Why MacDowell Now?

In January of 2020 we introduced a new series of essays written by our Fellows, intended to interrogate the transcendent relevancy of the American artist residency at this particular moment in time. We dubbed these “Why MacDowell NOW?” In the first, board chairman, author, and visual artist Nell Painter rendered an exquisite essay about her second residency at MacDowell that contemplated – under the gaze of Beauford Delaney’s spectacular James Baldwin portrait in our library – just what role the artist might play in a less-than-stable world. Specifically, Ms. Painter resonated with Baldwin’s awareness that, while in Istanbul, he felt “the freedom to stop, and do nothing in order to start a project anew.” For Nell, that observation paralleled the rare opportunity of a MacDowell Fellowship. A chance to re-open. To renew.

We continued asking Fellows to reflect on the question at the top of this page throughout the COVID-19-prompted closure of our Peterborough campus. We asked them to consider what this moment holds for artists, and the resulting essays are testaments to their spirit while reflecting on past experience as well as looking to the future. We hope you enjoy these words.

Adapted from Executive Director Philip Himberg’s letter “In COVID Times.”

MacDowell exists for creative art makers who will continue to illuminate the path forward. (Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey)

At MacDowell with James Baldwin, to Stop and Do Nothing In Order to Start Anew

I drove up to MacDowell from New Jersey in early November 2019 with only a beginning of an idea of what I wanted to do....

Read Nell Painter's essay

Whitman, Melville, the Virus

Decades ago, someone said in a literature seminar I attended that while America’s founders built the edifice of American democracy it was Walt Whitman who gave America its inner meaning and created the American social bond....

Read Vijay Seshadri's essay

It Has Space to Forge a New National Vision

Today is June 10, 2020 – a day on which it is particularly impossible to disregard the exact moment at which I am writing....

Read Susan Choi's essay

On Lockdown, Wood Pigeons, and Grounding Ourselves in the Natural Rhythms of Creativity

When Scotland went into COVID-19 lockdown on March 23, 2020 – a date now permanently emblazoned in my mind – I found it very hard to do any of my work as a composer, researcher, or writer....

Read Emily Doolittle's essay

"Covid Journals" a Testament to Seeing Acutely

In March of this year I was sitting in my studio in New York under lockdown, wondering what I was supposed to be doing as an artist....

Read Accra Shepp's essay

Let the Circle Be Unbroken

Last August, while moving my many boxes of archives to the barn to await their transport to the Beinecke Library at Yale, I came across a collection of poems I’d written during my first residency at MacDowell....

Read Jacqueline Woodson's essy

Without Artists There is No Justice

Nearing the eve of a democracy's precious transfer of power, and in the wake of shocking violence in our country's capital, I have been thinking a great deal about how the mission of MacDowell and other artist residencies impacts our daily lives, and what responsibilities we assume when new political leadership is forged, and hopeful visions are launched and set to sail.

Read Philip Himberg's essay

Ayad Akhtar on Art and the Art Residency in a Troubled Democracy

Executive Director Philip Himberg spoke to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar about the role of artist residencies, and the change that the art and artists they support can bring about..

Read their Q&A

The Monster of Monday Music

The visual artist's adventure to write a memoir became a quest to give voice to those who are not prioritized.

Read Riva's Essay

Do Not Disappear the Words

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen reflects on both words’ power to do harm and the harm we can do ourselves through their banishment from our language.

Read Deen's Essay