A transition time for Nonstop

Dec 1st, 2011

By Diane Chiddister, Yellow Springs News

Since its launch after the shut-down of Antioch College, the educators and artists of Nonstop Institute have been nothing if not flexible and creative. And their flexibility is being called upon once again, as Nonstop members adapt to the newest phase of the group’s existence. At the end of this month Nonstop will let go of its Millworks home, but its members will continue to sponsor cultural, educational and artistic events for the community.

And while the nonprofit Nonstop will no longer have a physical space, its members remain dedicated to their mission of providing an opportunity for civic dialogue on issues relevant to Yellow Springs, ranging from the increasingly difficult environment for liberal arts colleges, as illustrated by Antioch’s closing, to the challenges of sustainability in a small town.

“We’ve indicated over the last several years that we’re nimble and can create a cultural event in just about any kind of setting,” said Chris Hill, one of the group’s leaders, in a recent interview. “We like to do that.”

In its four years of existence, Nonstop has been busy. The group’s first phase began in June 2007, when Antioch University unexpectedly announced the closing of Antioch College the following year. When the campus closed, Nonstop Antioch, composed of most of the college’s tenured faculty and many staff members, launched its effort to keep alive the college’s educational model and traditions, even without a campus. The effort came together quickly, and in fall 2008, Nonstop educators began holding classes in village homes and churches, ultimately attracting about 100 students, both traditionally aged and older students from the community.

The Nonstop effort, organizers believe, was critical to the ultimately successful renewal of the college.

“I think Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute had a profound effect on the college revival,” said Migiwa Orimo. “While we weren’t trying to take the place of the college, we allowed those traditions and ideals to be held.”

While all Nonstop classes initially took place in a variety of nontraditional spaces in the village, the renovation of a former manufacturing space at Millworks into the Nonstop campus provided a home for the group in December 2008. New York City theater designer Michael Casselli, an Antioch alum who moved to Yellow Springs to take part in the college revival, designed the group’s space after interviewing Nonstop members on their needs.

The building was “an incredible success,” Casselli said. “People enjoyed being in there.”

After Antioch College gained its independence in fall 2009, Nonstop morphed from being a group focused on maintaining the traditions of the college to one that provides a public forum for the exchange of ideas. What connected the two efforts was organizers’ commitment to “a transparent, publically located discussion, an embracing of public dialogue,” according to Hill. “It’s really important to be unafraid to speak to each other.”

A significant aspect of sparking community conversation has been bringing to the village thinkers and artists from a larger area, according to Hill. These included the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor, whose leaders addressed the challenge of sustaining progressive artistic and cultural viability in a small town, and American Association of University Professors (AAUP) President Cary Nelson, who spoke of the challenges facing liberal arts colleges. A series on the future of higher education brought to town, in a virtual way, some of the nation’s leading thinkers on the topic. While Nonstop organizes lacked the funds to physically bring the nationally-known participants to Yellow Springs, they used Skype to enable villagers to talk face to face, in a virtual conversation, with the educators.

“That’s a good example of us creatively using our space and our professional connections to make up for the lack of deep pockets,” Hill said.

And its technical capabilities allowed Nonstop to bring this small Ohio village into contact not only with national-level thinkers, but also those in other countries, such as a program that featured video activists from Burma.

Nonstop’s desire to enhance communication also involved building relationships between artists in the region. The group developed two artist-in-residency projects, including one for emerging artists from Columbus, along with salons that focused on artistic works-in-progress.

“I feel we explored a number of kinds of projects,” Hill said. “As educators and artists we modeled what was important to us, making connections with people doing related projects in the outside world.”

That belief in the importance of public discourse fueled Nonstop leaders’ effort to continue their programs even after the college returned. The group does not see itself as in competition with Antioch College, Hill emphasized, but rather as an additional cultural resource for the community. Most involved with Nonstop have had careers as professional artists, curators or theater performers or designers, with some having received national awards in their fields.

“We are all longterm residents of Yellow Springs and, through Nonstop, are doing work that we have committed our professional lives to. We are trying to do it in Yellow Springs because that’s where our friends, families and community are located and have been for many years,” Hill wrote in an e-mail.

But the Nonstop effort has always, in the tradition of Antioch College, been faced with financial challenges. When initial funding from the College Revival Fund ended with the college rebirth, the group becme a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and received some grant funding from the Ohio Arts Council and, locally, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. But state arts funding has diminished in recent years, and while local contributions helped, for the past two years most of the work was performed by volunteers who also have full-time jobs. And the need to make a living is taking a specific toll on Nonstop, as Hill is moving to Los Angeles soon after the beginning of the year, to join her partner, Brian Springer, who recently began a job at the Hammer Museum at UCLA.

Hill has been essential to Nonstop for her leadership and the continuity she provided, as a member of the group’s leadership collective in both its first and second phases, according to Orimo. Hill also brought to Nonstop her considerable skills as a curator, an activist and a media artist.

“She has showed a tremendous devotion to this work,” Orimo said.

But faced with new challenges, Nonstop members have no intention of giving up. Rather, with a new leadership model and a return to a “nomadic” presence, they plan to continue their mission to enhance the public dialogue in Yellow Springs.

“There are some remarkable capabilities represented in this community; the challenge is finding ways to best facilitate their expression and use,” according to Nonstop member Dan Reyes. “A nomadic Nonstop certainly can contribute to and be available for helping such efforts.“