Artist colony at McCool Junction?

On the drive home from Nebraska this weekend we passed McCool Junction, Nebraska. Our travels up to the Cornhusker state usually take us by this very small town (population ~ 385) which is for some reason very memorable to both me and my wife. She finds it a very, um, cool name for a community, as do I. The place is also burned in my memory after driving through a dust storm at night just south of town.

I’m impressed that a town of this size has its own website (as it should, just that so many still don’t) and that the site is actually clean and functional.

McCool Jct

I started daydreaming after passing McCool Junction, daydreaming that a retiring farmer was going to donate a few acres to me for a Christian artist retreat. Apparently none of his children wanted to farm corn, and he liked my idea and wanted to help get it off the ground. There were two barns, a modest farmhouse and another small outbuilding on the property. A windmill still pumped water out of the Ogallala Aquifer. The rest of his land was going to be sold or auctioned off, but 12 acres (or 8, or 23) would be donated to the nonprofit . . .

. . . wait, what nonprofit? This started me thinking about more of the administrative details caught up in the idea (brainstormed in GoogleDocs). If I set up a nonprofit beforehand, would it encourage this kind of donation? I suppose you could create an agreement with a landowner stating that the land would not be transferred until the nonprofit was established if you had to, but getting your 501(c)3 status earlier seemed the better idea.

The daydream continued in earnest until we neared Salina, Kansas. I wanted to recruit my friends from Germany to help out. She wants to move back to the States and he wants to work the land. I figured she could commute to Lincoln and teach at the university while he farms our small plot and, perhaps, keeps some chickens and goats (and alpacas and sheep if my wife had any say in the matter). The vegetables, eggs and cheese would help feed artists eager to learn how to live creative lives of service informed by their faith. The retiring farmer left an old pickup and small tractor toward this end, and the aforementioned outbuilding would be used as a barn for these agricultural endeavors.

I would task my architect friends with designing compact, sustainable and beautiful residences for the incoming artists. The barns would become studio and gallery space. The exteriors of the existing structures would be modified to match the new architecture (or vice versa). Power would ideally be solar, maybe wind. An abandoned church or schoolhouse on the edge of the acreage would serve as a chapel, and a walking trail would encircle the property.

My daydreams can be fairly elaborate, if you couldn’t tell by now, and are also fruitful in the scheme of things. While I may not be excited about administrative details such as applying for nonprofit status, they have to be done. And, just to curb any misinterpretation of this post, I am not planning to apply for 501(c)3 status this month. Or next. Probably not even this year.

But before I actually go out soliciting retiring farmers for a few acres on the corner of their spread, perhaps (assuming God leads me into ever actually establishing said retreat).


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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