The Utopia Project Volume III: The MacDowell Colony
September 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
Far into the wilds of southwestern New Hampshire, down a back road shadowed by pine trees, is the MacDowell Colony. It is an artists’ residency that is over 100 years old tucked away in the small town of Peterborough. It was founded by composer Edward MacDowell and his wife Marion, a pianist, who bought a farm there in 1896. Edward felt he created his best work in on the farm and when he passed away Marion championed the idea of giving artists a chance to thrive in the same environment he found so inspiring.
The MacDowell Colony invites artists from all disciplines to take part in a residency where they work in a community with their peers. Artistic excellence is the only standard for acceptance and all room, board and tuition is covered.
Entering the grounds of MacDowell feels stepping into a unique microcosm of society. Each resident is given a bike to use to travel around the campus to their studio, residence and the library. There are regular talks and presentations. The food is locally produced, much of it grown on the MacDowell campus. A local sheep herder brings their sheep to graze on the fields of the colony during the day.
I also admired MacDowell’s openness and interaction with the local community in Peterborough and Southwestern New Hampshire. They regularly host lectures, presentations, screenings, and performances that are open to the public both on the campus and in downtown Peterborough, a super cute New England village if I’ve ever seen one (and I’ve seen a lot!). The Resident Director David Macy is very involved in making Southwestern New Hampshire a culturally vibrant place and is involved in town and regional planning organizations. I think this speaks volumes to the strength and history of the colony and how it is not just an isolated place for artists to perfect their craft, but a dynamic organization that helps serve as a cultural anchor for the region.
I have a secret dream to move back to Maine and start an artists residency and organic restaurant on my parents’ farm. David’s involvement in cultural development in Southwestern New Hampshire helped me see that my vision could also combine my interest in city planning and public policy and that a pastoral artists residency can also be a responsible community member.