One of the most challenging aspects of being an artist is finding the time, space and peace you need to conjure your creativity and produce your art.
Even if you have designated studio space in your home, it can be tough to devote 100% of your focus to your work when real-life responsibilities and distractions lie just on the other side of the door. Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. . . and that’s where the artist retreat comes in.
All over the world there are gorgeous retreats whose principle purpose is to provide artists with a peaceful and inspiring space to focus on creating. Here are a few of the best ones in North America:
1. Fogo Island Arts Corporation – Newfoundland, Canada
Off the coast of Newfoundland is the strikingly beautiful Fogo Island, the home of a residency for artists in a wide variety of media.
Fogo Island photo by sarahlbishop
Perhaps the most notable parts of this residence is the unusual architecture of the 4 studios located around the island. Each one is unique in design but all were made to be off the grid, with compost toilets, solar powered electricity and wood-burning stoves.
The island has long had its own thriving community, but the arts center has brought an exhibition gallery, art conferences, a cinema, workshops and an inn for visitors. Each year they also accept several artist to their residency program. Keep an eye on their site to find out when they put out open calls for proposals.
2. Cassilhaus Artist Retreat and Residency – North Carolina
Dreamed up by husband & wife team Frank Konhaus and Ellen Cassilly, Cassilhaus (a combination of their names), was designed with the intention of being a home, studio, and artist residency all in one. It’s located in in the woods between Chapel Hill and Durham and is a unique and inspiring space. Their mission is “to provide a creative, comfortable, tranquil and visually stimulating environment for artists to get inspired and recharged to make new work.”
Artists in residence stay for 3-7 weeks in the artist pod that’s attached to the couple’s own home. Their stay also often includes a contribution to the community in the form of a workshop, lecture or performance. The experience is social and collaborative while also offering the privacy that many artists need in order to be productive.
3. Oxbow School of Art & Artists’ Residency – Saugatuck, Michigan
Located in the thriving arts community of Saugatuck, Oxbow was started over a century ago by two artists from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). The idea was to provide a place for artists to go to escape from the increasing urban chaos of the Windy City, and the founders chose the location after visiting one summer and falling in love with the natural beauty of Saugatuck-Douglas, an area that is still a popular destination for urbanites looking for a quiet escape.
Saugatuck Ferry photo by Paul Wilkinson
Oxbow itself is unique in the fact that it offers several ways to participate. There are artist residencies, courses, and opportunities for fellowships and visiting artists, all of which are available year round. Some of the courses even come with corresponding college credit at SAIC, so it’s perfect for both working artists and students alike.
4. MacDowell Colony – Peterborough, New Hampshire
This retreat has the distinction of being the very first artist colony in the United States. Founded in 1908 by composer Edward MacDowell and pianist Marian McDowell, it includes 32 artist studios. Alumni include artists such as James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, and Milton Avery.
Artists who are accepted attend for free and can stay for up to 8 weeks. Participants live in a residence or the studios themselves—about a third of them include bathrooms and beds in addition to the necessary equipment artists of various media would require to do their work.
5. Djerassi Resident Artists Program – Woodside, California
This remote California artists’ retreat was actually born out of a tragedy—Pamela Djerassi was a poet and painter who took her own life in 1978. Inspired by his daughter and the Medici family’s art patronage, Pamela’s father decided to use beautiful land he owned that overlooked the Pacific Ocean to facilitate the work of artists.
Photo by Charles Hutchins
Since that time, the program has given over 2,000 artists residencies there, all free of charge. Each year, 90 applicants are selected to receive one-month residencies in order to work on their art while they are provided meals, accommodations and a supportive artist community. Djerassi also offers workshops and tours of the redwood-forested grounds and the over 50 sculptures that visiting artists have created there.
Of course, this is just a small sampling of the many artist retreats in North America, but I believe these are among the finest. If you’re looking for a place to get inspired and produce amazing art, I encourage you to explore any of the options above—I guarantee you’ll find amazing communities and creative experiences at each one.
Jay Deratany is the owner of The Kirby, a luxurious newcomer among Saugatuck hotels in southwest Michigan. He is also a practicing attorney, human rights activist and a screenwriter. For more info visit theKirbyHotel.com.
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