Can you imagine setting aside two entire weeks to do the thing you love most? For artists, this can be a professional game-changing experience. Take away the never-ending to-do list at home, plus family or work obligations (because let’s be real: many artists have side gigs). Continue subtracting all of life’s small tasks, like cooking breakfast or grocery shopping. Then, and only then, can the work begin.
This uninterrupted space to create is the atmosphere Bethany Arts Community (BAC) hopes to provide its residency artists, who stay on the property in one- or two-week stretches over the spring and fall. During their stay, the artists are fed, given a private room or apartment, their own studio space, and most important, time.
“A lot of times, your art is the last thing you ever get to in a day,” said Margaret Liston, a Sleepy Hollow-based artist who attended a fall residency at BAC last year. “Sometimes you walk away from it for weeks at a time.”
Liston spent her residency working on a part-memoir, part-cookbook project, and developing a one-woman show to go along with it. She was joined by a cohort of artists whose disciplines fell all over the map. While the spring residency focuses on poets, fall residencies are multidisciplinary, including everyone from musicians to choreographers and dancers, visual artists to costume and lighting designers
“Our mission is to create a safe environment for artists to flourish and create without judgment,” said Bonnie Bradley, Executive Director of BAC. “Some of them are seasoned, some of them are emerging. They often collaborate and come together, which fits our mission of supporting art and making it accessible.”
Submissions to the residencies open twice yearly. Applicants are narrowed down by a panel of artists and board members. The remaining candidates are hand-picked from there and sorted into cohorts that will serve as a unique creative community for the duration of their stay.
“We can see them all working together seamlessly, in some way,” Bradley said. “When we choose, it’s intentional.”
The residents arrive with whatever supplies they need for their project and a plan that may shift while there. After they move into their quarters, they’re also provided with a separate work space in a private studio that is fitting for their project.
BAC intentionally leaves these studios undecorated and sparsely furnished, giving the spaces flexibility that allows residents to shape them however suits them. One example Bradley mentioned was in the dance studio, where the mirrors are movable, and have even been rolled outside when a dancer wanted a change of scenery and some fresh air.
From there, the residents have free reign to schedule their time as they please. Night owls don’t have to worry about studio closing hours or disturbing fellow artists sleeping on a different floor.
During her stay, Liston enjoyed cooking at night, when things got quiet. Though the kitchen was designated as her space, she often welcomed others to chat with her as she tested her family’s recipes. “Being around other artists of different disciplines is the most enriching, mind blowing, and supportive place you could ever be,” said Liston, likening the impromptu discourse taking place to her college days.
“You’d get into these deep conversations about art, philosophy, theory,” she said. “It was so incredible.”
And when all that creative energy needs a break, Bethany’s sprawling grounds and nearby meditation trails provide a sense of peace and reflection. Nooks to hole up in for a change of scenery are abundant both inside and outdoors, along with larger spaces to gather when the artists feel like socializing.
The collaboration that invariably occurs at every residency is something the staff never tires of witnessing. In one case, a resident offered to make costumes for dancers in her cohort, and found the perfect fabric left over from a past residency in Bethany’s “garage” (a space used for 3D printing, laser cutting, woodworking, and large-scale projects).
“That Bethany Magic”
“These fabric scraps kind of emerged with this Bethany magic to it,” recalled Lexi Rudley, BAC’s programs and events coordinator. “They ended up creating costumes for this dance duo to take photos in, and dance in, from the stuff we just had lying around.”
That Bethany magic, a kind of kismet the staff witnesses often, is as common as seeing artists of different disciplines clicking to make something new. “It’s never really surprising,” Rudley said. “Everything always ends up working together very beautifully.”
“Their relationships grow organically,” Bradley added.
While the structure of a residency is fluid, one requirement that is non-negotiable is that residents all eat dinner together (other meals are optional), gelling the community and drawing out the shyer artists. Residents must also conduct a “community give back” program during their stay, connecting them to the public.
Margaret Liston’s program, a first look at her one-woman show, fell early in the schedule. Using BAC’s giant commercial kitchen, she invited viewers to sit around and nibble on her recipes as she cooked and told stories during the performance.
Since her residency, she’s now editing her book, Basic: The Ammaccapane Family Cookbook, and performed her show, Cooking With My Ancestors, in her own kitchen. Looking forward to new iterations, she’s busy rearranging the storytelling and finding a rhythm–and also gathering feedback from everyone who’s watched her performance.
“It gave me a good foundation of where to go next,” she said. “I feel like I got an immense amount of work done, and am pretty solid moving on.”