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Peterborough

World of artists

MacDowell Colony opens for award

Artist Betye Saar poses during the 2014 Santa Monica Museum of Art PRECOGNITO Gala on April 23, 2014, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Invision/AP)

Artist Betye Saar poses during the 2014 Santa Monica Museum of Art PRECOGNITO Gala on April 23, 2014, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Invision/AP)

In Peterborough, supporting the arts isn’t just an idea; it’s a way of life. Through The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s first artist-residency program, Peterborough has played host to nearly 7,000 artists, including such greats as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland, Alice Walker and Thornton Wilder.

MacDowell was born from the love of art, and a desire to provide an ideal place for it to be created. Its namesakes, composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, pianist Marian MacDowell, opened their farm to the art community in 1907. Edward, who said he produced better music in Peterborough, wanted to give other artists the same creative experience.

Though Edward lived only long enough to see the first fellows arrive, Marian continued her husband’s mission, hosting artists and traveling across the country giving lecture recitals to raise money for the colony’s preservation. In honor of the MacDowells’ contribution to the art world, in 1997 the colony was given the National Medal of the Arts, the highest award given by the United States to artists or art patrons, for “nurturing and inspiring many of this century’s finest artists.”

More than 100 years after the first artists moved into The MacDowell Colony’s 32 studios, it continues to support and shape the art world. Each year more than 250 writers, visual artists, composers, filmmakers, playwrights, interdisciplinary artists and architects come to the colony from all over the world. The only criteria for artists being accepted into residency is excellence in their field, and because of the colony’s nonprofit status they pay nothing for their five- to eight-week stays.

For one day each August the rest of the world can get a taste of what it’s like to live and work at MacDowell. While the colony’s main building, gravesite and Eugene Coleman Savidge Library are always open during office hours and with advance notice, only during Medal Day – when the Edward MacDowell Medal is awarded to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field – do artists-in-residence open their studios to the public. Sunday is Medal Day.

The Edward MacDowell Medal has been awarded each year since 1960. Recipients include Georgia O’Keefe, John Updike, Robert Frost and Stephen Sondheim. This year’s medal will be presented by author Michael Chabon (whose The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was written at MacDowell) to installation artist Betye Saar.

Saar began her career as a printmaker but is best known for her assemblages and collages, which challenge the myths and negative stereotypes ascribed to the African-American community while drawing a connection to mythic and spiritual concepts from Africa and the Caribbean.

The medal will be presented to Saar in a public ceremony at 12:15 p.m. After the ceremony, visitors may enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds (bring your own or pre-order one at macdowellcolony.org) before the artist studios are open to the public from 2 to 5 p.m.

There is no charge to attend Medal Day, which is good, because the value of taking part in a historic event at such an important venue would surely surpass most of our budgets.

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