MARQUETTE - When Rob Gorski bought an island in 2011, he had no idea what he was starting.
His purchase of what is now called Rabbit Island has led to an artist-in-residence program that will now include an annual exhibit at The DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
Gorski, who is now a doctor in New York City, did his medical residency in Marquette and has always felt an affinity for the area. He purchased the 91-acre island through craigslist for $140,000.
In an email interview, Gorski said he was amazed at the interest the island and the Kickstarter project that helped set up the artist's residency here has created.
"No, I never expected all of the attention the project has gotten," Gorski wrote. "I guess there really was no expectation of anything when we started out, just some ideas that felt right and some luck. It is exciting that so many people have expressed support for the ideas we're exploring on Rabbit Island.
"We're working in a remote environment but many of the issues we face are the same that people face everywhere in their daily lives - sustainability, conservation, consumption, how to spend one's day, restraint, garbage removal, fishing (most importantly!).
"In that sense Rabbit Island is a new conception of wilderness that acknowledges the beauty of nature but invites cultural reflection. We have the opportunity to do whatever we want out there but make the conscious choice to do very little because we value the wilderness. In the end this feels like a very civilized idea.
"If others were to do this on their land something larger might evolve within the wider culture of land use," he said. "After all, if we can spend our days on the island living simply but having the time of our lives perhaps it might inspire others to realize that they can do the same, regardless of whether they are in the woods, a town or a city. Development and profit are not the only options for raw land and I think we're doing a good job of exemplifying this. We're showing that there is a market for wilderness and that communities can gain value from leaving open spaces intact."
Future plans are being put into effect, he said.
"Over the winter we'll be working on incorporating as a 501c3 and also a B Corp (bcorporation.net/)," Gorski said in his email. "We may open up a little online shop to sell some of the photographs and artwork in order to fund some conservation ideas.
"I'd also like to get some lawyers involved in a 'Lawyers Residency' to help with contracts that we can offer to landowners that will allow land conservation in a way that benefits the owners, the communities, and the environment. Ideally if we could figure out a way to utilize crowd-sourcing to do this and create a sustainable platform for people who are passionate about open space to start similar conservation projects in their own communities we'd be happy.
"We'll also be inviting out some more artists to work next year. We've started an interesting and relevant dialogue in the art world and hope to continue this."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.