Artist Lab Report:
Reflections on our time at Lakeside Lab

by Wild Prairie Winds


By Kim Cassisa

Since returning home after living at Lakeside Lab for two weeks this summer, I have struggled to answer the question I get from friends and coworkers – “what was it like?” My experience at Lakeside fell somewhere between summer camp, vacation, and retreat. It was none of these things entirely but each one partially. As an artist, there is no better time for me to reflect, create, and absorb inspiration than when I am free from outside responsibilities and distractions, and free to make my own schedule, or have no schedule at all. Lakeside provided a refuge from the outside world where all twenty-four hours in the day were my own. The abundance of beauty in the land enclosing the cozy campus invited me everyday to explore. Sometimes the explorations were active – learning a plant by touching, smelling, or tasting. Other times they were passive – roasting in a kayak under the midday sun to watch a baby eagle fly from its nest. For me, the passive exploration was the most challenging and illuminating; my instinct is always to approach an animal or to pick a flower or to remove a pretty rock and take it home. At Lakeside, I gained a new and more mature appreciation for exploring nature in a passive way, to observe rather than disrupt. 


As a musician I often over analyze and criticize both other artists’ and my own output, whether it be attending what should be a relaxing and entertaining concert, or my own rehearsals and practice sessions. The desire to criticize is not malicious; it stems from the necessity to analyze and reflect in order to improve. It’s hard for me to enjoy listening to a recording that has any clarinet part, because I pick away at the smallest details and constantly compare. In some ways, this behavior helps motivate me to be better and improves my ear. But at what cost! How can you play music, hoping others will enjoy it, if you can’t even enjoy it yourself?


Lakeside allowed me a time to step back and appreciate the value of observing, not with the intent to change or improve, or even understand, but simply to absorb. As I returned to the “real world,” I have tried to keep this sense of peace I found which tied my appreciation for nature with that of music. More than anything, Lakeside was a home for me those two weeks. I felt comfortable, relaxed, and at peace. I don’t expect to have another opportunity quite like that in my lifetime, and I hope that the lessons I absorbed in Milford will stay with me.


On Performing

By Daniela Volkovinsky

When we first arrived at Lakeside Lab, we were shocked by the natural beauty of the space as well as the kindness and camaraderie between the students, faculty, and other participants. That feeling of camaraderie quickly became something that the three of us experienced as a group as well. The first week of our stay was something that I will never forget because we were completely in charge of our time and our schedules. This gave us the chance to explore the grounds, do all of the outdoor activities, and plan for performances. The first performance that we planned was the 4th of July concert, a short but sweet rendition of America’s “greatest hits.” We were able to rehearse for this and many of our following performances on the porch of our cabin and these rehearsals often devolved into fits of laughter and shenanigans but helped us prepare nonetheless.


During the performance itself, which took place outside of the dining hall, the wind often knocked down our music (even with clothespins) while we nervously shouted “page turn,” “page turn!” But we didn’t mind because behind us was a beautiful view of Lake Okoboji surrounded by the natural beauty of forested trails. 


For our culminating performance, we spent the second week of our stay doing a lot of planning. This performance was going to be a trio performance which was something we didn’t expect so we had to find music that suited the instrumentation, rehearse it, and plan the logistics of the concert. We knew that we wanted to perform outside again because even though we could use Mahan Hall (a beautiful indoor learning space), we wanted to capitalize on the natural beauty of Lakeside Lab. Planning this performance offered us the opportunity to experiment with how music is heard and experienced in the outdoors while also continuing to discover new things about the space that we were in. In the end, this performance was a beautiful culmination of music that was learned while at Lakeside Lab and audiences were free to walk through the trails or sit and listen. A lot of cardboard was used in preparation for potential wind gusts 🙂


Lakeside Lab was an experience unlike any other. As artists and musicians, we are often at the mercy of someone else’s plan. However, at Lakeside, we were not only in charge of our time but we were also in charge of our performances, the music we performed, and even the frequency of performances. We also had the opportunity to cultivate friendships with other AIRs as well as writers and students and that made the experience even more meaningful. We look forward to keeping up with Lakeside Lab through social media and hopefully stay in touch with the people that we met. We are truly thankful for this experience and loved every minute of it.


On Nature

By Jenna Sehmann 

Anyone who knows me will know that while I do have an adventurous side, I’d describe myself as an “indoors” person (I can blame this on being an oboist, which requires several hours a week at a desk spent reed-making). The idea of being at Lakeside Lab for two weeks in nature both excited me and made me a bit nervous, I had not spent an extended time in nature (let alone by water!) for years. Over our two weeks as artists-in-residence, I found myself so inspired by nature in unexpected ways. 


From our first day at lakeside lab, Kim, Daniela, and I made daily schedules for ourselves that included 1-2 sessions of “outdoors activities.” We left these intentionally vague to let ourselves have the freedom to explore different areas of the lab, as well as participate in various activities. I’m outlining some of our favorite activities below: 


Kayaking: I had never been on a kayak before! While it started off rocky (quite literally…I lost my balance getting into the kayak the first time) it quickly became one of my favorite things to do to connect with nature while at Lakeside. The second week we were there (first week of July), Kim and I went kayaking and saw the two baby bald eagles around their nest near the lake. We were able to sit quietly on our kayaks for almost an hour and watch as they explored learning to fly. 


Nature walk treasure hunt: Each summer, Lakeside Lab has a nature walk treasure hunt created by interns. This years included a treasure map and stickers (ok…so it might have been geared towards kids and families…but a musician who knows very little about nature and loves stickers is pretty close right?). We did this treasure hunt during our first few days at Lakeside. Not only did it allow us to walk lots of the trails on the grounds, the treasure map taught us valuable information about different plants and animals that we continued to use throughout our time as artists-in-residence. Kim and Daniela took a foraging class that also allowed us to sample wild strawberries and black raspberries on the nature walk. 


Biking: We greatly enjoyed exploring the biking trails around the Okoboji area, my favorite part was riding through the fields…the sky looked like it went on forever.


Playing music outside: I’d say our main goal as artists-in-residence was to combine music-making and nature. Daniela outlines this more in her performing reflection- but I wanted to highlight the fact that as much as possible we tried to practice individually and as a group outside. My favorite morning practice location was by the boat dock. Sometimes on quiet mornings I could stop and hear clarinet and flute sounds while Kim and Daniela practiced far away in other parts of the lab. I felt most at peace during these practice sessions.


Cayler Prairie: Another special experience was a trip we took to Cayler Prairie during the second week.


Lakeside intern Emma Onstad accompanied some of the artists and writers in residence to the prairie, which is a National Natural Landmark. As we walked through, Emma was able to point out different types of prairie life. We saw an invasive fungus that looked almost like nylon rope taking over part of the prairie. 


We also saw two versions of the prairie rose, which our group the Wild Prairie Winds is named after. This was our first time actually seeing the rose in person, and we saw both the white and pink version.



“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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