Millay Colony opens its barn doors to public

AUSTERLITZ–If you have ever wondered what it’s like to be an artist, or if you are an artist, and wonder what it’s like to work at an artists’ colony, now’s your chance to find out. The Millay Colony will open its doors to the public on the afternoon of July 24 at its annual fundraiser, inviting the public to visit studios and meet artists. The event also includes samples of local foods, live jazz/funk/groove music, and art, poetry and recordings of music made by residents.

The Millay Colony, situated on the grounds of the estate of the late poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, offers month-long stays to visual artists, musicians, poets and writers, who compete for their slots in a rigorous application process. The colony’s stated mission is to provide artists with “a rural home that encourages creative intensity and exploration in the context of nurturing artistic community.”

The colony was founded in 1973 by Norma Millay Ellis, the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

At the Millay Colony, six artists at a time can work in relative seclusion on a pastoral mountaintop, in private studios with views of woods and meadow. The colony provides food and shelter; artists need only arrive with their materials, equipment and inspiration. Residencies are scheduled from April to November.

A long and distinguished list of artists make up the colony’s alumni, among them Sapphire, the African American poet and novelist who became a household name this past year with the success of the film “Precious,” based on her novel “Push” about an unwed teenage mother. Other residents include writers, Cornelius Edy, Nick Flynn, Alix Kates Shulman, Barrett Watten, and painter Yun Fei Ji.

“To have that quiet time in the country, with no traffic, where everybody respects your time and respects your need for concentration on what you’re doing, was a gift,” said writer Rebecca Stowe, author of three novels, “Not the End of the World,” “The Shadow of Desire” and “One Good Thing,” and numerous short stories. She worked at Millay in May of 1985, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in her career. A short story she worked on during that visit grew into her first novel at the same time as seeds took root that eventually inspired her to leave New York City and to move upstate.

“All these changes came about long after I was there, but that was the brewing point, the caldron,” said the author, who likes the rustic quality of the Millay Colony and the independence enjoyed by artists working there. “I can’t say enough good things about it. The experience was very, very inspiring. Life has a funny way of leading you in a certain direction. I was with three other women who were very interesting.

“We really got along, it was a very wonderful experience,” said Ms. Stowe, who has also worked at four other well known colonies, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Ragdale, near Chicago.

Artist Holly Hughes wrote via e-mail from Italy, where she is running an honors program for Rhode Island School of Design students and working on her own ceramic art for a fall exhibition at Hudson’s John Davis Gallery. She recalled meeting Ms. Stowe at the Millay Colony, the joy of networking with artists from different fields, and the pleasure of being able to accomplish so much while there.

“When you go to a colony you have an instant and intense rapport with the other ‘campers.’ There is respect–after all you were all picked, so you start on an even playing field — with trust and goodwill among all that doesn’t need to be fought for, but comes with the invite.

“I made friends and compared notes across disciplines,” said Ms. Hughes.

“When your door is closed it means something at Millay. It is small and about work more than networking. The world cannot intrude as it is apt to do so easily in normal life. No phone rings unless you want it to,” she said.

Ms. Hughes says she has not forgotten the support she got as a young artist from the Millay Colony and that is why she has always worked for them when asked. “Artists need these moments of complete privacy and concentration and they need the sense of being valued by society that colonies like Millay provide,” she said.

“It’s very exciting to watch what happens to the residents when they are here,” said Caroline Crumpacker, the colony director and a poet. “There are not a lot of ways in our society to be an artist and earn money. Most have jobs. When they are here the chance to do really intensive work blows their minds. People seem very transformed. They can become involved in one another’s work, and that often continues beyond their visit here,” she said.

Tickets for the benefit event are $75 per person, $20 for children under twelve with all donations to the Colony, tax deductible.

For tickets, call 518-392-4144, or email or go to www.millaycolony.org.

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