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Videographer Mary Grace Legg Shoots for Change

A still from Mary Grace Legg's Warm Cookies video, “Own this City: Emergency,” 2019.EXPAND
A still from Mary Grace Legg's Warm Cookies video, “Own this City: Emergency,” 2019.
Courtesy of Mary Grace Legg
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Mary Grace Legg makes her living as a videographer with mad creative and technical skills, but we also call her a storyteller, a documentarian, a performer, a writer, a farmer, a mail artist and an enthusiast for the rare and unusual. More than anything, Legg has an eye for hidden treasures — for the quality Ralph Waldo Emerson was getting at when he said, ”A man is like a bit of Labrador spar, which has no lustre as you turn it in your hand until you come to a particular angle; then it shows deep and beautiful colors.”

One of Legg’s most beautiful enthusiasms is the civic health club Warm Cookies of the Revolution, where she serves on the board and contributes video content that furthers the organization’s mission to bring people together over cookies and questions about how government works. Lately, as Warm Cookies has had to devise more socially distanced programs, Legg is documenting neighborhood heroes and creating a video community almanac.

Legg has a lot to say about her inseparable work and zeal for life as she throws herself into answering the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.

Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Mary Grace Legg: I’ve never given a name nor assigned a person/place/thing to my muse — maybe because I don’t want to spook her or I admire her elusiveness — so it’ll take some fancy footwork to pin her down now. I’ve already defined my daimon as female, moving elegantly through the stages of maiden, mother, crone: half Japanese, half French and one-fourth Icelandic (apparently terrible at fractions). She’s a social and philosophical collagist, farmer activist, loves DIY couture made from recycled materials, frequents the Mutter Museum, never misses a Bosch Parade nor a Dark Mofo, is the first and last on the dance floor, and she’s always reminding me that we are all future ghosts.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?

I’m not the type of person who wants to meet their idols. (It’s probably more that I don’t think it’s necessary for them to meet me.) I’m happy with learning about them through the works they create, the ideals they promote, and the public personas they grant us. But I know the spirit of the question is to give you a peek into what I value…so how to sum that up through the naming of three widely known people? Here’s one combination: Marcel Duchamp, Maria Bamford and Margaret Atwood. We’d begin the party simultaneously pointing out the synchronicity of our names starting with the Spanish “sea” and the English word for spoiling something… (Seriously, I did not do that on purpose. I’m a little startled by it.) Might be better to instead have a sick dance party with a few members of the Jabbawockeez.

A still from May Grace Legg's video explanation of Warm Cookies of the Revolution's “Own this City: Government,” 2019.EXPAND
A still from May Grace Legg's video explanation of Warm Cookies of the Revolution's “Own this City: Government,” 2019.
Courtesy of Mary Grace Legg

What made you pick up a video camera in the first place?

When I was young, I learned that every time you recall a memory, you change it, and so I must have made a subconscious decision to leave the past behind rather than to muddy the water with recollection. So maybe video is my main medium of expression because of my relationship with memory: namely, having a bad one. More likely it's because my family’s pastime when I was growing up was going to the cinema. I initially aspired to be in front of the camera, but found it more freeing to be at the controls. Plus, it’s pretty universal — or was before video became ubiquitous — that the first reaction people have to putting a camera in their face is to smile.

What makes Warm Cookies so great? Explain your role with the organization, and why you do it.

Warm Cookies of the Revolution is so great because it’s a good workout, and every time I leave a program I feel ten pounds lighter. Truly, I think Evan Weissman and what he’s created with Warm Cookies is brilliant, and I’m so happy to be along for the ride. The programs are fun and insightful, full of art and joy, and they bring together a variety of people that you wouldn’t normally see together in a room. It’s so rare to be able to get together in a meaningful way to make those steps toward building a better reality. I learn so much at Warm Cookies programs, and I always leave inspired to take a bit more ownership over the city and the decisions that affect how we live and move in it.

Besides being one of WCOTR’s biggest fans, I’ve served on the board of directors since the beginning, have documented the events, created original video content for events, and most recently began producing its online video programming. I do it because it makes me feel a part of the solution, and I’m addicted to Izaiah Buseth’s cookies.

What’s your dream project?

I’d love to work with organizations/activists/alternative-lifestylers who are pushing for sustainable solutions to correct the harm we humans have done to the environment and other living creatures. Oh, and ever since I emerged from the joyful oddness of House on the Rock in Wisconsin, I’ve wanted to learn how to make one of those eerie scenes made up of automatons. So, yeah, doing stuff with nature and making robots — my eyes are on the future.

Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

Both. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Denver. In many ways it was my first love. I grew up here, my family is here, my friends are here, but for a good while, because of my interests, I fed into the idea that I had to head to the coasts to progress. I no longer have that narrative in my head, but now I have a spouse who is deeply connected to those wild and wonderful hills of rural West Virginia, and we spent six years working the earth and building a second home there, so now I have a connection to it, as well. And even though I live my life open to possibilities, I re-committed myself to Denver in 2020, and it is home.

Mary Grace Legg “giving happy thanks,” 2018.EXPAND
Mary Grace Legg “giving happy thanks,” 2018.
Courtesy of Mary Grace Legg

What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?

I feel like Denver has been pretty good about supporting the arts. As a theater geek in high school, I was psyched that Denver was a major stop for new Broadway musicals. And today, everywhere I go, I see public art, even in unlikely places. But Denver is no longer an affordable city for artists just starting out to make their home. I’m seeing some stirrings of real solutions to the housing problem, but we need to push further. Also, the city should work to create more grant opportunities for individual artists.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

My spouse, Tony Terrafranca, who would never consider himself an “artist,” but is a skilled carpenter and farmer and my number-one creative ally. Also, my good friend Leslie Minnis, who turns everything she touches into art.

What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?

This year I am working with Warm Cookies to create two video series. One series will weave together “Legends” (the guides on maps, revered people in the community, and the stories we keep telling). The first video premiered at the beginning of February and resurrects historic footage of Denver griot Opalanga D. Pugh and profiles African chef Adwoa Osei-Fordwuo.

The upcoming video series is a “Community Almanac” with contributions from artists and activists. It’s a collection of socially engaged art and wisdom, imbued with nature and celebration. The first in the series provides a manual of sorts for future-building around housing in Denver. We will follow that with Climate Crisis, Food Systems and, finally, Health.

I am also excited to be collaborating with Theatre Artibus to translate performances and reshape collected materials of RECIPE SHARED (their sequel to RECIPE) to video for online viewing.

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

I wish I could tell you! For reasons geographic and personal, over the past five years I’ve lived a somewhat socially hermetic life. At the start of 2020 I firmly planted myself in Denver and made a resolution to reacquaint myself with the local arts/culture community. We all know what happened to thwart that.

Learn more about Mary Grace Legg, her work and her enthusiasms online at dochamp.com, marygracelegg.com and @freeearthfarm. 

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