Financial Aid at MacDowell: Investing in Artists So They Can Invest in Their Art

Julia Tolo - March 23, 2020

Type: Fellowships

Eastman Studio's back porch seen from the old stables. (Photo by Dan Millbauer)

Since I started working for The MacDowell Colony, my favorite part of the job has been learning about our Fellows, speaking to artists about their work, and witnessing their contributions to our shared culture. In my current position as institutional giving manager, my task is to write compellingly about why MacDowell is worth supporting, to engage foundations, corporations, and federal funders, and to showcase the amazing work, experimentation, and creativity of MacDowell’s Fellows. With more than 15,000 residencies awarded to more than 8,500 artists since our founding in 1907, I have no shortage of material.

An important focus in our fundraising is working to expand our financial aid program.

At MacDowell, we consider it our duty to remove barriers for artists to pursue their work. In 2019 MacDowell gave financial aid totaling more than $118,000 to 95 artists who needed it, representing almost a third of the 295 artists who were awarded residencies at MacDowell last year. In addition, more than $52,000 was awarded in travel support to artists in the last year.

MacDowell’s open admissions process ensures that the program reaches many artists when their careers are both most promising and most vulnerable – before the marketplace has recognized the value of their work. Without financial aid, these artists would be forced to spend less time making art, and more time making ends meet. The average income of artists who received financial aid to support their MacDowell residency in the last year was below $22,000. That’s not far from the national poverty threshold of $12,490 for a single-person household and $16,910 for a couple, and it shows us that the need for aid is as important now as ever. Artists use financial aid to defray the costs that continue to accrue during their stays. These include lost income from taking time off from work, rent, utilities, and childcare.

Thanks to our generous supporters and donors, including The Calderwood Charitable Foundation, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, The Leon Levy Foundation, The Lesher Fund for Composers, The Marsyas Fund, and The Rona Jaffe Foundation, MacDowell has been able to support artists with financial aid since the 1980s. Our travel support is offered domestically by The MacArthur Transportation Fund and internationally by The David and Rosamond Putnam Transportation Fund. In addition, as a part of our Art of Journalism initiative, nonfiction writers engaged in long-form journalism projects are eligible to apply for project grants through a fund endowed by the Calderwood Charitable Foundation. At MacDowell, it is our goal to remove all barriers to participation in our program, and to encourage our colleagues in the field and in the art world at large to join us in this effort.

The strength of The MacDowell Colony experience is rooted in the quality and diversity of our artist community. I am proud to work for a residency program where our admissions process has been and continues to be guided only by artistic excellence, rather than past achievements, ever since founder Marian MacDowell stipulated in our original mission in 1907 that, “no social distinctions should be allowed to determine the choice” of who is welcomed to MacDowell. In order to ensure that any artist can apply for, accept, and attend a MacDowell residency, we must ensure that we can offer the support that many artists need.

Not only does the financial aid that supports our artists’ residencies remove barriers to taking part, but it also has a lasting impact on their careers. It’s an investment in artists that honors the investment they make in their art by sacrificing time away from their lives to create at MacDowell.

“Sanctuary is something we need more of,” said poet and MacDowell Fellow Kevin Young (6x 93-13) at the dedication of MacDowell’s James Baldwin Library in November 2018, reflecting on how Baldwin called MacDowell his favorite sanctuary for writing. “Sanctuary is what I felt returning here … all this week. Sanctuary is something I wish Baldwin could help us to find in today’s turbulent world.” I hope that our commitment to developing a robust financial aid program will result in opportunity for any artist, regardless of financial means, to share in the sanctuary we work so hard to offer at MacDowell.

Julia Tolo is MacDowell's institutional giving manager