If You Build It, They Will Come (and Make Art): Behind The Frankenthaler Foundation's Give to NY's Yaddo

Founded in 1900, Yaddo is an artists' community located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York. The name, by the way, was suggested by the daughter of founders Spencer and Katrina Trask. Its mission is to nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work in a supportive environment without interruption.

Since its founding, Yaddo has hosted a roster of the most accomplished writers of the past century, including James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace and Alice Walker. For those keeping track at home, artists who have worked at Yaddo have won 71 Pulitzer Prizes, 29 MacArthur Fellowships, 68 National Book Awards, 42 National Book Critics Circle Awards, 108 Rome Prizes, 52 Whiting Writers' Awards, and a Nobel Prize (that would be Mr. Bellow, in 1976). Of course, Yaddo has also hosted artists from other mediums as well, including music (Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland), choreography, performance art, and cinematic arts.

Enter the New York City-based Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, which surveyed Yaddo and its offerings and concluded that that the sphere of visual arts has been ever-so-slightly underrepresented. And so the foundation, named after the abstract painter who died in 2011, recently gave $250,000 to underwrite a 1,000-square-foot, live-work studio in an effort to bolster the presence of the visual arts at Yaddo. 

The gift fits a pattern. The foundation enjoys allocating money for the construction of new facilities that boost the profile of the visual arts. For example, as we noted back in May, the foundation gave $5 million to Vermont's Bennington College to support Frankenthaler's alma mater's visual arts program and establish the Helen Frankenthaler Fund for the Visual Arts.

As the New York Times notes, Yaddo has previously retrofitted existing spaces as artists' studios, but the new Frankenthaler studio, with its 18-foot-high cathedral ceiling and retractable wall, will take things to the next level. It will be the first structure on the property to "address the needs of contemporary artists."

And so the foundation's gift to Yaddo seems to serve a dual purpose. First, it will provide state-of-the-art facilities for in-residency visual artists. Secondly, these facilities will double as a recruitment tool that, in time, will change the perception that Yaddo is just a retreat for writers.