MacDowell Admissions Director Courtney Bethel answers our questions after a record number of applications for the February 10, 2022, deadline.
The Admissions Department at MacDowell is six weeks into processing 2,967 applications for the Fall/Winter 2022-2023 residency period, a number for a single application cycle that exceeded all previous annual totals. While MacDowell’s application deadlines and residency periods had adapted to the public safety necessities and cycles of the pandemic in the past two years, the number of applicants in that time, while trending upwards, were consistent with previous years. In 2019, 2,650 individuals applied in three regular application cycles (MacDowell’s previous record year). In 2020, 2,109 individuals applied in two cycles due to the pandemic, and in 2021, 1,514 applied in one cycle due to the pandemic.
In 2022, two significant changes to the application process instituted by the admissions department likely have affected the number of people who were able to apply for a residency: It reduced the number of application cycles from three to two per year and suspended the reference letter requirement for applicants. The number of Fellowships awarded annually remains unchanged, at approximately 300.
To get a sense of the 2022 figures and how our admissions department was managing the unprecedented quantity of residency candidates, we caught up with Admissions Director Courtney Bethel for a quick chat.
MacDowell: What does the increase in applicants mean for the application panel process?
Courtney Bethel: The increase in applications means an increase in the number of panelists required to review the applications. Typically, we employ around 40 panelists per admissions cycle. For this round, we need 95 panelists. We increased the number of panelists in all disciplines, but the largest impact was on literature, theatre, interdisciplinary arts, and film.
M: How many first-time applicants do we have? If there was an increase, why do you think it occurred?
CB: 2,029 of the 2,948 applications are first-timers (69%), 220 are Fellows (7%), and 699 are re-applicants (24%; individuals who have applied after having been unsuccessful in the past). In both 2019 and 2020, these figures were: First-time applicants, 63%; MacDowell Fellows, 12%; and re-applicants, 25%; so first time applications have increased while the percentage of Fellows has decreased.
M: Why do you think the numbers of applicants increased as much as they did?
CB: I have a few ideas: I think the pandemic had a big impact on the numbers; people are stir-crazy and ready to get out of their apartments/homes and be in a supportive community, many artists lost support – financial and otherwise during the pandemic – so I think that also plays into this desire to go to residencies. Also, some residency programs are not yet open or not at full capacity, so artists are applying to MacDowell. And finally, I believe that dropping the reference letter requirement encouraged a number of artists to apply who hadn’t previously. We actually received direct feedback from a handful of artists who said that not requiring a reference letter made them feel able to apply for the first time!
M: What were some of the most-asked questions from applying artists during this application season?
CB: This is a hard one. Each of us in admissions intersects with the applicants at different points, so our answers vary widely. For [admissions & scheduling coordinator] Karen Keenan, who is first line of defense, there is a wide-ranging array of questions about the application itself, especially the artistic achievements/artistic experience section, which is purposefully open-ended but stumps many an artist. For me, the questions are almost always discipline-related. We get many questions about work falling between or encompassing more than one discipline, and we strongly encourage applicants to contact us for guidance before they start the application.
M: You expect to send out admission results by May 26. How are you feeling about the next seven weeks? Are you tired? Determined? Excited?
CB: Personally, I am exhausted, but also invigorated by all we have accomplished and looking forward to the upcoming application review panel meetings and the opportunity to be deeply engaged with artists’ proposals. The panels meetings are thrilling. Sending out results elicits a full range of emotions.
This year, result letters will go out in two batches. Due to the volume of applications we received, we have moved some of the panel meetings out into May. The first set of results will go out the first week of May to applicants in six of the seven disciplines [architecture, film/video arts, interdisciplinary arts, music composition, theatre, and visual arts] and the second by May 26 to literature applicants.
MacDowell will open its next application cycle, for Spring/Summer 2023 residencies (March 1 – August 31, 2023), on July 15, 2022, with a deadline of September 10, 2022. For more information, visit MacDowell.org/apply.