Colonial Legacy: MacDowell Colony Executive Director Cheryl Young

Colonial Legacy: MacDowell Colony Executive Director Cheryl Young

MOLLY SHERIDAN: I’d like to talk a little bit about the future plans that you have for MacDowell Colony. Obviously you’re in good shape so it seems. The buildings out there are in good shape, financially you’re doing well, and you have new board members. But you were talking earlier too about how Marian MacDowell always came back to the mission after trying new things. Is there anything on the horizon that you guys are thinking about for the future?

CHERYL YOUNG: Right now all I’m thinking about is the centennial because 2007 will be the hundredth year of the residency program. I am thinking very much of the future in general: how we will celebrate that, and then what will be the platform for the next hundred years. What will be different for the next hundred years? I think probably one of the things that we really want to do is expand the program of stipends because right now we really award residencies, and that’s it. But for writers, for example, we received a grant from a foundation to give writers in financial need up to a thousand dollars in addition to the residency, making it possible for them to come. I’d like to expand for composing and be able to award funds to the composers who come, as well as the other disciplines. So I would like to see that happen in terms of just doing more for composers. I think that we have a wonderful studio on the table right now that’s been designed for interdisciplinary art. The idea being that it’s a large theater-like space. I think for sound artists or artists who really want to create in a space similar to a small black box theater or a large open exhibition area, for example, can get a feel for what that’s like. Certainly for collaborations it would be terrific. If someone was working on a music piece that also had slides, for example, this space could accommodate that kind of collaboration where they could actually try out different ideas. One of our first interdisciplinary artists was Meredith Monk. She’s wonderful in thinking of new ways to work, and working in teams. Sometimes she has come as an interdisciplinary artist. Sometimes she has come as a composer, depending on what her project is at the time. What is wonderful about the whole idea of interdisciplinary art is that you can really cross all those boundaries. I think more and more what I would see happening in the next hundred years is that composers are going to be able to expand the way they use music with other disciplines. Edward was an artist. He was a very visual person. I would love to see what he would have done with a multimedia software program with his music. I think MacDowell is really flexible. You can come as a composer and write poetry–happens all the time! And the poets are writing music! I think that flexibility will just continue and we’re just trying to provide better spaces and equipment to do that. Right now when I say we have pianos, that’s wonderful because it’s always been the primary tool. Now we’re seeing that all the composers are bringing their computers and they synthesizing music right there. That’s where I see the biggest change in terms of just how composers might be at MacDowell, trying to create a stipend program. Then also to create better spaces where they can really take off… Meredith is funny because she said, “Well, you know, I only need that small room. I just like to go and work by myself. Then I bring in the other people.” But I can see how some of the elements can all be brought together in a wonderfully new way that we can’t even conceive of. Where people come and go and are able to connect to the other world in a different way. Right now we don’t even chat in the studios. People have been, let’s just say, debating that for a lot of studios. I imagine it will take a few more years before MacDowell makes a leap in that direction, only because we still never put in phones. So I have a feeling that this will lag about twenty years behind in that way, too, resisting anything that’s going to interrupt the process.

MOLLY SHERIDAN: Because Marian MacDowell’s force of personality and vision was so much a part of this for so long–she ended up living just shy of her hundredth birthday–is there a spirit of Edward and Marian MacDowell still active?

CHERYL YOUNG: I think so. I think one of the reasons they landed in the Monadnock region because of this wonderful mountain. There’s already a wonderful beauty to the landscape, which I think is spiritual. In terms of the numbers of artists the kind of energy–a lot of people talk about the energy there, that they feel more energetic, alive, and open at MacDowell. Other thing is, again, we learned a lot from the MacDowells in terms of always coming back to that mission. The board is very much trying to keep that spirit and stay true to that. In terms of ghosts of the MacDowells and so forth, there’s the ghost of that desire to be supportive. People say there’s no negative energy here at all. There’s only positive energy. Suddenly the door will open and the breeze will blow in and it’s a very supportive breeze. That’s what you hear. They are very much present in that way. Actually the grave sites for the MacDowells are across the street on the adjacent property that we own and people make pilgrimages over there just to say thank you for having that vision and acting on it. A lot of people have vision and then they aren’t able to act on it. It’s wonderful that they persevered and really made it possible. Mrs. MacDowell said that if she’d had a child it probably wouldn’t have happened. She had a miscarriage and after Edward passed away she was really alone. The question was what would she do with the rest of her life. Instead of thinking I’ll just get married again and go through a romance again–she couldn’t possibility think of another soul mate–so she was able to devote all of her energy to it, and that is really what it took. She was fifty at the time. So when one thinks about whether your life is over, think again. You can start at any age. It’s just finding the energy and the optimism. Imagine the optimism of deciding to do something like this because in the 1930s a good portion of the colony was damaged by a hurricane. She had done all of this wonderful work. She had these studios built and they were all damaged, the trees were down, and it just looked dismal. And it just rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Literally all the artists who had been in residence got together and started fundraising campaigns for the place. That’s perseverance. It takes a lot of spirit to do that kind of thing.

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