Roughly 58 miles south of Dallas, you’ll find that the heart of Navarro County, Corsicana, is having a bit of a renaissance. Depending on whom you ask, you might hear different versions of the town’s recent claim to fame. True crime enthusiasts would cite the most-unusual of white collar crimes: a multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme at Corsicana’s Collin Street Bakery, one of world’s finest purveyors of fruitcake. Others would probably speak to “Cheer,” the Netflix docuseries centered on the Navarro College Bulldogs cheer squad and their path to secure another National Championship cheer title.
And then there’s those who would tell you about 100 West.
Founded by Kyle Hobratschk, alongside a core initial group of artists and administrators, 100 West, or 100W, is a residency program for makers and writers that started in 2016. By artist residency standards, it is among the more commodious. Residents have housing in 100W’s 19th century commercial building with a resplendent 11,000 square feet of creative space. There’s also gallery access, and event opportunities abound during the residency’s run.
At initial launch, arts publications were quick to label Corsicana as the next Marfa — attributing much of the city’s artistic potential to the residency and accompanying programming.
Now, four years down the line, Hobratschk joined us to talk about how 100W, and Corsicana, have grown into identities all their own.
Describe Corsicana in three words.
Materially, atmospherically and seductively: Rust, Dust, Oil.
How would you describe Corsicana’s arts community?
It has a special balance of action and quietude — there’s less pressure to exhibit and more emphasis to produce — a good thing for making good work. Though Corsicana’s entertainment culture has buzzed for the last century, with as many as five theaters downtown in the 1920s. Two of which remain and host deep rosters of country music and theater.
Lefty Frizzell is from Corsicana. And the costume room at the Warehouse Living Arts Theater is barnacled with props and clothing dating from the early 20th century, housed inside a sanctuary-like second floor space — residents of 100 West have sourced through it for their projects. Much of the visual and literary arts today hinge from our Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency project at 100 West. This whole creative community encouragingly supports itself across disciplines, backed by strong and curious patronage.
What do you think is the biggest asset of the Corsicana arts community?
There’s a deep, cinematic quality to this small town flowing from a trove of untouched spaces from the early 20th century oil boom days. At 5 p.m. it’s a ghost town and gets quiet except for the freight train. And so, you study things more closely on long walks at sundown. It’s like an island, with the noise of Dallas left across some huge bay to the north.
Who are your favorite local artists? What are your favorite local galleries or arts institutions? Who should we be following?
Every resident coming through 100W. But to satisfy the question I’ll surface these closest to heart: David Searcy, an essayist writing about things like the tiny bee he saw hovering for endless minutes in the center of a window-like opening in some pueblo ruin in northern Arizona — what does that mean on grander scale in this universe? His book “Shame and Wonder” always sits on my nightstand.
Also, Wayne Hall, a self-taught artist making things from anything he can find to repurpose around him: dried macaroni to plastic, rotisserie chicken containers. He makes these assemblages that seem to answer life’s essential questions, dusted in glitter and spray foam.
And then Searcy’s wife Nancy Rebal. She produces decadent graphite drawings representing these works with such close attention.
Fifty miles up the road from Corsicana in West Dallas is the unexpected SweetPass Sculpture Park. Follow everything that Tamara Johnson and Trey Burns program into their project here.
What do you value most about your current work?
The relationships gifted with residents who come through this program to exercise their studio practices. It’s fun and intense and genuine – to relive this town through their fresh perspectives, like flattening pennies on train tracks or bowling down the most dated Maplewood lanes.
And then there’s the witnessing the relationships our artists and writers create with locals and retain thereafter their residencies here. The fall season at 100W kicks into gear with new residents this October — dancing within COVID-aware measures — which nearly promises a public Open Studios event on November 21. Though, COVID’s ability to ravage public programming has finally forced us to create the digital content exploring our residents’ studio works that we had been discussing for so long. Our new podcast series “Ropewalker” investigates the processes and Texas contexts to our residents’ studio work and is paired with short video documentaries revealing their studio practices.
What do you think the principal aim of arts organizations should be?
Site-specificity in content and context. There’s so much material in history and contemporary narrative in this place — the well will never dry-up. It should be investigated and retold through a spread of lenses and voices, in most any media format. I think much of it is emblematic of the United States’ current, challenged position, and Corsicana offers a tight sampling to study and understand across demographics.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
Probably running a residency in some other small town, I hope. And maybe with a dose more time to create more of my own work.
Where is one place in Texas you want to go but haven’t been yet?
Caddo Lake alongside Uncertain, Texas. My girlfriend Sofía and I want to paddle through the marshy, mossy mangroves. This was also the place where the late Texas artist Doug MacWithey died nearly a decade ago while on a trip from Corsicana. He used to live and make work in the Odd Fellows Lodge that I bought from his widow to start 100 West with friends thereafter, some of who knew Doug very well, reminding we’ve somehow kept this place in a creative family.