to spend a day on the farm building skills. Last year, Kao Kalia Yang taught a Memoir writing workshop, and Coco Connolly taught Watercolor for Beginners. Sandy Spieler from Heart of the Beast taught a deer mask-making workshop for kids. This June, our first workshop was hosted by James Beard-nominated chef Alan Bergo who took everyone foraging on our land and then cooked for us in the afternoon.

The “work” part is our Artis Retreat. This year we will host 27 artists on-site, 1-2 at a time, 1-2 weeks at a time, from all over the country. Over the years, the disciplines represent just about every art form, from songwriting to orchestral composition, to choreography, sculpture, video installation, puppetry, writing, theater, and painting. We’ve been fortunate to present three world-premiere pieces and performances for artists after the Retreat. Our Retreat is unique because we don’t require any payment to attend and don’t require proof of work at the end. Artists have many beautiful spaces to work in, including the barn and many trails to explore so they can experience the land. We interview each artist as they are wrapping up their time for our podcast “Conversations from the Barn,” which started during the pandemic in 2020.

2022 is our 10th anniversary! Our audience members and artists are sharing some beautiful stories about their experiences at Everwood over the years. This year, we created an intern role for folks interested in arts administration. They live on-site with us this summer and are getting a peek behind the curtain on running an art Foundation. We hope this will help launch more mission-centered, arts-focused organizations into the world.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
While we have been on numerous arts boards over the years, we had never run our own non-profit and had to figure it out as we went. We’ve been patient and methodical in building the Foundation and launching new pursuits over the years. We needed to give each new piece the time and space it needed to be right. We were clear on our mission from the beginning, and it helped guild all of our decision-making.

The first of two struggles is that we both had two full-time jobs while we were renovating and restoring the property and launching a Foundation. Our slowness ensured we were doing it strategically, but we had to consider health, sustainability, and bandwidth. We spent the first 10 years with many supporters, volunteers, and a strong board but no staff. We are still a founder-run organization. This year’s introduction of an intern has been a huge step for us.

The second struggle has been building up consistent funding to pay the artists what they’re worth. It’s been important to offer pay-what-you-can tickets so that everyone can attend. So, we are deeply grateful that the inspired donors have made all the difference in helping us fund the artists and our local art teachers.

How do you define success?
• Artists having supportive and nurturing experiences at the farm.
• Artists and art teachers being compensated well.
• The arts community around the country is becoming stronger and more woven together.
• Our urban and rural audience communities remember what community, neighbor, and friend feel like and that these experiences build new bridges to empathy and understanding—we want to be the antidote to ‘othering.’

Pricing:

  • All Artist Series performances are pay-what-you-can
  • Workshop prices are based on discipline and tools

Contact Info:

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