What can make or break a residency experience? Laura Elise Schwendinger



Artist colonies are wondrous places, where creative people have a chance to work, re-energize, and interact with one another. They are safe havens from the noisy world of a city dweller. With meals cooked for you and the every day distractions of the world, like telephones removed, it is much easier to create work. I have been fortunate enough to stay at several of them, over the years, at crucial times in the process of my work. One of my favorite retreats is the Rockefeller Foundation‘s Bellagio Center in Italy. There one will find a fairy tale villa, overlooking Lake Como, with the Dolomite Mountains in one direction and the Alps in another. I found the environment perfect for work and wrote a good deal of music while I was there. In fact, it was at Bellagio where I had an important creative breakthrough, having to do with conceptual ideas I had been working with for sometime. I owe a debt of gratitude to The Rockfeller Foundation and Gianna Celli, for the piece and beauty I encountered there that made that breakthrough possible. In February of last year, I had the great pleasure of staying at the Bogliasco Foundation’s Center, which sits along a hillside above the Italian Riviera. The views of the sea are awe-inspiring. There, I was able to work well for hours at a stretch, with only the sounds of the sea serenading me, and then for a break, what better inspiration then the ancient city of Genoa, which is only 20 minutes from the Center by train.

The colony closest to my heart, though, is the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The studios are beautiful, each one with a personality all its own. I have written many pieces in those cozy rustic cabins and have found the atmosphere remarkably stimulating and helpful in the creation of new work. The pianos are kept in fine condition and the staff and grounds are just wonderful. The live-in studios are especially helpful to me, since I like to work late into the evenings. This is the famous place where lunch baskets are discretely left on your doorstep by Blake, one the sweetest of MacDowell’s staff. MacDowell is an especially wonderful place for composers to gain inspiration and then have uninterrupted time to work through their ideas.