Memento Mori: Path. Second of Three Panels. Created at the Fundacion Valparaiso, Spain.
Imagine waking up in a gorgeous, centuries old Moorish olive mill to an amazing light across the mountains outside your window. There is a wonderful cook and pamper person taking care of all your basic needs. It is super quiet and peaceful where you are but you are a twenty minute scenic walk into a charming white washed town on the Mediterranean. Oh, and you have your own art studio with a wall of windows overlooking those mountains. In Spain. Or a river in France. Or the high desert in Lama, New Mexico. Or the mountains of Virginia. Welcome to the world of art residencies and why I am thoroughly hooked.
I don't attempt to call myself an expert in either applying for or attending art residencies by any means. There are far many more people who have travelled the globe for such a thing more than me. I like to think what I lack in expertise though, I make up for in enthusiasm. I would love to share my experiences at four residencies I have had in the above locations. And yes, I AM endorsing each of them!
1. Virginia Center For Creative Arts. Amherst, Virginia
Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains in Amherst, Virginia is the VCCA. I have had two residencies here in my (almost) home state. I remember so clearly the first time I went in 1995. My son was only 2 and I left him with his more than capable father in order to have a week of art-making at this gorgeous mountaintop retreat.
First of all, the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains are...stunning. I mean, I have seen quite a few mountain ranges, but anyone who has seen the Blue Ridge will tell you, there is something about that whole area that will stop your heart with its beauty. The lush of color, especially in the fall is simply majestic. Here I need to mention that without trying, all four of these residencies have been in high places. Mountains seem made for creating, and walks on dirt paths and through forests have yielded many a great crop from artists and writers over the centuries. I have been twice to the VCCA, in 1995 and 2003. Sadly, I have no personal photos of my time there. This was the dark ages without handy and ubiquitous cell phones.
But I remember I had a very large, airy studio much like this one. It was a composer's studio, and so I had a piano! Since I actually can play the piano, that was quite a perk. There was also a bed, but I understood later that was not so uncommon. This is the largest retreat I have personally been to. They usually house 25 fellows a residency session with stays from 1-4 weeks. Even though the other artists there took pity on my relatively short stay, as a fairly new mother I was absolutely thrilled to have one week of time all to myself.
The resident's quarters are cozy and lovely. Everyone has a private room and semi-private bath. The studios—just a short walk away—are housed in a very large old barn. On my second stay, there was a huge snowstorm the night I arrived. We were all snowed in for the duration and the nightly walk around the pristine mountaintop from residence to studio was magically gorgeous in the snow. The VCCA not only provides all of your meals, but for lunch they even deliver to your studio so you do not have to break your creative groove. How thoughtful is that? You will find a miner's type lunch box with your name on it outside your door at the appointed hour.
The nightly meal at an art retreat is a great gathering of conversation amongst the fellows about the day's failures, successess, creative processes and investigations in addition to complaints, laughs, love lives, kids, life shit—you name it. It is the perfect combination of having your studio cave time and then, when you are ready to come up for a little air, you get to be inspired by other people's stories or bits of interesting talk. At longer retreats you really do leave feeling like you've gotten to know people. It's such a bubble of shared experiences and comaraderie and the intimate atmosphere allows for confidences.