The following notice was sent to all applicants for 2016 residency on Rabbit Island. Recently we have fielded a few emails from artists asking for confirmation of receipt of application. If you applied and did not receive this email, please contact us. 

Thank you for applying to be a resident on Rabbit Island in 2016.

The selection committee has begun the application review process. On Friday, October 16th, we will notify approximately 10 proposals (individual artists and/or collaborative group applications) of “shortlisted” status. Applications not shortlisted will also receive notice on that day informing them of such.

In late October these shortlisted proposals will be scheduled for 30 minute online interviews to further discuss programatic and logistical considerations. Finally, in early November, approximately 4 proposals will be awarded residencies for 2016. Any variation in final number will be based on the number of artists per accepted proposal, our program budget limitations, and the intrinsic sensitivity of the island environment. We will award as many residencies as realistically possible, and will do so in good faith.

This year we received 177 applications from 31 countries. The scope of the applications reflects an amazing variety of ideas related to contemporary social practice, environmental science, global culture, land use, and vivid artistic vision. Now more than ever we are convinced of the fundamental need for the re-evaluation of the place of the artist relative to the wider environmental concept.

We also remind you that your application fee will be used specifically by the Rabbit Island Foundation to support next year’s artists and is fully tax deductible in the United States.

Thank you again. We look forward to reviewing your proposal.

Rabbit Island Residency Selection Committee

We are wrapping up this summer on Rabbit Island in a few weeks. The last artist-in-residence of 2015, Josefina Munoz, returns to the mainland in two days with the arrival of Rabbit Island School, a week-long art and ecology expedition for high school students, co-organized by Summer Journeys. The students will help close down camp over the Labor Day weekend.

At the end of September we will have a series of events featuring our 2015 artists in residence at the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan. The exhibition opens on Friday, September 25th. We will be sharing more details very soon.

Photo courtesy of 2015 Resident, Scott Diel.

Applications for summer 2016 residencies are due August 28th. Approximately five artists will be awarded funding to travel to, live on, and make work amongst the forest, rocks and wildlife of Rabbit Island and the vast waters of Lake Superior that surround it. Artists will also be given an exhibition of their work at the DeVos Art Museum in 2017, funding for travel to the opening, and have their work and writing included in the annual exhibition catalog. Artists across all disciplines are encouraged to apply. Find out more Information and submit your proposal at

Some scenes from the first half of summer on Rabbit Island.

Want to be an artist-in-residence next summer? Our deadline for 2016 applications is August 28th, 2015. Find out more information and submit your proposal at

“I’m turning a little bit green, aren’t I?”

An unsettled Beau Carey turns from his easel at the bow and addresses the pilot of the 17 foot Rabbit Island transport boat. Only an hour earlier the waves appeared calm enough for the first attempt to bring the large easel aboard. Now a strong east wind has begun to rise, and even while following the waves around the southwestern point of the island, the boat rolls and heels, making the task at hand uncomfortable if not impossible. We pack away the paints, point north and trace an arc back to the mooring in front of main camp.

A landscape painter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Beau has traveled widely, making work in a variety of remote and challenging locations including Denali National Park in Alaska and the arctic archipelago of Svalbard, the northernmost settlement in the word. As our third artist-in-residence this summer, he has been on Rabbit Island since July 5th, creating a new body of work related to his research into the history of coastal profiling and the more immediate experience of looking versus seeing.

Beau remarked that while he could have continued this research on any
island, being on Rabbit Island was integral to pushing his practice in
new directions. In today’s world it might be impossible to find
unexplored places on the map, but according to the artist, the larger concepts that underpin Rabbit Island are “uncharted territory”. Historically, coastal profiling was used to
assist in and highlight a nation’s imperialist motivations; to gather more territory, exploit it, and
grow in commercial capacity. Beau sees the idea of Rabbit Island as the complete opposite and has been creating scenes of the landscape that are about our experience
not dominion over it.

The following day we spoke about the difficulty of painting while seasick–its
potential to shake up the way of looking and seeing, but also its potential to create a situation where it is easier to fall back on the conventions of the genre, and on the skills already mastered.

“Sometimes the difficulty in looking makes it impossible to see.”

During our conversation Beau relates this notion of looking as the act of searching and his immediate perception. In this case, an act made increasingly difficult with seasickness. On the other side, seeing is the act of understanding, resulting from extended periods of looking. These two interrelated concepts are represented by the pieces made in the field, and the larger works on canvas he creates when in the studio. With waterlogged edges and bugs stuck to the surface, pieces from the field bear the evidence of the raw environment in which they are created. The studio pieces, often much larger and created over a longer period of reflection, distill the immediacy of the experience and thoughtful interrogations of his research. Examples of both will be on display at our annual exhibition at the DeVos Art Museum, opening on the 24th of September.

Beau has several days remaining before he departs the island. Until now he has been painting from the rocky sandstone shore, a tree platform, and boats; while also reading texts from the library, contributing his own observations to the island’s journal, and attending to the day-to-day tasks of camp life. He is constantly
searching for a narrow target, albeit one that requires a very wide view. Beau has been both looking and seeing on Rabbit Island, and finding that the X that marks the
spot changes as frequently as the direction of the waves, wind, and weather. We look forward to witnessing what he finds.

Residency co-founder Andrew Ranville captures Beau painting from Eagle Rock, a sandstone shoal approximately ½ mile southwest of Rabbit Island. A small islet usually rises 2-3 feet from the lake’s surface at this exact location. This year, as a result of strong ice movement and record high water levels, only one stone breaks the surface to help balance Beau’s easel. July 9th, 2015.

The first two artists-in-residence of 2015 arrived on the island on June 21st. On their first night they were greeted by gale-force winds from the west, hitting main camp head on—a proper Lake Superior hello. Such is life on a remote island.

Composer Eugene Birman (left), received his M.M. in Music Composition from the Juilliard School, a B.A. in Economics from Columbia University, and this spring received his D.Phil in Musical Composition from Oxford University. Scott Diel (right) is an American-born writer and librettist based in Tallinn, Estonia, who has freelanced widely. The two have previously collaborated on several operas to critical acclaim. Their most recent work, Nostra Culpa, eclectically weaves together the global debate surrounding post-financial crash austerity and a Twitter feud between a Nobel laureate columnist from the New York Times and the president of Estonia. Such unlikely inspiration results from “a desire to step away from the formal opera genre and engage a wider audience with classical music that investigates contemporary issues.” The duo’s past projects have received attention from world media outlets including CNN, BBC World TV, NPR, and many others.

Over the past two weeks on Rabbit Island they have been working on their project, STATE OF THE UNION, a new multi-movement, multi-voice opera that engages with issues of environmental sustainability, economic inequality, satire, and the elusive solutions which are often lost in a sea of voices. Inspired by their time on the island they have shared that a singular voice will emerge in one of the opera’s movements, a voice with the potential to guide us from the wilderness. STATE OF THE UNION promises a groundbreaking approach to classical
music, and sets out to create a timely, vitally relevant message.

Recent discussions between the two residents and Rabbit Island co-founders Rob Gorski and Andrew Ranville have taken place both on and off the island. In an excerpt from email correspondences leading up to their arrival, Rob shared:

“I’m really excited for your
guys’ effort. Your idea–or at least my interpretation of it–has opened
up several new avenues for my thinking already. It pushes forward the genre of classical music in general and takes a classical art form to a new subject: Man’s relationship to his natural environment in the context of modern understanding. Historically, classical opera has dealt with mythology,
human relationships, power, politics, love, death, and other similar concepts. While certainly
classic themes, these seem to be a layer or two below the fundamental
rules of the game we are all now realizing, as well as our absolute
relationship to them.”

Eugene responded:

“I think the clear distinction is also that opera has almost always worked in allegory, that themes have been represented but not presented as they are, that characters themselves serve as parables but not personalities. We are not only removing the idea of characters entirely, but using the entire genre of opera as a character itself–or, as I see in Scott’s writing, a conscience and a voice. The very safe separation of message and representation as it generally is in opera is removed, and we have only the very clear libretto which hides behind nothing.”

“I may have mentioned it to you during our phone chat, but SOTU’s relationship to the very beginning of opera is quite strong, in that opera was invented as a genre for communicating revolutionary ideas. But political and conventional limitations on the form were nevertheless too limiting, so it was quickly subsumed into “music as entertainment.” SOTU is commentary on that role as well, for while the piece will be entertaining in many ways, I see its purpose as bringing opera back to what it was meant to be… as a gesamtkunstwerk with a specific purpose, not just one that brings together art forms for the delight of audiences. I think that the genre needs this shake-up because it has, with each new addition, become more and more anachronistic and baroque–ultimately, irrelevant and silly.”

“What Scott will do in the libretto is link social issues to the greater issue at hand which, as you alluded to in your email, was an understanding elusive to past generations of composers because we simply weren’t aware of what we were doing to our planet. But it is all related, of course. Writing opera today allows us to finally make that leap.”

While on the island–between gathering firewood, stoking the sauna to 193 degrees, performing daily ablutions in the lake, and mastering campfire pizza–Eugene and Scott acknowledged that this is the first residency they have
participated in together, writing and composing in real-time. This process of direct collaboration has influenced their project by distilling and sharpening the opera’s message. Eugene, working in a way that is increasingly rare in circles of contemporary composers, has been hand-writing the composition at the shelter’s dinner table in response to Scott’s words and the wilderness environment surrounding them. All the while, they balance
the themes of their project with the necessary rituals of daily life in a place that occasionally heralds a damp awaking after a western storm.

It is a remarkable thing to consider: An opera addressing contemporary world issues is being written on a remote island in Lake Superior. We are thrilled to have Eugene and Scott in residence and are excited to share STATE OF THE UNION when it is complete.


Rabbit Island is featured alongside four other “American Utopias” in the April 2015 issue of the art and culture magazine Paper.

“Utopians are a diverse bunch,” the
story begins. “There’s little agreement to be found across the broad landscape
of individuals striving to transform society, save for two important factors.
First, don’t call them utopians; most of them hate that. Second and more
important is the consensus that society is fundamentally–but not

On both points we agree.

Brian Heater, the author, goes on
to describe the island’s wilderness character, the Rabbit Island Artist
Residency, and some of the project’s cultural spinoffs.

After some hesitation and strong
discouragement from concerned friends, Gorski [Rabbit Island’s owner and
co-founder] purchased the 91-acre swoosh of forest–located in Lake Superior,
the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area–deeming it the perfect
laboratory for some high-minded concepts regarding land development, society
and art. The island became the namesake for the Rabbit Island Foundation, a
nonprofit devoted to rethinking development. As a Manhattanite, the notion of
continual subdivision is particularly troublesome to Gorski. He handily refers
to Rabbit Island’s driving principle as “Conservation 2.0: the marriage of the
Google map with Kickstarter and the Nature Conservancy.” Gorski asserts that
technologies like satellite mapping and online crowdsourcing efforts, when
combined with lessons learned from generations of land mismanagement, can lead
to better models for land usage. … “I think that’s a microcosm for all the
decisions that we should be making in our daily lives. What am I going to do
today? What am I going to make today? What am I going to sell today? What am I
going to buy today? And whatever I choose to do, how am I not going to fuck up
everything around me?”

The issue’s cover feature, Kanye
West, in his free-flowing take on the American Dream, contributes, “I believe
awesome is possible and I believe that beauty is important. When I say
‘beauty,’ what’s your current definition of beauty? When I think beauty, I
think of an untouched forest, only created by God’s hand.”

We agree here as well. Save the
part about God as used in this context, of course.

However, this highlights some
contradictions relative to artistic success in our culture that we believe are
worth discussing. Many of the artists regularly featured in magazines such as
Paper, elsewhere in popular culture, and in contemporary museum culture, have
been graced with various degrees of celebrity as a result of stylish and/or
important ideas they have conceived and brought into the world. However, the
popularly accepted metrics of what is stylish and important–a phrase
used here to signify that which is celebrated by critics, curators, and other
cultural arbiters–have historically been dissociated from a thoughtful and
holistic understanding of the physical world.

An interesting circle has been traditionally created: New Creative Idea. Fans. Celebrity. Success. Magazines. Museums. Repeat.
Rarely in these progressions to artistic and societal success are references to
Of course there have been celebrated and poignant examples of artworks engaging with ecological
concerns in the last half decade or more, even those considered social before
“social practice” was the art world’s stratégie
du jour
. Presently, it stands to reason that the hyper-connected and
hyper-recycled creation and consumption of culture results in a danger of
missing the truly profound. How is it that we can be so connected but still so
detached, our feet rarely touching the soil, both literally and figuratively? Magazines like Paper might
highlight celebrity inanity as much as thoughtful projects embedded in dirt and
trees; but both now exist most readily on an Instagram feed, living and dying
in influence and audience as the minutes pass. It appears participants in both camps universally value
intact nature for what it is–as Kanye evidently does–regardless of whether
their creations were working for or against it universally. It is an odd

If many popular artists were to ask
themselves the following question, what would their responses be?

Does your work
positively influence the intelligent organization of our natural world in
absolute terms? Does your work help in any way to mitigate the mistakes
of cultural and environmental history we have inherited?

Modern understanding of our natural
reality, as well as our cause-and-effect relationship to it, dictates a new
ethical perspective. We must consider this when acting creatively, lest we risk
acting selfishly in the absolute. A filter of modern knowledge needs to be placed between
the classic spark of imagination and the contemporary execution of work. Until recently the
making of art relied solely on the historical standards handed to us by tradition,
experience, and education. From our new point of view, however, art history might be
reviewed and re-ordered, and might lead to considerable reshuffling of what is
actually considered important. God forbid one day $179.4 million dollars gets spent on re-furbishing an ecosystem, as an act of conscientious creation, rather than at an auction uptown.

In the end, of course, we can choose to do whatever we like creatively while presently limited only by what markets and laws will bear. We suggest, moving forward, that we should necessarily be judged according to a holistic understanding of
ecological reality. If it is not artists pushing into this space, then who? 

Revisionist history can only move so far into the present,
with the evasive phrase “if we only knew then what we know now” falling flat
in light of real-time understanding of global concerns. Neither artist nor
politician can sidestep climate change, or food and energy shortages. Additionally, if we are forever contextualizing our work to important
works and cultural moments of the past–a standard that auction houses and museums tend to value that lacks basic ecological and geo-spatial understanding–are we not bound to continually applaud
ideas that don’t quite reach the level of true relevance in our own time? 

We believe that new understanding
of reality delineates new ethics within that reality. New work shouldn’t be
defined by old ethics, nor by a limited understanding of natural reality,
regardless of how entrenched this may be in our historical tradition. At some
point we have to cut the cord. We need a new vantage point. We need a new set
of rules.

Today, becoming a relevant artist is harder than in past times given the need to account for so much new and conflicting information, yet this is what is demanded of us. An artist, it is said, is
meaningful to their time when they successfully express the undercurrents that
shape their time. In the past it was the norm that one needed only to create something aesthetically beautiful, or brilliant, yet without account for its environmental cost, in order to inspire applause. In our time material
ignorance is losing acceptance as evidenced by degree shows, headlines in major
, and, most importantly, the feeling we all carry around in our subconsciousness. The elements that make up the mediums used to bring an artwork to
fruition are not decentralized, but rather finite nodes in our ecological reality. Each piece of plaster, pigment, celluloid
and circuit connects back to the physical world. And our comprehension of that world is expanding. The last twenty years have seen the dawn of the Internet,
daily satellite perspectives of the world, concise understanding of watershed
ecology, genetic understanding, migration patterns, and so forth. Our spectrum is much wider than it was in
the 20th century. Our art must be too. 

Perhaps this then signifies an end to
the pre-conscious era of
creation, where action without fundamental ecologic accountability was
acceptable. As the spectrum widens and our understanding grows, should this not recalibrate old
metrics related to perceiving and making art? Should not our conscience change
to reflect the natural realities that we now understand to be true? Meaningful
creativity is not impossible in this context, but it does require a new
capacity for critical thinking relative to the beliefs, opinions and
observations written above.

This is the premise of Rabbit
Island. Our project is not “utopian,” as Paper suggested. It is simply rooted in an honest take on
the modern world. It is an attempt to address cultural inconsistencies using
creativity and reason. When finished–if it can ever be considered finished–our project will leave many more acres of forest organized sensibly and
protected than when we started, in addition to the ideas we project outwardly from the experience. This absolute natural outcome could be looked upon by posterity as the
most important thing that we will have created as a community, perhaps. Or perhaps we will have helped create a sensible cultural vernacular to move forward with. Regardless, our project is not afraid to call spades spades,
especially in relation to the need for art to be coupled to ecology, and to be
held responsible in absolute terms. Art, after all, is the purest form of
creation, and thus serves fittingly as a symbol for all human constructions.

This weekend Ben Moon’s short film, Rabbit Island, will premier at Telluride Mountainfilm. Ben spent a week on the island in July, 2013, documenting the artists in residence, land and lake. If you are lucky enough to be in Telluride for the festival the piece will screen on Saturday and Sunday as part of the “Story of Place” short film series. We will also be setting up a table to hand out info about the 501c3 Rabbit Island Foundation and highlight the work that has been created on the island as well as the conservation projects we have been developing. In the next few weeks we will share the film here on

More from Ben about the film:

Two summers ago, I had a conversation with Rob Gorski about a remote place in Lake Superior called Rabbit Island. He had purchased the pristine 91-acre island with the intent of conservation rather than development.

As a native of the Great Lakes, my interest was piqued and I traveled to Rabbit Island with Page Stephenson to film a brief study of the unique environment and the artists in residence at that time. The result is a short film “Rabbit Island”  which premieres at Telluride Mountainfilm next weekend, screening both Saturday and Sunday.

A huge thanks to Patagonia for supporting the film, and Israel Nebeker for composing an original score, Lucy Engelman for the illustrations, Jessica Kilroy for her field recording and to all the artists involved!

Photo: Ben Moon

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