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Impressions From an Intern

Guest Post by Danielle VonLehe

Suffice it to say I had, at best, a miniscule idea of what was to come in the weeks following my introduction to the Pomegranate Center. I am a graduating senior in English and Photomedia at the University of Washington, and I reached out to the Pomegranate Center in order to gain experience in the field of landscape architecture. In return for Fellows Training, I interned at the Pomegranate Center where my foremost role was to help with the nonprofit’s storytelling efforts. I traveled with the team and photographed current builds, as well as builds which had taken place in past years. Now that my internship is nearing its end, both initial impressions and eventual lessons learned over the past ten weeks are vivid.

I walked into the ferry terminal with tired eyes and too little rain gear on the first morning of our Neah Bay build. In this very northwestern tip of the country, I would be photographing the beginning of the team’s 7-day project creating a community gathering place for the Makah Tribe. Within these extremely soggy 7 days, the Pomegranate Center would create 2 fire circles, a set of stairs leading down to the beach, many collapsible benches and a beautiful acid washed mural of the Makah Tribe’s whale and eagle iconography.  As the ferry sailed west of the city, we gathered together for introductions and some initial planning. Although l toted a camera as my tool and sandals as my footwear, I was taken aback at the good faith and trust the Pomegranate team had in one another to accomplish our respective jobs. Regardless of the flattening rain that tore our work tarps down repeatedly, of the multiple day delay on material delivery, of the lack of one ill-equipped person to provide herself rain gear or work boots (hey, that’s me), the team kept building together. In the evening, we gathered for grilled halibut freshly caught from the Pacific and exchanged stories on why, despite the battering rain and wind, the Northwest is a resilient environment which, fittingly, fosters similar resilience in both individuals and communities.

Neah Bay builders
Our intrepid Neah Bay building team enjoying a rare sunny moment (I was behind the camera).

This resilience reoccured during the following months of my time with Pomegranate Center. Regardless of the odds, in fact, in spite of the odds, the Pomegranate team found a way to seemingly create time and maximize energy. For instance, I was given the opportunity to work on an art piece decorating the concrete steps which surround the Pomegranate’s 2014 project at Valle Lindo in Eastern Washington. I planned on spray painting various stencils onto the corrugated concrete but, once I’d arrived at the sight in the morning, I noticed the sprinklers had been on all night, making spray painting impossible. Of course the solution was to retrieve twenty some towels, get down on our knees, and hand dry the steps. Why not? This kind of resilience, the ability to work regardless of impending challenge or the unexpected, is a mentality I will continue to use for future goals after my internship with the Pomegranate Center.

During community meetings at Milton-Freewater, I was enthralled to see how the idea of a community gathering place was illuminated for attendees by the esthetic principles to be used in this gathering place. Milton-Freewater’s gathering place is to be built in the space once occupied by an historic Dairy Queen. Thus, when discussing a seating area for the gathering place at a community meeting, most attendees were more excited about the ice-cream cone themed benches than the practicality of seating itself. The mosaic’s color on the path leading through the space appeared to matter more than the contours of the actual path. The esthetic spirit of place, the art of the gathering area, was what invigorated the community members to believe in the possibility of something as quick as a seven day build. Art helped the community dream together at meetings, as well as work on the field. Art at the Pomegranate Center is not set aside for one artist to accomplish in a closed room, unengaged from the external world. Rather, it is outside, and is for anyone. Anyone, of any age can move a brush back and forth across corrugated concrete, can create.

Some of the artistic elements of the Milton-Freewater Gathering Place.
Some of the artistic elements of the Milton-Freewater Gathering Place.

This was a refreshing concept for me. I highly appreciate my education as a Fine Arts student, but it is true this education comes with the idea of the conceptual artist as somehow separate from surrounding society. Whether or not you agree with this, it was encouraging to have an experience where creation was used in collaboration with the external world.

Ultimately, in the course of two months, my work with the Pomegranate Center brought me from the northwest tip of Washington State to a small town in Oregon called Milton-Freewater. I worked in both battering wind and dry sunlight. I photographed with sunglasses and rain boots. Yet, there is a common denominator in this variety of environmental conditions: the human relationship. The Pomegranate Center both brings community members together through sharing commonalities related to place, as well as forms a resilient community in itself where positive ideas and outcomes are brought to fruition. Without the support of the team, I would have been entirely drenched and frozen that first rainy morning at Neah Bay. However, Milenko arrived with a bright yellow rain gear, disapproving eyes, and wisdom I will never forget: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” I knew this internship would deliver a promised “real-world” experience, but I did not know the discipline would be one almost completely estranged from an academic context. At the Pomegranate Center, I learned the value of human trust in, and support for, one another. For this, I am incredibly grateful. I, undoubtably, look forward to seeing the work the Pomegranate Center will embrace in the following years.