Q + A with Danicia Monet of WLDFLWR

Danicia Monet describes herself as an artist, researcher, urban planner and healing arts practitioner. She has combined her belief in the connection between land and healing with her love for the arts to create WLDFLWR: an Indianapolis-based arts and ecology residency. We went to go visit Danicia at WLDFLWR to learn more in-depth about the residence’s mission, the inspiration behind its creation, and her hopes for its future. 

Katie Freeman: What is WLDFLWR?
Danicia Monet: WLDFLWR is an arts and ecology residency. Our purpose is to center land stewardship, self-sustainability and Black agricultural practices. The idea here is that you create with what you grow.

KF: What do you envision the WLDFLWR experience being like for creatives in residence?
DM: We are offering six-month or year-long residencies with the idea that the creative will have a good season to grow and harvest whatever is on the land. They’ll also go through monthly workshops with the master gardener and the seed librarian who tend to this property, as well as gardeners in general from around the country. There are so many different disciplines that go into land stewardship and sustainability, specifically from the Black diasporic lens. We’re going to be working with foragers, folks who are adept in extracting particular pigments, folks who have tenured 20 to 30 years of experience in planting medicinal herbs –– all types of experiences. They’ll also go through bi-monthly workshops around equity and liberation. We want our residents to know that they’re safe and welcome here as a Black person or as a person of color; this residency is specifically geared towards them, although it’s open to anyone. They’ll go through a curriculum of learning through land stewardship and through practice of the Black diaspora: Black wellness, Black healing, Black liberation, Black equity, Black mindfulness. How you take care of yourself, how you take care of the space, how you take care of others and the cycle of all of that. The rest of the residency is completely self-paced. Create at your own pace, plant at your own pace. There are some things that you’ll need to do to tend to the Earth, but other than that, there’s no formality to what you have to do here. 

KF: What kind of artist are you looking for to stay on the grounds –– is any prior experience or portfolio necessary?
DM: No! We ask that you be someone who does practice daily–– that’s pretty much it. You don’t have to know how to tend to the land. If you enjoy it, that’s great! This might be an easier residency for you. If you don’t, that’s also fine, because our master gardener and seed librarian will be here coaching you and checking on the space and the artists. There are no parameters here. We wanted to keep it open and let people have an easy entryway to learning about this practice and this work. 

KF: What inspired you to create WLDFLWR?
DM: I’ve been going through my own reconnection with my history and my ancestry. I’m also an artist. I’ve been an artist for a long time. I have never considered myself a professional artist, but I’ve always been an advocate for the art scene, the art sector and my arts cohort. Having lived in so many places around the world, I know how difficult it is to get the supplies that you need. A few years back, I was speaking with a family member and we were talking about how we cultivate from the land and it just kind of came. Everything that we use already comes from the land. If I can’t go to an art supply store, I can still get what I need in order to make something beautiful. It’s trying to take out that middleman, and through that process, I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for what it means to be a land steward versus a landowner and how much the land has given to me as I try and give back to it. 

KF: What was your process for creating the WLDFLWR residency?
DM: It’s been two and a half years in the making since acquiring the house, acquiring the land and renovating it from top to bottom, inside and out. The property itself had to be remediated and that was a task. It’s also been about two years of outreach and scouting, so of everybody who has been a part of this process, 99 percent of them are Black. We have one advisor who is not. We’ve made sure to insulate this space –– in every aspect –– through the lens of Black appreciation.

KF: How did you select the team that you’re working with?
DM: That was very organic. People kind of gravitated here. We had volunteer days when I was cleaning and remediating the space. It wasn’t any sort of interview process, it’s “what are your skills and passions, and do you align with what’s happening here?” We just base it off of energy. Our master gardener was one of the first people who came out and volunteered and we’ve been working together ever since. It’s people recognizing and flourishing by themselves on this property, so that’s a great thing about it. WLDFLWR is inspired by the book Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. It’s this idea that you can create from anything, you can morph yourself into anything. It’s also paying homage to the idea that wild things are untamable. No matter who is on this property, there’s always something that’s flourishing here. The land speaks to people, and people speak back to the land.

KF: Have you ever heard of anything similar to WLDFLWR?
DM: No. There are ecology residences, but I’ve never seen one that paired arts with ecology or any sort of farming, so I’m really excited about this!

KF: What do you think the biggest challenge with WLDFLWR will be?
DM: I think the challenges will mostly come from the Earth. There are some frustrations that happen when you’re trying to grow something and it gets consumed or overrun by weeds. My frustration with this property has been the squirrels. Squirrels eat everything, so it’s really about taming your own anxieties and finding ways to become as one with the space as you can. It’s been a game of cat and mouse between me, my squirrels, my tomatoes and my kale. I think that will be the only kind of challenge that happens here. It’s finding your lane with what happens on the grounds.

KF: What do you hope artists will gain from this residency?
DM: I truly hope that they’re going to gain an understanding that self-sustainability is not as hard as people think it is. You can grow 40% of what you need to consume here on this property; there’s so much space in the growing patches that we have now. So this idea of self-sustainability— It’s not difficult to eat clean; it’s not difficult to eat healthily. If you want to do it, you can do it. Gardening is not difficult. Once you put stuff in the ground, it’s going to grow. Again, wildflowers — things want to grow. Also, if you are an artist, you can get what you need from the land without having to be dependent upon a store that might close. Indianapolis has seen a lot of its art stores closed over the years. Practitioners in this field might have a beautiful idea for something but can’t get what they need from the local community. The last and most important is this idea and recognition that Blackness is beauty. Everything that you’re learning here — we’re not trying to shove it down people’s throats — but simple things, the way that we tend to land, is all through Black agricultural practices. The way that we run our workshops, we have all Black practitioners. The way that we speak to each other, we’re using Black practices, and so Blackness is beauty. 

KF: You mentioned earlier that some artists have come and briefly visited. What were those experiences like for them?
DM: They’ve been really, really good. We had our last one Tuesday. She loved it, she absolutely loved it. Everyone has left saying, “Oh my God, it’s so peaceful,” which is the thing we’re working so much on. It’s about having space to break away and truly see this residency as a retreat. Sometimes we use residency and retreat interchangeably, because it is quiet here. You get to meditate and you don’t have to go so fast. You’re not pressured to produce something, which is why this is self-paced. If you don’t make anything for three months, okay! You don’t make anything for three months. You might spend every day the next month making or harvesting something, so it’s just whatever it is that you need to do for yourself.

KF: How do you envision WLDFLWR contributing to Indianapolis’ creative community?
DM: In a few different ways! We’re working on a partnership with the local school here; Garden City Elementary is just right down the street. We’re hoping that we can develop a partnership with them so that students can walk over and learn how to tend. The other thing is that we have partnerships with some local galleries. While this is self-paced, whatever body of work you create while you’re here, you can show it at a local gallery if you so choose. We’re also setting up a partnership with the local Community Supported Agriculture. You’re going to grow in abundance here. I had way more than I needed last year, so we’re hoping we can donate and have an exchange program with our CSA, Prosperity Healing Gardens. The last thing is that most of our workshop facilitators are from Indianapolis or Indiana, so we’re giving back in that way. All of those workshops are paid for through the residency, and the rest are coming from around the country. There are so many different ways that we’re feeding back into just the economy— not just the arts economy, but the Indiana economy at large.

What does the future of WLDFLWR look like?
DM: I think it looks like whatever residents leave here. That’s the great thing about this space. Whatever you want to grow, you can grow. This land is fertile. There’s not been anything that we’ve planted that hasn’t taken. I think this space will look like a culmination of all of the hearts and minds that stay here, work here, come here and touch the space over time. Everything that has been planted so far has been planted in collaboration, the work that’s been created here has been done in collaboration, everything that’s been erected inside has been done in collaboration. This is a combination of lots of hearts and minds.