“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Several years ago I toured the Kohler factory and the Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin and it inspired a notion of creating the perfect retreat for artists and artisans.
The Kohler Company, for those who don’t know, is one of the U.S.’s primary design and manufacturers of kitchen and bath amenities. The Kohler factory is a working museum, and if you are ever in the area, it’s well worth the tour. It’s truly fascinating how they have mixed century-old know-how with contemporary technological efficiency. But, what I loved the most was learning about their long-standing artist-in-residence program.
(From the Kohler Art Center materials): Artists have the opportunity to spend two to six months creating works of art utilizing the industrial materials and equipment. Participants are exposed to a body of technical knowledge that enables them to explore forms and concepts not possible in their own studios and to undertake fruitful new ways of thinking and working. …Artists-in-residence are given studio space in the factory. In addition, they receive free materials, use of equipment, technical assistance, photographic services, housing, round-trip transportation …The Arts Center’s technicians and Kohler Co.’s industrial artisans and engineers provide technical information and advice to resident artists.
I was able to chat with a couple of artists the day I took my tour, and the one thing they both enthusiastically exclaimed about the residency was being given the room to fail and try again. They both said they experienced an unprecedented circumstance of uninhibited freedom to create, simply because someone else gave them an appropriate space, materials, and was footing the bill. It turned out to be something that allowed their imaginations fly.
Ever since then I’ve imagined creating a place where artists of all sorts can retreat to create…whatever. A tumbledown country mansion may be the perfect situation for such a dream. Assuming this is one of those castle-like mansions that offered an enormous amount of space, there would be studios, exhibition and performance spaces, access to pretty much whatever resources they need, and accommodations.
Why stop there? Since money is no object, let’s bring in all the hospitality industry folks to run the place as a graduate student program of some sort. Let’s let all the culinary schools in the country create their own programs to feed the large number of “guests” staying at the old place. While we’re at it, let’s get an environmental program involved in restoring and managing the couple thousand acres the place sits in the middle of (we assume), and first and foremost, bring in architectural and historical programs to create the restoration (I know, I know…those two groups may be at odds at all times, but … whatever. It ought to be considered a rare opportunity).
Of course, if money is no object, then it obviously stands to reason I would have a non-ending source of sponsors who pay for all of this. I would reside in one of those “cottages” once occupied by some land manager and his family, safely removed from the chaos of the place itself, but close enough to walk in every day and give a royal wave at the splendid success of it all before turning back to my humble abode, wherein I draft one of my daily blog posts before turning in at the end of the day.