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From MacDowell Colony to Vermont Studio Center: Acclaimed Artist Residencies on the East Coast

10 min read

The East Coast of the United States has a rich artistic history and is home to several renowned artist residencies. These residencies and retreats offer artists of various disciplines the opportunity to live and work in a supportive environment, often providing them with the space, time, and resources to focus on their creative projects. From MacDowell Colony to Vermont Studio Center, below are some notable artist residencies on the East Coast and a few of the celebrated artists who attended them.

Eight Acclaimed Artist Residencies on the East Coast

MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, New Hampshire)

Established in 1907, the MacDowell Colony stands as one of the foremost artist residencies in the United States. Located in Peterborough, New Hampshire, the colony has consistently provided artists from various disciplines—including writers, visual artists, and composers—with a serene environment and creative community in which to cultivate their craft. 

According to its website, each MacDowell residency recipient enjoys “exclusive use of a studio, accommodations, and three prepared meals a day.” MacDowell fellowship recipients typically spend between two and six weeks developing their artistic practice and enjoying the supportive community it provides before leaving the Colony.

Over its long history, the MacDowell Colony has been instrumental in fostering the works of numerous —underscoring its significance in the American artistic landscape.

Famous Attendees of the MacDowell Colony Residency Program

Recipients of MacDowell Colony fellowships include acclaimed writer James Baldwin, renowned composer Aaron Copland, and Alice Walker—Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple.

Applying to the MacDowell Colony Residency Program

Artists from various disciplines—including architecture, film/video arts, interdisciplinary arts, literature, music composition, theatre, and visual arts—can apply. All applicants are required to submit work samples, artist statements, project descriptions, and references. As far as eligibility is concerned, both emerging and established artists from the U.S. and abroad. No specific academic or professional qualifications are required.

Fellowships are awarded to several hundred artists annually. Applications for their residencies and financial assistance open in January and close in February of each year. Apply here for the Fall/Winter 2024 fellowships.

Yaddo (Saratoga Springs, New York)

Yaddo—situated in Saratoga Springs, New York—is a historic artist community with roots dating back to the 1920s. This residency has garnered a reputation for hosting a myriad of distinguished writers, composers, and visual artists—offering them a conducive space for creative exploration. 

The estate—spanning 400 acres—not only provides artists with individual studios but also promotes interdisciplinary interactions, enriching the overall residency experience.

Artists are given private rooms in the historic Yaddo mansion or in separate buildings on the estate. Depending on their discipline, artists are assigned individual workspaces. Writers might receive quiet rooms for writing, while visual artists, composers, and other artists get studios tailored to their needs.

Yaddo’s 400-acre estate includes beautiful gardens, wooded areas, and water features. Artists have access to these grounds—providing inspiration and spaces for reflection. While artists have the solitude they need to work on their projects, communal aspects of the residency offer opportunities for interaction. This allows artists to share ideas, receive feedback, and collaborate if they choose.

There might be public events, readings, or open studios events annually, but participation is usually optional. It’s important to note that while Yaddo provides these amenities and opportunities, the primary goal of the residency is to offer artists uninterrupted time to focus on their work in a supportive environment.

Celebrated creatives who have attended this East Coast artist residency include esteemed poet, novelist, and short-story writer Sylvia Plath, author Truman Capote, and Harlem Renaissance poet and essayist Langston Hughes.

Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont)

The Vermont Studio Center—located in Johnson, Vermont—is the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency program in the United States. Established with the mission to support artists and writers, the center offers residencies that include studio spaces, accommodations, and communal meals. The program emphasizes the importance of a supportive artistic community—fostering connections and collaborations among its residents.

Famous Attendees of the Vermont Studio Center Residency Program

Past attendees include Rita Dove and Jhumpa Lahiri—Pulitzer Prize-winning author known for “Interpreter of Maladies” and “The Namesake”.

Applying to the Vermont Studio Center Residency Program

Art professionals are required to submit work samples, a CV or resume, and a project proposal. Artists and writers at all stages of their careers are eligible—both local artists and international applicants. Selection is based on the quality of the artist’s work and their potential to benefit from a residency.

The residency period typically ranges from two weeks to two months—depending on the needs of the artist and the availability of space. This residency is provided at no cost to the selected artists. However, artists are responsible for their travel and any specific materials they might need for their work.

Application deadlines vary depending on the desired period. Note that there are no summer programs. Check with the program coordinator or visit their website for further details about the application process.

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) (Amherst, Virginia)

Nestled in the scenic foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Amherst, Virginia, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) is a haven for artists seeking tranquility and focus. Since its inception, VCCA has been committed to providing writers, visual artists, and composers with uninterrupted time and space to delve into their creative endeavors. 

The center’s serene environment—coupled with its well-equipped studios—makes it a sought-after destination for artists worldwide. Studio spaces with views to nature offer artists inspiration and give creative thinkers time to develop ideas in a beautiful environment.

Famous Attendees of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Residency Program

Attendees include award-winning short story writer and novelist Ann Beattie and Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa.

Applying to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Residency Program

Writers, visual artists, and composers are invited to apply. Each must submit work samples, a CV, and a project description to be considered for a residency at VCCA.

The Center accepts applications only three times each year, and there is a fee associated with submission. Artists and writers must submit their applications for Fall 2024 Mt. San Angelo Residencies by January 15th. Apply here.

Fine Arts Work Center (Provincetown, Massachusetts)

The Fine Arts Work Center—based in Provincetown, Massachusetts—is renowned for its dedication to nurturing emerging artists and writers. The center offers both summer and winter residency programs—each tailored to provide participants with the resources and environment conducive to artistic growth. 

With a history spanning over five decades, the Fine Arts Work Center has played a pivotal role in the careers of many acclaimed artists and writers. Depending on the year, the Fine Arts Work Center also offers discipline-specific residency programs. For example, it offered the Michael Mazur Printmaking Residency in 2021.

Famous Attendees of the Fine Arts Work Center Residency Program

Attendees include Heidi Hahn—painter known for the evocative figurative works of contemporary art she creates—and memoirist Nick Flynn.

Applying to the Fine Arts Work Center Residency Program

All applicants are required to submit work samples and either an artist statement or a writing sample. This residency program specifically targets emerging artists and writers—especially those who have yet to receive widespread recognition.

Awarded to twenty artists and writers annually, fellowships are seven months long. Residencies can be as short as two weeks. Selected writers and artists are provided with a stipend for living expenses and a space in which to work and sleep. They are also offered the chance to display their work in an exhibition at the end of their stay, organize artist talks, or give readings.

Apply to the seven-month-long residency here, and learn more about the shorter two-week residencies here.

Millay Arts or Colony for the Arts (Austerlitz, New York)

Situated in Austerlitz, New York, the Millay Colony for the Arts offers artists a secluded setting to immerse themselves in their work. Established in the 1970s, the colony provides month-long residencies to visual artists, writers, and composers. 

Named in honor of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, the colony is set on the grounds of her former home—ensuring that residents are surrounded by a rich artistic legacy during their stay. Past attendees include novelist and National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez as well as poet Rickey Laurentiis.

Applying to the Millay Colony for the Arts Residency Program

Writers, visual artists, and composers are invited to apply to this residency program. Those who do must submit work samples, a project proposal, and references for consideration. The residency is open to artists at all stages of their careers—both nationally and internationally.

A few artists are hosted annually by Millay Arts during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Residencies last between two weeks and a month. In addition to their Core and Steepletop Residency programs, Millay Arts offers group residencies and a self-directed winter retreat.

Learn more about financial aid and details of each residency program here.

The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, New York)

The Wassaic Project—based in Wassaic, New York—is a contemporary artist residency program that emphasizes community engagement and offers professional development opportunities to its participants. Established in the 21st century, the project hosts artists from diverse disciplines—promoting interdisciplinary collaborations and public engagement. 

Beyond residencies, The Wassaic Project is also known for its annual summer festival—which showcases the works of its residents and promotes art within the broader community. Due to its more contemporary nature, many emerging artists have been associated with The Wassaic Project. While they may not yet have the same level of recognition as artists from other residencies, these artists are making significant contributions to the art world.

Applying to The Wassaic Project Residency Program

Visual artists, writers, musicians, choreographers, and filmmakers are all encouraged to apply. They are required to submit work samples, an artist statement, and a project proposal. Both emerging and established artists are welcome.

According to its website, the Project hosts a “Summer Residency, Winter Residency, Haunted Mill, Programming Fellowship, and Print Fellowship” each year. Unlike others on this list, The Wassaic Project also offers family residencies. Deadlines for the Summer 2024 residency have passed, but you can learn more about next year’s Fall and Winter residencies here.

Atlantic Center for the Arts (New Smyrna Beach, Florida)

The Atlantic Center for the Arts, situated in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is an interdisciplinary artist residency that champions the fusion of diverse artistic disciplines. The center’s unique approach involves pairing master artists with selected associates for intensive sessions—promoting mentorship and collaborative learning. Past attendees include author Rick Moody and U.S. Poet Laureate and award-winning musician Joy Harjo.

Applying to the Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency Program

Visual artists, writers, composers, choreographers, and interdisciplinary artists at all stages of their careers can all apply. The program emphasizes mentorship, so applicants should be interested in working closely with a master artist. Bear in mind that the application requires work samples, an artist statement or writing sample, and a project proposal.

Applications for Residency #192 are due on the 15th of October, so act fast! Deadlines for the May, June, and October 2024 residencies are further in the future, but keep an eye on them here. As it might guide your decision as to whether you apply this year or next, be sure to review the mentors associated with each residency. They are listed on the Center’s site here.

To participate in the program as a mentor, the Center must nominate you. They do not accept unsolicited applications.

Beyond the East Coast

Head slightly inland for two more incredible artist residencies with gorgeous views of nature: the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ residency in Saugatuck, Michigan, and the Ragdale residencies in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Though located in Saugatuck, Michigan, the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency merits mention due to its profound influence on the artistic community. Founded in 1910, Ox-Bow offers residencies tailored to artists at varying stages of their careers. Emerging and mid-career artists are both encouraged to apply.

The school’s picturesque setting on the shores of Lake Michigan—combined with its rich history—provides artists with a unique environment to develop and showcase their work. Past attendees include internationally recognized sculptor and installation artist Jessica Stockholder and sculptor Claire Ashley.

Ragdale—located in Lake Forest, Illinois—is a historic artist community that has been fostering creativity since its establishment. The residency provides visual artists, writers, and composers with a peaceful setting to concentrate on their projects. 

Set on a 50-acre estate, Ragdale combines natural beauty with state-of-the-art facilities—ensuring that artists have everything they need for a productive stay. Notable attendees include authors Audrey Niffenegger–who wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife—Scott Turow—who wrote Presumed Innocent.

Why Artists, Writers, and Composers Should Attend Residency Programs

Artist residencies offer creatives a dedicated space in which to hone their skills, find inspiration, and develop their artistic practices. One of the primary advantages of such residencies is access to an environment free from the distractions and obligations of daily life, enabling artists to concentrate solely on their work. This focused time is often accompanied by access to specialized facilities, resources, and tools that might not be readily available elsewhere.

Furthermore, residencies often situate artists in unique geographical or cultural contexts, providing fresh stimuli that can invigorate their work and introduce new perspectives. Many residencies are fully funded or subsidized.

In addition to the tangible resources, artist residencies foster a sense of community by bringing together diverse groups of creatives. This communal setting facilitates interdisciplinary interactions, collaborations, and the exchange of ideas, enriching the artistic experience. Being part of such a community can also alleviate the isolation that artists often feel, especially when engrossed in intensive projects.

Moreover, feedback from peers and mentors, often an integral component of these programs, provides valuable insights that can refine and elevate the artist’s work. Artist residencies not only nurture the creative process but also contribute to the professional and personal growth of the artist.

Have you applied to or attended an artist residency in the past? Let us know in the comments below.