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Deaf artists coming to Tower View

Cynthia Weitzel is making plans for the arrival of five artists from the deaf community for a June residency in Red Wing. She is also immersed in creating a wall mural for the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul that illustrates how educational “ingredients” go through a Willie Wonka-inspired machine to reach children. (Photo by Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor)

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

Artists from the deaf community will travel from across the country to the Anderson Center in June to participate in the first ever Deaf Artists Residency Program.

“This is something that deaf artists have dreamed about and talked about for a long time,” said Cynthia Weitzel, a year-round studio artist at Tower View who also is a member of the deaf community.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Anderson Center a $10,000 grant to host five deaf American artists as part of its residency program. Individuals whose native or adoptive language is American Sign Language will be in residence throughout the month.

They include Antoine Hunter, a dancer, and Bex Freund, a graphic novelist, both from California; Raymond Luczak, a poet/playwright from Minneapolis; Jeremy Quiroga, a sculptor from Seattle; and Rachel Mazique, a scholar in the field of deaf literature from Austin, Texas.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a center like ours will devote an entire residency period to artists of the deaf culture,” said Robert Hedin, Anderson Center director. “Deaf artists rarely apply for residencies at artist communities.”

Weitzel said her three years as a resident artist at the Tower View campus was a big help in explaining in the grant application how the residency month will benefit artists from the deaf community.

The grant proposal was submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts in spring of 2013.

Later in the year they received word of the $10,000 award, which will cover basic residency costs including a month’s room and board, individual workspace and a small stipend for the five artists.

Word was put out in the deaf community across the nation.

“We had a strong response, and a very competitive application process,” Weitzel said. “We are very pleased by the final five chosen.”

Weitzel, who was invited to be part of the review panel making those selections, described the group as “an amazing, diverse mix of deaf artists of various disciplines.

“It’s something that doesn’t happen every day. The entire deaf art world is excited about this. All eyes are on the Anderson Center.”

Weitzel, a visual artist, played a critical role in carrying out the project, Hedin noted.

“Cynthia’s vision, tenacity and passion were instrumental in the process, and clearly demonstrate her devotion to the human, linguistic and cultural rights of all citizens,” he said.

Selection criteria were the same as those used to select artists for other residency months, Weitzel said. The individuals will spend the month working on their particular creative ventures.

For this first residency, participation was limited to artists in the United States, but she would like to see it continue, and expand.

“We had many inquiries from countries including Japan, China, France, South Africa, Canada, England, Russia,” she said.

Although the NEA grant funds the basics, it is not enough to cover some unique costs associated with accessibility, Weitzel said. She has been looking for additional support for such things as interpreters who will be needed at times.

Another item needed is visual alerting equipment to use in the Tower View residence where the artists will live for the month. Because they cannot hear alarms or knockers, the plans call for temporary strobe light flashers and other items.

Weitzel is approaching the city and some local nonprofits about helping to acquire equipment that could be made available to other sites or groups on a loan basis after the residency month.

While the artists are in Red Wing, they will participate in two community service activities.

In mid-June, they will appear at the Society for Disability Studies’ 27th annual meeting, which just happens to be in Minneapolis this year. The group will speak on the value and significance of this first-time opportunity.

At some point during the month, the Minnesota Deaf Senior Citizens organization will come to Red Wing and the Anderson Center for their annual field trip.

Red Wing will have an opportunity to meet the artists at a public event and reception from 7 to 9 p.m. June 26 at Tower View.

People also will have a chance to follow along on Facebook as the visiting artists explore the residency experience, Weitzel said. She has established a Facebook page at

“It’s going to be one of the more special months we’ve had at the Anderson Center in our 19 years,” Hedin said.

“Art, as we all know, speaks a universal language, but there remain many natural barriers between visual and spoken languages. In our ongoing attempts to make the Anderson Center as diverse as possible, I couldn’t be more pleased to break some of these barriers down.”

For more information call the Anderson Center at 651-388-2009.