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Gavin's Underground

Element 11

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2010-06-09 -

For those of you who like all the principals and excitement of the Burning Man Festival, but hate the drive to the middle of nowhere in Nevada, fear not! We have our own in the west desert.  Element 11 takes the creatively artistic aspects of our locale, meshes them with the communal values as well as radical self-responsibility of the major festival to the west, and encourages participation on all levels for an entertaining and enlightening weekend. Starting tomorrow for four straight days the impromptu community will have several displays and showcases for wouldbe campers and visitors to take part in, all in hopes of promoting creative expression and celebrating our unique cultural diversity. Before hand I got a chance to chat with one of the minds behind the Utah Arts Alliance and one of the planners behind this year's events, Terra Cronshey, about the UAA and the event itself, plus her thoughts on the local art scene and a few other topics. All with photos of prior E11 events for you to check out. (Photos and other material via Kallisti Dawn, Derek Dyer & Brett Colvin)

Terra Cronshey
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http://www.element11.org/

Gavin: Hey Terra! First off, tell us a little about yourself.

Terra: I’m from Utah and live now with my kids, Rosi & Sam, and one cat, Chino. We reside on the West side of Salt Lake in Glendale. I see who I am as best understood by what I do… so I’ll tell you a little about that. I work as a volunteer for Utah Arts Alliance, assisting with their program development and also working as one of the primary organizers of the annual Element 11 Festival, where the focus is on extreme creativity – turning everything into an artful experience and, of course, using fire as an artistic, catalytic medium. I’ve also volunteered with Burning Man for the past two years, taking a few shifts in the Box Office and organizing a large camp focused on the Art of Sound. With UtahFM, an internet based community radio station, I serve on the Board and host a weekly show called Vox Humanus (that’s the Human Voice) every Thursday, 6-9PM (right after Drive Time with Bill Boyd and just prior to Pacific Eye)… I’m also interested in sustainable, localized, community focused "progressive" movements. I think when we’re all focused on what’s happening within our local communities, our actions will naturally be in the direction of what’s best for the global picture. I’m helping out with an event over the summer as part of a group called the Salt Desert Collective that focus on multiple renewable energy options, connecting local economies with local farmers and food, understanding how you can take immediate and simple actions to promote the ideas you believe in (like, where and how to get solar panels, or what it takes to convert your motor home so it runs on bio-diesel, etc.). I’m also just about to start a full-time position with SpyHop. I’ll be using my professional background in administration to support their mission – providing Youth with education and experience in new media and multi-media arts. I’m really excited to start working with them.
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Gavin: How did you take an interest in art and what were some early influences on you?

Terra: I’ve always had a sense that words can only approximate meaning – sometimes very closely, but still just as symbols, ideas or representations. So, growing up, I would try to invent my own language or means of communication by drawing out the idea as it seemed to me, in abstract symbols. Drawing out how something works, like the structure of a molecule, has always helped it to make sense to me. I took ballet for several years when I was very young, which taught me expression through body movement; and learned to play the flute and alto saxophone giving me the ability to express through musical tones and tempo. In high school I was more interested in creative writing and philosophy. I was raised with the sense that art and humanities are important parts of everything we know and understand. My mother and grandmother are both educators who integrate art and creativity as part of the learning process, whatever the subject, I guess they were my earliest influences. They both seem to believe that art transcends social boundaries – speaking more broadly to the human experience. The artists I’m into now are all living – Mark Ryden who does fantastic portraits of Abe Lincoln, Snow Yetti’s and Meat. Alex Grey who illuminates the human form in a radiant, while detailed, fashion. I couldn’t put Sacred Mirrors down and once I’d seen it. I bought a copy and committed myself to visiting the Chapel Of Sacred Mirrors (or C.O.S.M.) exhibit in New York if I ever had the chance. Due to a strange shape of events, I found myself standing before the mirrors, in New York, within a year of that commitment. I’m also into the art and music of Xkot Toxsik and the Godstar Experience - Xkot’s art is precise and inspiring and his work with the musical project called The Godstar Experience hits all the right points for me – localized, good music that I love to sing along with while dancing in my living room… they exemplify taking the creative process fully out – costumes, personas, story lines – all with good music! It’s so creative, I love it!
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Gavin: You went to Mountain West College and got your Associates degree. Why did you choose MWC and what was their program like for you?

Terra: It was a quick program to get an Associates Degree as a Paralegal. While there I interned with the Attorney General’s office. I also received the NALA Certification (on my own, not through the program). I wanted to go into legal research, spend my days in libraries really learning the legal system and laws that govern our modern life. I spent a few years working as a Paralegal, assisting attorneys but not researching. My career path veered West when I moved to Reno, NV in 2002 and got a job working in office administration for a local TV station.
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Gavin: What personally drew you toward more illustration and design work?

Terra: I guess it kind of started with my job at the TV station – I learned to work with Illustrator and Photoshop creating informational "one sheets" to help dress up statistics and spread sheets about programs we were airing at the time. I found that I had a knack for creating sheets that were attractive and attention getting. As a mother from Utah, I am also into scrapbooking – graphic design is definitely a component here. I love to create interesting pages that tell about my family’s adventures. I also have a dream journal – which is kind of like a scrapbook – only with drawings, paintings and collage work in place of pictures. When I started volunteering with Utah Arts Alliance to organize parties and fundraisers for Element 11, I got back into creating fliers. I take some piece or part of a drawing, stencil or painting I’ve made, manipulate the image digitally, and use it as a background or accessory.
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Gavin: What's the process usually like for you in designing your works, and how do you pick who to work with in making the concept bigger?

Terra: I start out with a vision, dream or idea and then put it into words, draw a picture or create some representation of it – maybe a paper model or something involving popsicle sticks and glue. In the case of something bigger than me, I usually just put the idea out there and see if anyone’s interested. From there, the creative process becomes a collaborative process. I enjoy working with others to create something useful and inspiring. The Center That Is Everywhere is a good example of a collaborative project. It’s a 16 ft tall Octagonal shaped shade structure that spans 68 feet in circumference when fully unfurled. Mark Sumrall, Jared "The InventGeek" and my friend Kevin all contributed to the structure’s design. It’s community owned, belonging to “Utah Arts Alliance dba Element 11”. I helped with the concept for the design, raised funds and resources to build it and made sure the build was completed. Mark, Jared and Kevin all worked on the fabrication (read: welding). It’s been used a few times since it was built last year and will be part of the set up at Element 11 this year.
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Gavin: When did you originally become involved with the Utah Arts Alliance and what do you do for it now?

Terra: I started working as a volunteer (and am still a volunteer) with Utah Arts Alliance in 2008. At that time, Element 11 was working on getting formally organized and Utah Arts Alliance was where we held our meetings every month. From 2008 to 2009, I worked with three other primary organizers, and consulted heavily with our community at large (through meetings, emails and phone calls) to create Element 11 as a "dba" of Utah Arts Alliance. So we are now "Utah Arts Alliance dba Element 11". I handle the Administrative side of things for the Element 11 Event (insurance, permits, etc.). Aside from that, I work with Utah Arts Alliance to organize fundraisers in support of Utah’s Fire Arts community (that’s how we raised the production funds for creating Element 11 in 2009). I also helped develop the Youth Arts of Utah program by working on the grant that gathered some seed funds.
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Gavin: You've also taken part in other groups like forming UtahFM, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, even working with Sundance. What pushes you to take part in so many community-related organizations?

Terra: There’s something gratifying to me about the combined efforts of many people coming together for one cause, purpose or idea. Finding that point of common-unity is really something of interest to me. Working as a volunteer or in a paid position for a non-profit is like asking yourself – if you were retired right now, what would you be doing? Where is your passion? Then, take that passion and channel it into your daily life. I don’t expect to ever make a six-figure salary (paid positions with non-profits usually involve wearing many hats, doing several jobs or parts of several jobs). I’m much more motivated to work for my passions throughout my life. Communities arise around these things. That’s part of what’s so great about getting invested in what I’m passionate about – I find others who share that passion and we work together in support of it.
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Gavin: How did the idea for Element 11 come about?

Terra: I can only answer this question as "the story goes". I mean, aside from telling you again about how the "dba" was formed in 2008… The best place to learn the history of Element 11 is probably through the History link on our website. Basically, it started small (in the 90’s) as a group of friends who had been to Burning Man, shared a few back yard BBQ moments and one year decided to go camping together in the desert of Utah. I was invited to this camp-out by a friend in 2002, the first year at Sea Base. It was called something else then instead of E11. That year, I was purely a spectator. There was a state-wide fire restriction so fire was not allowed. My first "burn" event and there was no fire… the effigy was made of glow sticks – rather than burn, they just grew dimmer through the night. I remember it being cold, dark and full of LED lights (I think it even rained a little). If there was music, it was played on a boom box or out of someone’s car and everyone was in some kind of costume. I loved it. I didn’t attend again until 2007. For every year 2002 through 2007, I created something and sent it with friends to Element 11 or Burning Man to be added to the fire. In 2007, when I came back to Element 11, the event was larger and fire was permitted. I was so inspired by the art, creativity, the fire performers and release that occurs through intentionally burning something you’ve created, I immediately dove in, adding my hand to help create this incredible community experience. Every year will fill the horizon with incredible art and every year we leave with a new, empty horizon to be filled again next year. As for the history of "Utah Arts Alliance dba Element 11", I mentioned this a little earlier… in 2008 the community was ready to formally organize Element 11. It had just simply grown beyond a few friends gathering. Utah Arts Alliance had been allowing us to use their studio space for monthly planning meetings and it came up that we could possibly organize as a dba under Utah Arts Alliance. We discussed it from the perspective of whether to form as a non-profit or for profit entity. Derek (Executive Director of UAA) suggested that we could test the waters by organizing as a dba under UAA and operate as a non-profit. That made sense to us, so we went for it. The "dba" is now run by myself and two other Regional representatives of Burning Man in Utah, with Derek assisting and helping with our accounting.
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Gavin: When planning, how much did Burning Man serve as a template, and what did you do to make it unique?

Terra: We follow the Ten Principles of Burning Man and fit them to meet the culture and communities of Utah. How we manage to do this is best understood by looking at all of our events held throughout a year. For example, the Element 11 Festival at Sea Base in June is limited to Adults only (maybe not so ‘radically inclusive’), but we hold other smaller events during the year that are ‘Family Friendly’ – such as the pancake breakfast fundraiser we held last summer. We also don’t allow vending at the Element 11 Festival, but have allowed local artists to vend at other street fairs, parties and fundraisers held during the year.You can find updates about all of our events on our website
. Or read the Ten Principles of Burning Man. I recommend taking any one or more of the Ten Principles and applying it to your life for a day or a week. See what happens when you approach the world as a radically self-reliant, radically self-expressive, decommodified participant who’s deeply interested in community and social responsibility and also respects the environment and makes a direct effort to have a minimal impact – going so far as to carry an Altoids tin for disposal of small trash such as gum wrappers and cigarette butts (smokers, you should not throw your butts on the streets – put them in trash cans)…
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Gavin: Considering all the locations across the state, why did you choose the Bonneville Seabase for the recent years?

Terra: We have an existing relationship and friendship with the owners of Sea Base and have been working with the County to permit this event for several years. So it’s nice to work with those established relationships. We’re making crazy, sometimes burnable art in the desert – it’s fascinating and fantastic to take part in this process, but it does take a lot of planning and preparation to make it happen in the most resourceful, clean, quick and traceless way possible. Being "only" a 40 minute drive West of Salt Lake City, it’s close which makes transporting art projects and theme camps both to and from the event easier this encourages participation which is, of course, always a good thing.
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Gavin: What's the process like for UAA in choosing artists and performers who will be on hand?

Terra: This is a community-produced event. We put out the call and generally accept whoever answers it. From that point, all of our work as organizers goes into figuring out how we can best support the members of our community who are bringing their art to share with the rest of us as a gift. We offer support in the form of small grants and volunteer staff who assist with transportation, placement and set up of camps and projects, etc. Everyone is expected to be radically self-reliant – bringing everything they need to set up, light up and clean up. Everyone is also expected to participate and work inside the community mind set. More than accepting the gift of this experience, take part in it – and help out as you can. We do have a few rules – like you have to register with us if you expect to burn anything and we limit what can be burned (no poly-fabrics, etc.). For more information email
utah@burningman.com.
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Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start doing themed camps with people staying the entire festival, and how has it worked out with the other plans going on?

Terra: A Theme camp can be 1 person up to 400 people or more. The idea is that you carry a theme through your costume, bike or other "mutant vehicle", decorating your surroundings and creating a sense of being truly immersed in the theme – pick up one idea or theme and enact it in every way around your camp. At Element 11 we have around ten or more theme camps including Bass Camp, Pineapples, Banana Trample, Sin City, The Oasis of Transformation, Meadful Things, Smile Camp, Aneurythmic, Cyberian Electric Company, NoCostCo, Greeters Camp and a few others… the overall theme for this year is BiZaarE-E11 – like a cultural Bazaar and also like a Bizarre trait on an animal, such as a white stripe on a finch, etc. We choose the theme through a sort of complicated process of elimination – first taking all suggestions, then holding votes that narrow it down to the top ten, top three and finally, the top one – which becomes the theme. This all happens in the early part of the year.
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Gavin: Something I've noticed is that you've taken Art Grant proposals for displays. How does that work out and who do you have on board this year in that area?

Terra: One of our primary goals is to support the artists who create and produce our event. Last year our art grant fund was $1,500 – in total. We gave out small grants of no more than $300. This year, we were able to award $5,500 in art grant funds. The applications were reviewed by a grant committee. Derek Dyer, Mark Sumrall, Wendy Christensen and Pam Stevens all volunteered there time to review the applications and then decided how to award the funds. This small amount was used to support 26 separate art projects. If we had been able to fully fund every grant request, we would have awarded around $10,000 (and yes, we are always accepting donations in kind or other wise for our art grants – please email
terra@utaharts.org for details). Part of the creative challenge is to be resourceful and inventive. Seek out materials that can be re-purposed and recycled as much as possible.
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Gavin: I know this is a big question, but without giving away major details, what can people expect to see at this year's event?

Terra: Art – all over the place, everywhere you look. The 26 projects we funded to not represent everything that will be out there. We have six small burn projects and one large burn. The sound camps (including Bass Camp and The Oasis of Transformation) will be making art you can hear and feel through vibration. There’s a giant white elephant, a banana sculpture that can’t be missed, a phoenix for the flames, a nuclear reactor / watering hole for the cybernetic minded, some wild fun from the Vegas crew, and lots and lots of light-inspired art. The Oasis of Transformation will also have mid-morning yoga and various workshops throughout the day (Friday and Saturday). This is only maybe 30% of what’s out there – expectations are difficult to create or hold for an event like this. One thing you won’t see, trash on the ground. And if you do see it, please pick it up and put it where it belongs. We strongly discourage M.O.O.P. (Matter Out Of Place).
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Gavin: As of right now are you looking for any volunteers? And if so what can they do to help?

Terra: Element 11 is a community produced volunteer driven event. We start working to create this event usually in late January. We have smaller art events, fundraisers and such, that happen throughout the year and can always use volunteers help in creating the art and just generally organizing these events. If you’re interested there is a way for you to participate. Email
utah@burningman.com for more info on how you can get involved. Our Leave No Trace crew and educators, also know as the Elemental Sentry, are always happy to add a voice to the chorus. There are no trash cans at Element 11 and participants must pack out all of their trash and leave the ground as they found it – erase all trace of their camping "footprint". The Elemental Sentry works to educate participants in how they can best accomplish this. Here are some helpful suggestions: Don’t let it hit the ground – pocket your trash in small bags or Altoids tins and throw it away properly. Don’t bring it with you – no need to take the box your toothpaste came in camping with you – you’re just going to have to pack it out. Bring trash bags and be prepared to pack your trash out with you. We also have volunteers with medical backgrounds who volunteer with Med Tent. Volunteers known as DPW (or Department of Public Works) for set up and take down on the "big stuff" (there’s always big stuff). Assistance at Gate is always welcome – someone who can work Box Office, knows how to scan tickets and check ID’s. Greeters welcome you and give you the run down. Placers let you know where to set up and camp. There are so many ways for a person to volunteer – these are just a few.
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Gavin: Moving into local art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Terra: Anytime someone from out of town writes to me with a question of where they might go to get a sense of art in Utah, I direct them first to Gilgal Gardens. The local legends and myths that have generated around that sculptural garden of folk art are something that I really appreciate as a part of our culture. I also love to take my kids to visit the Salt Lake Arts Center – we saw a 337 exhibit (all local artists from The 337 Project) well over two years ago that my son still talks about. Of course, I also recommend the Utah Arts Alliance Gallery on 127 South Main. Admission to all three of these is always free. It seems to me that anytime you enter an art space in Utah, you show that support the arts. If I had anything bad to say about the scene, it’s that we don’t have enough spontaneous, "guerrilla art" – but then I remember the Zombie Walk… and say – "really, art is everywhere." Creativity is a part of everything we see. It takes all kinds of social, architectural vision to see "downtown rising." Think of the art of Andy Goldsworthy, or the photography of Tom Till, nature is the highest creative form and Utah is filled with images inspired by the nature we live within.
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Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Terra: This is an interesting question. I’ve been working with some friends, dreaming up a way to develop more living art spaces in Salt Lake City. I’d also like to see more information about public art commissions. A lot of times they happen, but not everyone knows that they are out there or what the application process is like. And of course, community action. A lot of artists in Utah work alone or in small groups. When collaboratives come out, they produce truly great work. I’m thinking of Uprok’s wall which was painted by several artists at 3VE this year… I wasn’t involved in it, but I saw it and it was great. And, of course, Element 11 – where 26 different projects supported by 200 volunteers will be on display – ready to be felt, heard, seen, sometimes tasted and always experienced by 700 participants.
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Gavin: What is your take on Gallery Stroll and what it does for the art community?

Terra: I think Gallery Stroll has worked to get people into Salt Lake and into the places where art can be found, which is a good thing. It’s also a well known, regularly scheduled art event that’s been happening in Utah for a good number of years now. I wish there were more interactive or performance related art happening – in which case I guess I should make something interactive for the Stroll. What’s the point in wishing, better off to do...
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Gavin: Aside from Element 11, what can we expect from you and the UAA the rest of the year?

Terra: There’s a great body paint show up right now at the Utah Arts Alliance Gallery on 127 S Main Street – it’s creative photography by Renee & Todd (Ren & Bella Ora Studios). There’s also an exhibit up through June in the small room (also at the Gallery on Main) all art done by kids in the Youth Arts program – from the introduction to art class taught by Russ Lyman. In July I’ll be participating as part of a community art show also at UAA, art done by local artists inspired by Element 11 and Burning Man, sure to be interactive and fun. Later in July I’ll be volunteer-instructing a broadcasting class for youth as part of the UAA YAU! (Youth Arts of Utah) program – it’s just two days but it should be fun. I’m sure Music Garage will have a number of concerts – they just got home from a gig with the SolLune at Desert Rocks. Definitely keep an eye on UtahArts.org for what’s happening and for information on enrollment in the Youth Arts of Utah programs.
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Gavin: Besides the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Terra: Well, I know that in the coming months there will be some interesting works and events coming out of the Salt Desert Collective – a new combination of artists and producers in town. Other than that, I’d say check out the show at UAA in July and watch our websites for other events happening in town.

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