Sunday, November 13, 2011


I'd like to introduce you to the ladies behind the Rural and Proud bags. We gave 10 away last week and have five more on the way! The next giveaway is right around the corner. 

Epicenter is located on the historic corridor of Broadway about 200 feet North of the Amtrak station in Green River, Utah. There, we operate an affordable housing and business resource center in a historic building. Epicenter is a 501(c)3 non-profit supported by grants, private donations, and income from graphic design and print production projects. Epicenter’s one-story renovated storefront building houses a creative studio, a small basement workshop, and four full-time employees. 50% of the driving force behind Epicenter is two rural women, Hayley Crooks and Maria Sykes, a designer-strategist duo. Sykes helped co-found the Epicenter in June of 2009, and Crooks followed shortly after to further strengthen the team. Since it's foundation, Sykes & Crooks helped in the renovation of the Epicenter office, have written grants to fund the Epicenter's programs and projects, and run the Epicenter's Design Department.

Sykes was trained as an architect at Auburn University (known for the Rural Studio), and Crooks also attended at Auburn University but studied industrial design. Typically, one would graduate from design school and pursue traditional careers in urban centers working for large design firms. We chose to move to "the middle of nowhere"; somewhere with need and potential where we could see the direct impact of our time and talents. We see ourselves as part of a change of tone occurring in the design professions, led by students and emerging professionals who want more than what the professions have settled for: working unapologetically for the socio-economic elite. We are crafting an alternative model of practice, one that can accommodate our fervent desire to collaborate and to emphasize place and circumstance. Our insistence for these ideals has led us to a radical mission taken on by “citizen architects” (and citizen designers, more broadly).

The town of Green River is a rural community of just 953 residents at the trifecta of the Green River, Interstate 70, and the railroad. We are often asked, “Why Green River?” At first, we didn’t know (and we still aren’t sure). But we know the fact that question is even asked is a significant portion of the answer. If it was easy and simple, then it would already exist. We do know some factors that answer “why.” The transparency that exists in seeing who the decision-makers are is requisite for our ability to create the Epicenter. The town is manageably small; we can have a better chance at wrapping our heads around the dynamics of a decision made by residents. Even still, because of the context, the town is different and unique enough that when we seek out prototypes and examples from other similar places it is hard to replicate here. Our satisfaction comes from the ability to create social change at an individual scale along with the opportunity for creative expression rather than monetary compensation. In school, we learned techniques of problem solving, and we tasted the impact you can have from working within a community.

Rural women rocking Green River doesn't end with Sykes & Crooks, the town has female business owners, city councilwomen, and community organizers. Additionally, young women regularly come to Green River to participate in the Epicenter's Frontier Fellowship, a program started by a young female artist, Charlotte XC Sullivan. Frontier Fellows join the creative community of Epicenter for four weeks. Fellows create projects that align with Epicenter’s mission and goals as well as working on self-initiated projects. Upon arrival to the desert, Fellows find themselves immersed in the frontier lifestyle of rural Utah. The frontier experience encourages context-driven collaborative work. Epicenter provides project support through access to the rich context of Green River, critical and collaborative support, and a myriad of resources. The Frontier Fellowship enables local, national, and international creative professionals to be involved in Epicenter’s projects and programs with our citizen-designers and staff. Fellows spend 20 hours/week working on Epicenter projects and 20 hours/week on personal projects. The Frontier Fellowship is unpaid, but Fellows are given printing privileges, wifi access, workshop access, use of a rental bicycle, Family Meal Plan membership, plenty of workspace, and their work promoted for their four-weeks (at minimum). Apply for the Frontier Fellowship at

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