Colonial Legacy: MacDowell Colony Executive Director Cheryl Young

Collaborations & The People Behind the Scenes

MOLLY SHERIDAN: So this can lead to the beginning of formal collaborations…

CHERYL YOUNG: There have been some great examples of collaborations. One of the most famous is the Porgy and Bess story, which I like because they still have a connection with us because we are receiving the royalties for Porgy and Bess. What happened essentially is that Dorothy and DuBose Heyward met at the colony and she was a playwright and she read DuBose’s novel and she said, “This would make a great play.” And, apparently on the sly, she worked on it and transformed it into a play without his even knowing it, and then she showed it to him and of course he loved it. And then it was staged here in New York and it received great reviews and Gershwin saw it and said that it was terrific, and so it ended up being set to music and, of course, that collaboration took place outside the colony. But, just the way the whole thing transpired is a great example of how a work of art can be transformed by meeting an artist from a different discipline. The Heyward Foundation, which manages the estate, has been a consistent contributor to the colony, which has just been wonderful. Aaron Copland, who was very involved with MacDowell for a number of years as chairman of the board, created some of his best work here at the colony. I think that meeting other artists creates that ferment of possibility: taking different directions, to work with a choreographer or to work with somebody who sees something different in your work… Even with poets, the visual artists might say, “Gee, this would be wonderful to have visual art alongside these poems.” That happens frequently, but it’s never forced. Some people do apply together and they come and work on a specific project, but quite often, it just happens. It’s just part of the friendship process that takes place.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: That’s the creative side, but there’s also the practical side of these artists not having to make their own meals, not having to clean up after themselves…

CHERYL YOUNG: Well, we like them to clean up for themselves [laughs].

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Well, you have to get your basket back on time…

CHERYL YOUNG: You heard about the scolding if you don’t get your basket back on time!

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Practically, it takes about $150 dollars a day to provide for an artist there.

CHERYL YOUNG: It’s a little bit more than that now, but yes…

MOLLY SHERIDAN: So how many people are there working behind the scenes making sure everything gets taken care of?

CHERYL YOUNG: It’s a real operation and it’s more or less invisible. There’s a maintenance department of three and in the summer we add people because in the summer the grass grows faster. There are more people in residence and more light bulbs go out, things need to be painted and so forth. There’s a maintenance team of three in the kitchen staff, preparing all the meals and, in the summer again, we add more people because there are more people in residence. There’s a housekeeping crew that goes in and cleans. There are two of those most of the time and in the summer we add. Then there’s administrative staff: the admissions office that handles all 1200 applications and that number is growing. We’ve got two people in what we call fellow services, which is just helping people get acclimated and just facilitating their work. Sometimes someone will arrive for a residence with a broken leg and call us saying: “Gee, should I still plan to come.” After sorting back and forth how mobile or immobile they are, often they do end up coming and it just requires a little bit extra effort and we have this staff to make sure people can get around. You do have to walk back and forth between the main building and your studio unless you bring a car, but the walk we consider to be part of the whole MacDowell experience, especially in the wintertime when the snow is crunchy and the air is clean. And, of course in the summer when the days are really long, people will spend hours in the fields walking the trails. We do something called a town run. We’re close to Peterborough, which is Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town…

MOLLY SHERIDAN: That’s right.

CHERYL YOUNG: Thornton Wilder wrote Our Town at MacDowell. He also wrote an opera with Louise Talma, actually–a wonderful collaboration that took place here. They had a great friendship and they wrote an opera called The Alcestiad, which was produced in Europe but not the United States because it was a fairly expensive production. It just didn’t get off the ground. There’s an administrative staff in New York that does all the fundraising. There are four people in New York, plus there’s a board of directors with 60 directors, 14 committees… It’s quite an operation but what we hope is that it will be invisible to the artists. They more or less can go about their business and not have to think about all of this. The plant itself requires an enormous amount of work. There are 40 buildings and four miles of roads. We just completed a very large project to work on the infrastructure of the electricity, water, and utilities. The place is in terrific shape because of all the hard work of the staff and also raising all the money to make it possible.

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