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Greenfield Prize Process Begins

Today was an exciting day for the Hermitage. We had the first meeting of the Greenfield Prize jury, the group of national industry (theatre) experts, setting off on a journey to select a playwright to receive the 2011 Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat

Greenfield WaveToday was an exciting day for the Hermitage. We had the first meeting of the Greenfield Prize jury, the group of national industry (theatre) experts, setting off on a journey to select a playwright to receive the 2011 Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat – a $30,000 commission for a new work to be premiered in 2013, a Hermitage residency, and a partnership with the Asolo Repertory Theatre. While we don’t reveal the names of the jury members until a winner is selected, they are three of the most important and visible names in the American professional theatre.

During this stage of the prize process, we meet by conference call – we are scattered across the country. We will reconvene on the telephone in three weeks when we compile a list of approximately 30 playwrights suggested by the jury. These names will be winnowed down to 3-4 writers who will receive a letter out of the the blue informing them that they are finalists for this prestigious prize. The finalists will be invited to submit a proposal of what they will create if they are selected.

The jury convenes in person at the Hermitage in January to select the winner. (The runners-up are also offered Hermitage residencies.) The prize is formally presented at the Greenfield Prize dinner on March 27, 2011.

We must tell you, this is more fun, and more exciting than you can imagine. Stay tuned, we’ll keep you up to date with the process as it evolves. Want to know more about the Greenfield Prize? www.GreenfieldPrize.org

A Call from our Past

We got a chance to talk to some new friends the other day. First, we received a comment on our Facebook page from Bess Graham-Hodge. Who is Bess? (Hang with me, we’re going to go back in time….) Bess is the great granddaughter of the family that built the Hermitage House. Her father was Pat Graham, the son of Ruth Johanson Graham and Frank Graham.

Ann and Pat Graham
Ann and Pat Graham, 1942
We got a chance to talk to some new friends the other day. First, we received a comment on our Facebook page from Bess Graham-Hodge. Who is Bess? (Hang with me, we’re going to go back in time….) Bess is the great granddaughter of the family that built the Hermitage House. Her father was Pat Graham, the son of Ruth Johanson Graham and Frank Graham. Ruth Johanson Graham was the youngest daughter (of 13 children) of Carl and Anna Johanson. Carl Johanson built what is now the Hermitage House in 1907 and Bess is his great granddaughter. After writing to thank her for contacting us, Bess offered to put us in contact with her 85-year old mother, Ann who was the daughter-in-law. We called Ann, who was delightful. She was so anxious to tell us things about the Hermitage. For example, she told us that in the late 19th Century, Anna Johanson, Carl’s wife, had been a cook for the King of Sweden, and that they needed to have the permission from the King to immigrate to America. A cook for the King of Sweden… AND she had 13 children.

Ann said it was her great granddaughter, Kasee Stratton, PhD candidate, who had revived her interest in the Hermitage. Kassee had asked her about it after hearing stories about the Hermitage, and then went online and discovered our website and some historical pieces written by Diana Harris a writer active with the Lemon Bay Historic Society in Englewood. Kassee and Ann contacted Diana and had two great conversations with her.

Then we received an email from Kassee:

“My great-grandmother and I plan to make a special visit to Florida, as I’m sure she mentioned in her phone conversation with you. I must say Bruce, my great-grandmother has not mentioned leaving her little home until I found out that we could visit the Hermitage. She is beyond excited and such a delightful woman that I would give anything to make this dream a reality.”

So one of the many great perks to this work is that you never know what the day will bring you. On this day it brought us Bess, Ann, and Kasee and a feeling we were reaching back through time to Carl and Anna Johanson. We’re looking forward to our visit in the spring and learning more about our past.

Hermitage Choreographer at Baryshnikov Center

Hermitage choreographer Hilary Easton’s new piece will have its New York premiere at the Baryshnikov Center in October.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
Hermitage choreographer Hilary Easton and her company will perform at the Baryshnikov Center in New York in October according to TalkDanceWorld.com. Easton, who was last in residence in October, 2009 credits her time at the Hermitage as well as The Silo Artist Residency Project for helping her develop the project, titled; Light and Shade Follow the link for the details in the full TalkDanceWorld.com article.

Literary Oasis in the Heartland

I spent a few days in America’s heartland recently and returned home thoroughly impressed. Two people serving on the Hermitage National Artist Advisory Committee live in Iowa City. Another two Hermitage Fellows live in Iowa City. And the Carver Center is one of the premier research clinics for macular degeneration (which I do not yet have but which runs deeply up my mother’s side of the family). These were my reasons for showing up in Iowa City. Besides, I was invited. And not only is Iowa City the home of the internationally renowned Writing Workship and the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa, but Iowa City (population about 68,000) has been designated by UNESCO as one of three “Cities of Literature” in the world. It is mecca for readers and writers.

I stayed with Hermitage National Committee-member Christopher Merrill and his lovely family, wife Lisa and daughters Hana and Abbie and they couldn’t have been more gracious. And while there, I got to see writers Chris Offutt, a National Committee member whom I had not met face-to-face, and Hermitage Fellow Steve Kuusisto (who will be returning in January).

And I visited the Prairie Lights bookstore, one of the few remaining great independent book stores in the US and met its co-owner Jan Weissmiller, a Workshop graduate herself and award-winning poet. The net result of three days in this literary oasis, talking books, plays, writing and reading, is a renewed and revitalized love of it all. Christopher convinced me to work on a play that has been languishing in the back room of my brain for years, and I have started reading fiction with new enthusiasm. But then again, isn’t an oasis all about renewal and refreshment?

NPR Marketplace on Commissioning Art

Last night National Public Radio’s Marketplace broadcast an interesting segment about members of the general public commissioning works of art. This is exactly what we do annually through the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

Last night National Public Radio’s Marketplace broadcast an interesting segment about members of the general public commissioning works of art. This is exactly what we do annually through the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. Thanks to Brad Goddard, VP over at PNC Wealth Management for bringing it to our attention.

Listen to the Broadcast

A Festival of Firsts

There’s a new and exciting artistic breeze blowing in Sarasota County and it’s moving in like a front from the north, pushing out the heavy, stagnant air ahead of it. I was first aware of it a couple years ago as the new, young artistic leaders in our community began realizing a different vision for our major organizations. Then last year, with the success of the inaugural Ringling International Art Festival, the “breeze” began to freshen. Here’s the thing – the community seems to be developing a taste for new work, and for those of us who work at providing the community with its artistic content, this is very exciting news indeed.

There’s a new and exciting artistic breeze blowing in Sarasota County and it’s moving in like a front from the north, pushing out the heavy, stagnant air ahead of it. I was first aware of it a couple years ago as the new, young artistic leaders in our community began realizing a different vision for our major organizations. Then last year, with the success of the inaugural Ringling International Art Festival, the “breeze” began to freshen. Here’s the thing – the community seems to be developing a taste for new work, and for those of us who work at providing the community with its artistic content, this is very exciting news indeed.

As a board member of the Sarasota County Arts Council, I’ve been appointed to an advisory committee to the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners charged with developing an annual festival in collaboration with Lord Consulting of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The festival funding is to be seeded with a one-time “windfall” $1 million, earmarked for the Arts that appeared when the County adjusted its accounting process for the Tourist Development funds (meaning the “bed tax.”) Since the notion of the festival grew from a series of meetings with the Sarasota County cultural community, the festival has to end up representing, benefiting and showcasing the cultural community’s breadth and richness. And since the festival’s funding comes from tourist money, it must have the ability to attract an audience from beyond Sarasota County. This has been the challenge. But just last week we stumbled upon an organizing concept for the festival that has exciting implications for us all, including the Hermitage.

Tentatively named the “Festival of Firsts,” the festival will be organized around the concept of “premieres.” The festival work may be world premieres, newly commissioned work, American premieres, Florida premieres – but most importantly, for 3-4 days, Sarasota County’s cultural community will be performing and exhibiting work that the general public has never seen before. Some of that work will be by highly respected creators who attract world-wide attention and the cultural tourists who want to be the first to see it. And it all seems to feed into the new-found interest in new work growing in our community.

The reason this is so meaningful to the Hermitage is that, well, new work is what we do. Major artists come to us from all over the world just to make new work. With the advent of the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, we are commissioning new work from major creators annually. This work is being created here at the Hermitage, and seeing its first audiences in Sarasota County in the spring and always in collaboration with one of our fine artistic organizations. It’s also the same time of year that we hold the Greenfield dinner and bring celebrated artists to the community to give a major speech about their art. In 2012, when it seems most likely that the festival will begin, the Hermitage will be hosting the premiere exhibition of a new work by one of America’s most important new visual artists, Sanford Biggers. At the same time, Artistic Director Ian Webb and the Sarasota Ballet would like to premiere a new work by internationally-respected choreographer Mathew Bourne. And at the Greenfield dinner that year, we will also be announcing the commissioning of a new work of music to premiere in 2014. Add on a new play or two, a new piece of music, and we have the core for something really exciting happening. It could even give rise to interesting restaurant ideas from the “Sarasota Originals” during the festival. Perhaps a showcase of new homes can coordinate, too.

While there are still many obstacles to overcome and decisions to be made, the concept is fertile and will hopefully grow and evolve. It’s not difficult to “see” how it could work. And that vision is exciting enough to push us through the obstacles. In its heyday, the Humana Festival at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville attracted the world-wide press who wrote about the new plays that were premiered. A special festival weekend filled Louisville hotels and restaurants with theatre fans looking to be the first to see new plays, many of which later ended up on Broadway or in regional theaters, or on film. The Louisville restaurants created special festival menus. It was a big deal, and I attended the festival for many years. Our Festival of Firsts, premiering new work in many art forms, could be a big deal too – a very big deal. Let us know what you think.

Second Annual Greenfield Prize Award Dinner

It was a great night in every way as 250 people jammed Michael’s On East to celebrate Sanford Biggers, visual artist and most recent winner of the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

It was a great night in every way as 250 people jammed Michael’s On East to celebrate Sanford Biggers, visual artist and most recent winner of the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. The Keynote speaker was world renowned artist James Rosenquist who made the trip to Sarasota from his home in Aripeka. Rosenquist thrilled the audience with his talk about his work on behalf of artists and the early days in Sarasota; Biggers charmed them with a dazzling smile and kind, friendly words of thanks. And Dan Cameron, a member of the Hermitage National Artist Advisory Committee, enlightened the attentive audience about Bigger’s work and the reason why the committee he chaired awarded the prize to him. It was another beautiful Hermitage evening.

More photos from the evening can be viewed on Flickr

The Alliance of Artist Communities

I’m often asked how many artist communities there are. It’s not an easy number to come by as it depends on how you define an artist community.

I’m often asked how many artist communities there are.  It’s not an easy number to come by as it depends on how you define an artist community.  However, there are over 400 organizational members of the Alliance of Artist Communities. So that gives us a good clue.  And according to the Alliance, there are two qualifications to be an artist community:

  1. Not-for-profit status ( a 501(C)3 designation from the IRS)
  2. A competitive process for admission

Well what is the Alliance of Artist Communities and why do they get to say? 

Almost all arts disciplines have “service organizations” whose mission is to serve and speak for the field.  For example, symphony orchestras have the League of American Orchestras, and not-for-profit theaters have the Theatre Communications Group.  They are industry organizations that have the big picture view of the field they serve.  So our industry organization is the Alliance of Artist Communities, located in Providence, RI.

What do they do?

They convene an annual conference where member organizations gather, attend sessions and panels about topics relevant to the field, and hear guest speakers and keynotes address issues and challenges that all of us in the field face.  These may have to do with fundraising, assessing and meeting community challenges with you organization, different processes for selecting artists, the latest not-for-profit accounting changes that effect artist communities – all kinds of “nuts and bolts” information relevant to our work.  This year the conference is October 20 – 23 in Providence, and you can click HERE to connect to the Alliance conference web page for all the info.  (Everyone is welcome!).

But when the National Endowment for the Arts expressed interest in creating a separate funding category for artist communities, the Endowment approached the Alliance as spokesperson and expert for the field.  Then through this relationship, the Endowment and the Alliance created a new program that addresses our needs, the results of which is dramatically increased funding from the Endowment for artist communities across America.  Last year, the Hermitage received $20,000 of those funds. (Yeah!!!) 

And if you or your cousin or friend down the block wants to start an artist community  – you contact the Alliance.  They have a whole program dedicated to helping new and emerging communities get off the ground.

The Alliance website itself is a huge resources to the communities AND to the individual artists who want to apply to work at a community.  They maintain an extensive, searchable database of American and international artist communities and a paid ($25) membership gives individuals access to the database with a huge variety of search tools to find just the right creative experience.

The Alliance provides many more services, and more than I have time to detail in this post.  I encourage you to explore their website.  Understanding the Alliance will help you understand the field of artist communities like the Hermitage, as a whole.  It’s a rich, tremendously varied field.

Enjoy.

Greenfield Prize Gears Up

No sooner is one Greenfield Prize awarded than the process to select the next one begins. The next prize, to be awarded at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on March 27th, 2011, will be a commission for a new play. The special jury to make that selection has been constituted, and the first meeting will be held in the fall.

No sooner is one Greenfield Prize awarded than the process to select the next one begins. The next prize, to be awarded at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on March 27th, 2011, will be a commission for a new play. The special jury to make that selection has been constituted, and the first meeting will be held in the fall.

Each prize commission has two years to be completed, and this year the Sarasota Orchestra will premiere Eve Beglarian’s chamber music composition on the evening of March 26th, the evening before the dinner. So save the dates for a Greenfield weekend – a concert on Saturday evening and a celebration dinner with a major national speaker on Sunday. Ahh, life in Sarasota!