'A Communion of Spirits' (Winter 2013 Trust Magazine)

Author: Jodi Enda


03/08/2013 - The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage offers fellowships to artists in the Philadelphia region, and a new partnership helps some of them find additional opportunities to learn and flourish in arts colonies throughout North America.

Twice in 2011, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, a composer, bandleader and jazz bassist, packed up his equipment, left his home in Philadelphia, and temporarily moved his entire studio, first to New Hampshire and later to California. Surrounded by other artists and free from the constraints of daily life, he composed, he performed, he collaborated and, as Tacuma put it, he "had it going on."

The following year, author Ken Kalfus briefly moved his office from Center City Philadelphia to a cabin in northern Wyoming. Against the backdrop of a 20,000-acre cattle ranch on the High Plains, he put the finishing touches on a soon-to-be-published novel, began a novella, and relaxed to the twangs of cowboy songs.Tacuma and Kalfus are two of the latest in a long string of Philadelphia artists to receive fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. They are among the first to benefit from a new partnership that gives some fellows the chance to live in creative communities around the country.

The residencies provide fellows in the performing, visual, and literary arts an opportunity to work, learn, share ideas with, and receive inspiration from other artists.

"One of the things we're trying to do here is to really connect talented artists and cultural leaders nationally and internationally," said Melissa Franklin, the Pew Fellowships director at the center.

Having offered fellowships to as many as 12 Philadelphia-area artists each year for two decades, the center enhanced its ability to support Pew Fellows in 2011, forging a partnership with the Alliance of Artists Communities and four far-flung residency programs in North America. Each program—the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada; 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA; Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, CA, and the Ucross Foundation in northeast Wyoming—has agreed to accept one Pew Fellow each year.

In addition, the Pew center has partnered with the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, which allows one fellow a year to spend time at one of the country's oldest and most renowned residency programs.

The average residency lasts one month. The center finances a portion of the expenses, and the artists communities subsidize the rest.

"It's giving them a chance to spend time solely focused on their practice away from the distractions of everyday life," Franklin said. "They get to engage with other artists that they otherwise would not come in contact with."

The MacDowell Colony hosts as many as 32 artists for stints of up to two months. "They usually find somebody else who has the same level of intensity or the same interests. That's hard to find outside of an academic environment," said Cheryl Young, the colony's executive director. "There is a communion of spirits."

John Martin, MacDowell's development director, said Pew Fellows have "the best of both worlds" because they receive grants of $60,000 as well as opportunities for residencies during their two-year engagement with the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

"Where a cash award is wonderful, I think a residency adds something different – a support structure of friends," Young added. "There's no demand on your time. You don't have to answer about what you do with the funds. You can really experiment."

So far, the colony has accepted three Pew Fellows from just four applicants, a rate Martin deemed "astronomical" given the competitiveness of MacDowell's program. "That says a lot about the caliber of artists that Pew is accepting," he said.

Tacuma, the musician and composer, spent two months at MacDowell in early 2011. Later that year, he enjoyed a three-week residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to completely surround myself in a situation where I could be very creative," he said. "Being at MacDowell and at Headlands was an opportunity to surround myself with other creative people who gave me inspiration. I took my whole recording studio, and I was able to sit down and write and write and write."

Tacuma also collaborated with artists from other fields, including film and architecture. He created the Jamaaladeen Co-Lab (short for collaboration), in which he put music to the words of poets and novelists who were also in residence.

Author Kalfus, who was in residency at the Ucross Foundation, said he drew inspiration from nightly presentations by fellow artists as well as from Wyoming's wide-open spaces, which offered a sharp contrast to his usual urban landscape.

"I was staying in a big house with three other artists. They gave me a studio in a cabin on the property. The property was so big they gave me a bike to get around," Kalfus said. "Being in a new place always excites me."

Back in Philadelphia, the Pew Fellows often share what they have learned with other artists, Franklin said.

"They are getting feedback and making connections with artists, getting exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking," she said. "Then they bring that back to Philadelphia. It's getting Philadelphia out into the world and then bringing the world back into Philadelphia."

 Jodi Enda is a Washington writer and regular contributor to Trust.

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