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Ucross celebrates 40 years through the lens of artist-in-residence Sarah Sample

Sarah Sample

The Ucross Foundation is preparing for its 40th Anniversary Gala. Wyoming Public Radio’s Grady Kirkpatrick spoke with a recent artist-in-residence about her experience and the event.

Grady Kirkpatrick: Sheridan resident and award winning singer-songwriter Sarah Sample will be one of the performing artists at the Ucross 40th Anniversary Gala on Wednesday, September 27. Welcome, Sarah. It looks to be quite an event, including Governor Mark Gordon and First Lady Jenny Gordon. Looks to be fun.

Sarah Sample: Yes, I think it will be wonderful.


GK: I see author Craig Johnson from the “Longmire” series will be there. They'll have dinner and music. You're a former artist-in-residence at Ucross. For those not familiar with the Ucross Foundation and the ranch, tell us about the organization.

SS: Yes, the organization is celebrating 40 years of offering an opportunity for artists to come and be part of a residency in a rural scenic area. They're also the stewards of a 20,000 acre ranch that is part of that. They offer residencies to artists of many different disciplines. They have music, authors, poets, choreographers, playwrights - so, many cool things come throughout the year. And so this gala is celebrating 40 years of offering those residencies to artists. Like you said, I got to be part of that this last summer.

GK: Tell us about your experience as an artist-in-residence.

SS: Yes, I got to go be a resident in June, which is, I think, the most beautiful time in Wyoming. So it was a very inspirational place to write songs. And they had a wonderful little writer’s cabin, composition cabin, that was right on the river. And I was isolated, surrounded by beauty, and every morning got to wake up in an artist's cabin surrounded by my instruments. So I set up my multiple guitars, they had a beautiful grand piano in the cabin, different recording equipment that I brought and that they had, and the time was mine to create. And I think this was the first time since having children 15 years ago that I've been given so much time, quiet time, and space without anyone needing me. It was such a gift. It was something I really don't take for granted. And I was able to write every day and complete lots of songs and also just take my time with experimentation, different types of writing techniques that I've learned through 20 years of doing it. And having time to just play with improvisation, having time to walk and hike every day, which, for me, sometimes moving my body while kind of processing and songwriting is one way that things end up in my mind.

GK: Did that setting make it easier to get motivated to write?

SS: Yes, absolutely. Mostly just because of the quietness and the incredible space and respect that they give the artists. They don't even interrupt you for lunch. They have someone bring a wonderful paper sack lunch to your door and quietly leave it outside your door every day. And then you come and gather with the other residents at night for a collaborative dinner, which is really fun. And I'm such an extrovert that by 6 p.m. every day, I was just, like, chomping at the bit to get to the dinner table to see other people.

It was really wonderful to actually have the time and space, turn off my phone and disconnect from the world and reconnect kind of to my inner creativity and songwriting.

GK: Was the actual songwriting process much different than what you'd done in the past?

SS: It wasn't much different. It was just that I had an elongated space of time to create. So, you know, normally if I go teach at a songwriting school, or I'm at a retreat or something for songwriting. The day is broken up between different classes, or there's people around that you're connecting with. And so to just have an uninterrupted time and space allowed me to actually create much more because I had the time to do it and I was uninterrupted. And so to just be able to sit down and work on something and then move on to something else… maybe go for a hike, and then come back and pick another instrument up, Or, I did a few co-writes while I was there with people just through Zoom, which was really fun, too.

GK: You sent us one of the songs you worked on at Ucross and we were happy to get it. We've been playing it for a bit. Tell us about “In My Arms”.

SS: So “In My Arms” is a lullaby. It wasn't produced as a lullaby. But it is a love song between a parent and a child. Anybody that has had a child knows how life altering that event is and how it just changes everything in really beautiful ways and hard ways and it really is the full spectrum of emotion to raise a child in the world. So I wanted to capture that experience. There's a line, “I've never seen that color sky until I stayed up all night,” and, you know, has imagery of kind of a house where there's a space in that house you didn't know existed until this child was in your arms. That features my friend Edie Carey as well who sang on it and she also was part of that lullaby project I did in 2014.

GK: I wanted to ask, the location is just east of the Bighorn Mountains off by I-25 between Buffalo and Sheridan. Can you describe the setting as you mentioned, it's on a big ranch -- 20,000 acre ranch.

SS: Yeah, it's beautiful. Ucross has several buildings. They just finished a gorgeous new Lauren Anderson dance studio, which is connected to the Ucross Art Gallery where they show a lot of the artists’ work. And so that is where the event is going to be, kind of at the big red barn at Ucross.

GK: Another former artist-in-residence will also be performing, Kate Schutt from New York, right?

SS: Yes, Kate is going to be there. I haven't yet met Kate. We've just had a few phone conversations. But we will do an in the round music event and then we'll also collaborate on a song as well. And she's a fantastic musician and songwriter and a very accomplished multi-instrumentalist. So it's going to be a real treat.
GK: A lot of folks have come through Ucross over the 40 years that it's been there and it's really developed into one of the most respected artist communities in the nation --- 2,600 [artists] between visual artists, writers, musicians, choreographers; folks like Annie Prude, Colson Whitehead, Terry Tempest Williams, Anne Patchett, Anthony Hernandez and Sarah Sample!

SS: It is a long list of incredible artists that have been there for 40 years. I felt really honored to be part of that and Ucross is really wonderful about engaging with local Wyoming artists and community. I actually met some of the staff from Ucross years ago at an event in which Elizabeth Gilbert, who was also one of their residents years ago, was coming back to Sheridan to perform and to speak. And that [was] kind of my first look into Ucross and I knew that I wanted to be part of it.

Grady has taken a circuitous route from his hometown of Kansas City to Wyoming. Sometime after the London Bridge had fallen down, he moved to Arizona and attended Arizona State University and actually graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. ("He's a Lumberjack and he's OK……..!") He began his radio career in Prescott in 1982 and eventually returned to Kansas City where he continued in radio through the summer of 1991. Public Radio and the Commonwealth of Kentucky beckoned him to the bluegrass state where he worked as Operations/Program Manager at WKMS in Murray and WNKU in Highland Heights just across the Ohio from Cincinnati.
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