We had the good fortune of connecting with Lynn Cornelius and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lynn, how do you think about risk?
I think risk is inherent in the creative process. As someone who’s been an artist and an educator for most of my adult life, I would even say that cultivating risk, that is, playing at the edge between the known and the unknown, is one of the best things we can do to face down the fear of failure. Accepting risk as a part of my artistic practice and how I’ve approached my career has made spending time worrying about ideas of “success” and “failure” less interesting and has imbued the process of making–whether it’s a work of art, a garden, a class or workshop, or a career move–with curiosity. The choices become more about discovery than achieving a certain goal. Artists are incredibly skilled at is problem solving. Trying things over and over again, learning from the results, critiquing, editing…these are all skills anyone in the arts learns how to do. Iterating is second nature for those of us who have the privilege to make art and be in creative fields.
The defining career moments for me have been when I have said yes to a thing that feels on the edge of my comfort zone. In these moments, I often have no idea where the choice will lead and is sometimes a decision that doesn’t necessarily make sense on the surface, but it is a response to a gut sense of “yes, that.” I think about what the novelist E.L. Doctorow said: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I think this is true of most creative endeavors for me, including my career trajectory. I have always been fascinated by people who’ve had clear and specific goals and followed those through their lives–I think that’s wonderful, but my life has not unfolded that way. If you’d have told my 20-something-year-old self the path my life would take, that I would teach (and what I would teach! and where! and with/for whom!) and that I would be a university art school administrator, or that I would co-lead workshops that blend art with wellness/transformation practices, or any number of creative experiments along the way…I wouldn’t have predicted any of it, really. In continuing to take risks I remind myself that there’s no “wrong” answer. There’s just “I’m doing this thing now” and I may be scared, or the lessons may not be what I imagined they would be when I started, or it might be the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. I always pay attention to the voice that nudges me in a certain direction, especially if it comes at 4:00 a.m. and there is the telltale sign of a good risk: my heart is beating fast with excitement (or maybe fear).
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My career path has never gone in a straight line, and while facing the unknown that’s inherent in not having a clear trajectory has sometimes been challenging, it’s also been exciting. When I first started out with an MFA in Fiber Art, I took several jobs teaching in an adjunct capacity at different institutions of higher education around Colorado. Eventually I landed at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. I started out teaching Fibers, Weaving, and freshman foundations classes, as well as graduate-level studio classes. I also learned a lot about creativity and taught workshops in the community for people who may not identify as artists, but who want to lead a more creative life (I still do those from time-to-time). I met my husband in Greeley (he’s a classical musician and has taught and been an administrator in the School of Music at UNC for a long time) and decided that I wanted to stay and make a life here.
I’ve always been open and curious about where my expertise can meet a need in whatever community I’m a part of, and that has really led my career in interesting directions. It really started with seeing a disconnect between the students in my art classes at the university and the local Greeley community, and wondering how I could facilitate more connection between the two communities. I pitched some ideas to the school administration and also to city officials, and people responded with enthusiasm, and the first project I took on was a yarn bomb of a local bus stop. It was invigorating for the students, and generated a lot of excitement. From there I took every chance I could to teach something new and to engage with the community (even though I sometimes felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants!). It was in teaching these classes I really learned and became familiar with risk-taking in my career. There were so many variables and so many ways that things could go wrong. Things almost never went entirely according to plan, but the projects were always successful in that the students learned how to navigate working with people outside their studios and were often outside of their comfort zone, and we made wonderful connections within the larger community. I also built classes around arts entrepreneurship and co-taught with colleagues and created interdisciplinary ideas-based seminars, all of which were opportunities for me to keep learning and growing. I went on to become Interim Director of the School of Art and Design and held that position through some very intense challenges, such as staff restructuring, budget cuts, and COVID. Now I’m at a point where I’m pausing to reevaluate again and to make a change from higher education into something new and different, and I’m excited about the next chapter. I’m serving as the Vice President of the Greeley Creative District Board and appreciate participating to support the vibrance of the local community’s arts and music scene.
All along the way I’ve learned that curiosity and leaning in to “what wants to happen” (as a mentor of mine says) have helped me navigate all kinds of challenges. I think the basic premise of improv to say “yes, and…” in response to whatever comes up has been something I’ve relied on throughout my life, especially when facing the unknown. What I’ve learned through making art over the years has been invaluable for me in my career. Artists quickly learn how to get comfortable with the “blank canvas” of not knowing exactly what’s next, flexibility around things not necessarily going as planned, problem solving, collaborating, listening closely and responding to feedback and critique, and facing the fear of trying something new and unpredictable (often in public). I love that I continue to iterate in my career, and to get to be a practicing artist (I’m a tapestry weaver) and married to a practicing musician has totally enriched the “day jobs” I’ve had over the years.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve lived in Greeley since 2007, and know it’s often gotten a bad rap. I want to say, though, that if my best friend came come to town, we’d have an awesome time here—it’s a great town. There are great breweries and places to eat and drink, a cool downtown with public art and a vibrant music scene. Here are some things I would plan during a week’s vacation to Northern Colorado:
A long walk or bike ride along the Poudre River trail. The trail connects Greeley to Windsor, and it reaches all the way through Fort Collins. This could be an all-day adventure, or a shorter jaunt. It’s a favorite way to spend time with the gorgeous views of the mountains, local ponds, and wildlife.
A walking tour of the Greeley Creative District. Something people may not know about Greeley how it values art, and there’s an incredible collection of public art here. There are tons of murals (I’d definitely take a stroll down the Art Alley) and public art works downtown, the tree sculptures lining 8th Avenue…there’s art everywhere! Check out the Greeley Creative District website for a comprehensive map.
The Campus Commons Gallery at the University of Northern Colorado has had some amazing critically acclaimed exhibitions and I’m always curious to see what’s next. Yucca Fountain, for example, was an interactive installation in which the artists Andrew Bablo and Helen Popinchalk created a complete restoration of a 1950s atomic-age soda fountain.
Speaking of the University of Northern Colorado: The School of Music has us lucky to have students performing at venues throughout Greeley on a regular basis.
Over the summer, Greeley does a Friday Fest downtown, which is a super fun (and free) block party with great live music.
Here’s something that is totally unique and a total blast to do in Greeley: The Colorado Model Railroad Museum. I take guests here all the time, and it’s worth the stop. It’s so fun: 5,500 square feet of miniature working model trains, complete with amazing (tiny!) interactive scenes. It has hundreds of scale locomotives and 80 scale miles of train track and thousands of handmade artifacts. It’s truly amazing.
So many tiny things! There’s a ton of historic tidbits to learn, too, but…SO MANY TINY THINGS!
Most people think of the Rocky Mountains as a must-see when they visit Colorado (and they’d be right about that). One of my favorite places, though, is the lesser-visited Pawnee National Grasslands in Northern Colorado—a sea of big dramatic Colorado sky and wide-open grasslands. Check out the wildflowers in the spring.
Some of my favorite spots to eat and drink:
The Kress Cinema and Lounge is a great place to get a cocktail and a light dinner. It’s a theater and you can have your food and drinks while watching a film or you can just hang out in the beautifully restored art deco bar. This is my favorite hangout in Greeley—I love everything about it!
I also would add Luna’s Tacos to the itinerary (after a great meal and margarita’s, go next door to take in some music at the Moxie Theater).
There are some great coffee hang outs in Greeley, but my all-time favorite is Margie’s. It’s in a gorgeous historic building and features local artists and has a small shop of cool locally handmade art and crafts.
Brix Brew and Tap is a great place to grab a beer and hang out on the patio. They do a variety of in-house brews, and also feature “guest taps” from around Colorado. It’s also right next to the best pizza joint in town, Right Coast Pizza.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
While there are many people who have been important to my creative and professional life and have been incredibly supportive, I especially appreciate Andrew Liccardo for his friendship, guidance, and mentorship.