Farm to Theater

Rural arts venues are continuing to grow.

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Gallim Dance performs Practicing Awe at Grace Farms. PC Vanessa Van Ryzin, Courtesy Grace Farms.

While not a new idea, the development of rural sites dedicated to arts creation is trending with renewed intensity, particularly in the Northeast. “Getting out of the city and going where the company lives together, shares meals together, it creates a family,” says Andrea Miller, artistic director of Gallim Dance. Gallim participates in residencies across the country, including several with Jacob’s Pillow and, more recently, Grace Farms. “We can dive into creation more vulnerable and open, leading to new ways of thinking that we bring back to our work in the city.” Here are three organizations growing in new directions.

Jacob’s Pillow Expansion

The pioneer for rural dance retreats and performance, Jacob’s Pillow celebrates its 85th anniversary this summer with the opening of the $4.5 million Perles Family Studio. The studio will not only provide a high-caliber setting for intensive students and festival companies, but will also increase year-round residency space for the Creative Development Residency Program. Invited artists—this season there are 10 residencies, with plans to grow—are provided with free housing for one to three weeks, 24-hour studio access, full access to Pillow archives, and a showing with audience feedback and dialogue. They also receive a stipend for the residency and additional funds for a dramaturg or other outside eye. “The Pillow feels like hallowed ground, and any visiting artist joins the history of those that came before them,” explains director Pamela Tatge. “Many artists feel it renews their commitment to the art form.”

Lumberyard Under Construction

American Dance Institute is rebuilding and rebranding the organization as Lumberyard, named after its new home in a Hudson riverfront lumberyard in Catskill, New York, two hours north of New York City. Due for completion in May 2018, plans include $5 million renovations of the 30,000-square-foot lumberyard building, transforming it into a theater, artist housing, offices and kitchen, followed by renovations of three barns, one including a large dance studio, to be completed at a later date.

Lumberyard distinguishes itself by supporting creation of contemporary multidisciplinary work through Incubator, a curated residency program. “Our goal is to strengthen the artists’ work and put their needs first, to get their city premiere as ready as possible,” says executive and artistic director Adrienne Willis. “We wanted to be far enough from New York City that artists feel like they are getting away, to minimize distractions that pull from creative work.”

 

Grace Farms’ Extraordinary First Year

This past October the impressive Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut, held its one-year anniversary benefit featuring performances by Wendy Whelan and Gallim Dance alongside other visual, literary and performing artists. Kenyon Adams, the Grace Farms Foundation’s Arts Initiative director, describes the unique site as a place for collaboration and dialogue. The $67 million River building sits on an 80-acre property of meadows, woods, wetlands and ponds, and houses a 700-seat indoor amphitheater/sanctuary. The site is open to the general public and artists alike to encourage exploration of five initiatives: nature, arts, justice, community and faith. Admission is free.

“Everyone is invited to come here on their own at any time for peace and solitude, to enjoy the sheer beauty of nature and our building,” says Adams. While this generosity does not equate to free studio time, the site does offer space grants. Grace Farms also engages in thought-provoking discussions, such as hosting artists from a variety of disciplines for arts + mars, a workshop with NASA scientists to learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars mission. “Here you can clarify the priorities that drive your work,” Adams says, “and see the possibilities that arise when you take time to pause.” 

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