A fearless couple in the beautiful but tiny (pop: 493), out-of-the-way town of Good Hart, MI, decided to have some fun in their retirement. Susan and Bill Klco (pronounced Kelso—the name’s Slovakian) have had a LOT of fun with their project. And a LOT of work.
Bill owned and/or worked for software companies in the Netherlands, Paris and Kansas City. Susan worked for the state of Michigan as a biologist, then taught or consulted in biology. Both grew up in families of 8 kids. They have 4 children, all grown.
Daughter Megan Klco Kellner and her husband Justin are both artists. Susan and Bill watched the Kellners’ artist friends deal with student debt and competition for jobs and shows.
“We wanted to find a way to support artists,” Susan says. “And to be creative in our own lives, through making wearable and functional art.”
Having traveled often and hosted many houseguests, the Kicos were used to sharing their home. They enjoyed company. And they had extra space above the garage.
Lightbulb moment: How about an artists’ residency?
Susan first convinced Bill of what seemed to me a far-fetched notion. What artists would drag themselves and their supplies to the boonies so far north?
It turns out: dozens.
Susan and Bill attended a conference to learn how to set up and run an artist residency program. Susan called the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, with which she hoped to partner. “It was a new idea up here,” Susan says. “It took a bit of selling. We’re not wealthy art patrons or society types with important connections.”
When Susan reached Liz Ahrens, exec director of CTAC, she found a kindred spirit. “We’d been thinking about residencies,” Liz says. “We needed someone to run with it. I just wanted to be sure the call for artists described the remoteness of the location.”
The Good Hart Artists Residency has been going on for 5 years. The philosophy, according to the website. “… connecting people from different backgrounds and cultures opens minds and makes for a more interesting and compassionate world.”
When their children were growing up, the Klcos hosted several foreign exchange students. “We always felt we received more than we gave,” Susan says. The Klco kids picked up the travel bug. Son David traveled to Romania “to hold babies in an orphanage.” David and Megan helped dig a church foundation in Peru. Daughter Mara traveled to China and India. Last spring Susan and Bill attended the wedding of their exchange daughter from Italy.
The program extends an open call to artists several months ahead. Selected artists visit for 2-3 weeks at a time. Each artist interacts with the community, through a class or lecture and Saturday open studio. Each receives a $500 stipend. In 2018 there were 113 applicants for 5 spots. Another benefit of the program: Susan’s frequent home-cooked meals. CTAC’s Liz Ahrens calls Susan “a phenomenal cook,” lauding the scones Susan bakes for residency artists’ talks at CTAC. Susan’s husband Bill agrees, noting the size of the family in which Susan grew up. He says, “Susan cooks big.”
I learned about the residency program when artist Mami Takahashi spoke this past summer at CTAC. Mami gave a fascinating talk about the immigrant experience in America and the art she makes to illuminate that experience.
So far, the program’s had only one near casualty.
Artist Amanda Boyd manipulates candles or an oil lamp below a canvas to create artworks made from smoke and flame. During a workshop at the CTAC. kerosene from the lamp Amanda was using started burning down into the reserve fuel. Susan jumped in with a stainless steel bowl, rushed the lamp outside and extinguished the fire.
Despite the work involved, the Klcos are going strong They’ve taken over the administration of the program, initially handled by CTAC.
Bill’s building a small ADA compliant house with an attached studio down the hill from their home for future artists. They want to be able to accommodate artists with dependents. They’ve applied for a grant to offer a residency for a K-12 Michigan art teacher.
And that’s not all…
Another of the Klco kids is a librarian. Daughter Mara Klco, director of MI’s Indian River Library, convinced them to add a writer’s residency. This year they hosted visiting writer, Bryna Cofrin-Shaw. The family’s love of books stems from Susan and Bill’s never having had TV reception or cable TV. “We wanted our kids to be outside,” their mom says. And, when inside, to read.
Thanks, Susan and Bill, for your determination, pluck and sensitivity. Thanks for all you’re doing to make NoMI an even more beautiful and literate place.