New Charlotte Sheedy Fellowship Envisions a More Diverse MacDowell Colony

Established in 1907, the Peterborough, New Hampshire-based MacDowell Colony is many things.

It's the nation's preeminent retreat for artists-in-residence. It's a supporter of a dozen MacArthur Foundation "Genius Awards" and scores of Rome Prizes, Guggenheim Fellowships, National Book Awards, Sundance Prizes, GRAMMYs, and Academy Award winners. An it has been an incubator for 75 Pulitzer Prize winners.

But if we're to read into a recent announcement by the colony's chairman, Michael Chabon, the institution has traditionally lagged in the area of diversity. And so Chabon announced the colony's new Charlotte Sheedy Fellowship, designated to bring diverse voices to the artists' retreat by "representing populations across racial and cultural boundaries." It is named for literary agent Charlotte Sheedy, whose clients included Audre Lorde and Marilyn French.

Created by an anonymous $200,000 gift, the fellowship provides for a stay of up to two months at MacDowell.

Chabon's announcement suggests that while being an artist in today's society can be quite difficult, it can be doubly difficult for minority artists faced with the residual vestiges of institutionalized racism. "Isolation, indifference, and lack of opportunity are the common lot of artists everywhere," Chabon said. "But for an artist marginalized by cultural difference, as Charlotte Sheedy has always known, those effects are trebled by an inheritance of cruelty and injustice. They are intensified by mechanisms of discrimination both covert and plain as day. For these artists the struggle to make art takes a deeper toll and can lead to deeper despair."

This isn't to say the colony resembles some anachronistic Mad Men-era, WASP-y country club. The colony noted that the award continues a long history of its dedication to inclusiveness, and cited its relationships with writers including James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Manil Suri, Colson Whitehead, and Jacqueline Woodson.

News of the fellowship is so red-hot that at the time of this writing, there's no mention of it on MacDowell's fellowships page. I imagine that will change.

But it's important to note that the Charlotte Sheedy Fellowship will exist in addition to the 250 other fellowships (out of 2,500 applications) the colony awards each year. To that end, if you're an artist or writer interested in the colony's next residency, the application deadline is September 15, 2015.

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