DAYTON — At a concert-style event at the Gallery on Main in Dayton Oct. 3, a packed room of Dayton community members listened to Jenner Fox tell the stories behind his folk songs — one song was a light-hearted ode to Gatorade, while others were nostalgic songs honoring the people Fox has met throughout his life.
Fox came to Dayton from Bend, Oregon, for the new Tongue River Artist Residency to dedicate his time to making music based on people’s stories. Fox and his collaborator, Natalie Akers, attended community events, played at local schools and wrote songs based on stories they encountered during the residency.
Akers said the best part about being Fox’s collaborator is helping good ideas to come to life. She played piano, kazoo and sang at the event Oct. 3 while Fox sang, played guitar and played banjo for the first time on stage.
They developed a song during the residency called “Alice,” based on a presentation by Sheridan County Deputy Boot Hill Sept. 24 about ALICE protocols in local schools. Fox said his songwriting process combines a bit of journalism and art.
Doug Gouge and Jeanette Schubert started inviting artists out to the converted trailer on their property bordering the Tongue River for an artist residency this fall, expecting only one or two to be interested. So far, they have hosted six artists including Fox and Akers.
The Tongue River Artist Residency provides a living and studio working space in Dayton, where artists can develop their work embedded in the natural beauty of the West, according to its website.
“To truly have a space and nothing on the agenda but creating is really unique and special,” Fox said at the artist studio Oct. 1.
Gouge and Schubert wanted to create something to support art, artists and the Dayton community through the residency, Gouge said. They are in the process of working out some details and adjusting their expectations as they go along. Schubert said this first season exceeded their expectations.
“I think we would like to bring some diversity to the arts scene more than just have local artists,” Gouge said. Local artists are important but they already have access to the Tongue River space, Schubert said.
Both have seen a broad variety of art created by artist residents from out of state who are experiencing northern Wyoming for the first time, including writers, visual artists and musicians.
The input offered by the natural environment in the Tongue River area creates great art, Schubert said.
Schubert was born in a big city in Germany and lived in Pittsburgh for many years — she misses the diversity of those urban areas and hopes to bring more diversity to the Dayton community through the artist residency gradually.
“For me, as a visual person coming here, it is so amazingly inspiring,” she said.
Schubert and Gouge used this fall season as a test to see how well the residency would be received and artists seem to like it so far, Gouge said. Next year, they are opening the residency from June through October with about one artist per month. Each artist can stay for two to four weeks and bring a pet or partner/collaborator.
Schubert said the residency has already proven to live up to her goals of enriching the community through the arts, bringing different perspectives and inspiring both visiting artists and established local artists.
“We don’t know who’s going to be next and where they’re going to be from and what they’re bringing in,” Schubert said. “It’s almost like bringing — it could be the world, not just the country — impressions to Dayton.”
Gouge said he has been inspired by the artists who have come through the residency and hopes that inspiration spreads throughout the community. Ultimately, art enriches people’s lives, he said.
Artists have the freedom to create and develop new ideas at the residency, perhaps changing their life or simply enjoying their time, Gouge said. Their goal is to make the program accessible to all types of artists and remain open to the results.
Schubert said one of her goals is to create opportunity for people that hasn’t existed before. The cliché that the arts can cross barriers is true, she said.