Colonial Legacy: MacDowell Colony Executive Director Cheryl Young

The Colony Community

MOLLY SHERIDAN: As far as the composers who are coming to MacDowell, a lot are first timers and others come back again and again and they are doing really great work and doing great work at MacDowell, they’re encouraged to keep coming back…

CHERYL YOUNG: Exactly, we call them colony hoppers actually. I think again, it’s the sincerity factor. There isn’t a support system for individual artists. There are very few ways for artists to support themselves in this country. And we’ve talked about it as a policy not to limit the number of times someone can come. We’ve decided that since we have so many slots–we have over 250 slots a year–that there’s really no need to limit the number of times a person comes and again it’s really to be supportive rather than to be exclusionary. There was an idea on the table for a while that it would be much more prestigious if we only gave it once. Some important prizes are only given once. But we’re not about making a MacDowell residency prestigious; we’re more about helping the artist, so again it’s that sincerity purpose. We really want to create a support system that works. And as long as people are doing high quality work, we want to support it. In terms of the balance of American versus international artists, again we felt that we were really an American artists community. But Edward and Marian MacDowell worked abroad. They knew how wonderful it was to have that different perspective of different cultures. Very early on she was bringing all these international artists to MacDowell. So that will always be part of the program. But we do feel that we’re here to support American artists. That’s our primary focus and I think it will continue to be even with globalization where you can go anywhere in the world and have a residency experience. I think that it’s good for American artists to meet other American artists even if it’s east coast, west coast, and people who aren’t plugged into what I would call the traditional fabric in the music world. People who are on the edge, outsiders, gain something from being brought into this community and really getting to know some people. It’s not really networking so much as it’s supporting each other. It’s not like business deals are being done at MacDowell because artists get their support from the outside more and more, from publishers or from the audience who are the consumers. The consumers aren’t in residence, so the networking is totally different. It’s not about networking to get your work published or networking to get a concert done. It’s more collaboration so that when you enter into the community you create some friendships and create a support structure that is personal and artistic.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: A lot of these artists come to this small, very positive place and they are from primarily urban areas.

CHERYL YOUNG: Right, right…

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Informally they’ll meet each other at dinner. Have formal collaborations actually started at MacDowell?

CHERYL YOUNG: They have indeed. Let me describe what MacDowell’s residency program does, and I think many residency programs are similar. What happens is that you are assigned a studio. We ask what kind of workspace you need and what your other needs will be when you are in residence. And some people live in the studios and some people are assigned a room in a residence. There are three small houses on the property with about eight bedrooms so it’s a shared residence. You can either live in your studio and work there, or you can find a wonderful experience in leaving your house and going to the place where you work. Many artists work in their homes. They have a little cubby that they work in or they work on the kitchen table. So, for some people, it’s actually a really wonderful experience to feel like they’re going off to a separate workspace. Breakfast is served at 7:30 in the morning until 8:30. Lunch is delivered to the studio. If anything can be a MacDowell signature, it’s the picnic basket that Mrs. MacDowell always made for Edward. She packed him off so he didn’t have to come back to the main house while he was working. And then dinner is a community dinner in the dining room. That’s the meal where all people meet who are in residence because not everybody gets up in time for breakfast. So, at dinnertime, you’ll be sitting next to all different kinds of people. We schedule it so that it’s staggered with people arriving and departing all the time. Then after dinner–usually it’s completely unscheduled, you’re really on your own, you can come and go as you please–generally what happens is that someone will have a presentation and so people might go to the library for a reading by one of the poets. It’s completely elective. People don’t have to go. If you’re working on a commission for the symphony and you’re on a deadline, you’d say, “I just can’t do anything. I’m gonna eat my dinner, have dessert, and run back to my studio and work.” But that’s when you really get to see what other people are doing. What that person you were sitting with at dinner is engaged in and you’ll say, “Oh my God, I didn’t know about your work. Your work is amazing. Tell me more about it.”