Wanna Get Away? Residency Retreats Cater To Creatives Craving Time To Think, Commune, Create

Jul 12, 2021

Marjorie Dial has converted the former home of East Fork Pottery into Township 10, as a retreat to honor artists' creative processes.
Credit Matt Peiken | BPR News

When Marjorie Dial first walked the rustic 30 acres north of Marshall that once housed East Fork Pottery, she noticed what almost everyone would—the natural beauty. But Dial is a ceramic artist who was also in a position to see something beyond beauty. She saw potential.

“Artists are asked to do so much to make their work, explain their work, promote their work, sell their work,” she said. “This idea started to germinate in me of creating a place where artists felt supported and valued and a sense of affection around making work and going deeply into it.”

East Fork Pottery moved to Biltmore Village, but left the clay studios and kilns on the old grounds. Dial has refurbished the main home and added a trio of living suites and a community kitchen and rebranded the compound as a retreat for artists called Township 10.

Dozens of residencies around the country invite artists to spend a week, a few weeks, a few months or even longer. All offer housing on or off site, time and space to create and, usually, interaction with a tiny community of other resident artists. Many provide meals for artists and introduce them to networks of potential funders and presenters.

Many but not all operate as nonprofit organizations, and the most coveted residencies come to artists without any cost beyond their own travel. The application process is often competitive.

Heather Hartley and Phil Reynolds have opened Trillium Arts in Mars Hill.
Credit courtesy Trillium Arts

“Creative artists need time to create. They need time to incubate,” said Heather Hartley, half the couple behind Trillium Arts. Hartley and Phil Reynolds purchased 22 acres in Mars Hill last year to open an artist residency.

“So often in the performing arts sector, there’s sometimes a rush to completion,” she said. “You have this premiere date and you have a venue, a presenter, that is looking for completed work, and we both believe very strongly that some of the strongest work comes whenever there’s time for an artist to have a true creative greenhouse period.”

Hartley has a deep background in dance and Phil Reynolds spent his career as an arts presenter. They were so eager to get rolling with Trillium they tapped their neighbors’ AirBnB rentals to house their first resident artists and laid a tap-dancing floor in a neighboring barn.

The couple are raising money earmarked to add living and studio spaces. Meanwhile, they’re charging some artists to spend a week at a time on their grounds and inviting others without charge.

“What we do have here in Mars Hill is the beautiful piece of property and a lot of potential,” Reynolds said. 

“We want to do as much as we can to support a healthy arts ecology. The financial reality is Phil and I are not wealthy people,” Hartley added. “We could just sit here and let the space and this beauty be empty the rest of the year or we could fill it up with people who want to come.

“And the fact of the matter is we get more applications than we can accommodate,” Reynolds said.

Claire Elizabeth Barratt in the new costume shop inside her home, which she is converting into the Center for Collaboration and Connection.
Credit Matt Peiken | BPR News

The founders of Township 10 and Trillium Arts used cash inheritances for their seed funding. In North Asheville, performance artist Claire Elizabeth Barratt and handfuls of friends are helping Barratt fulfill a lifelong dream.

“This is my home and this is something I’d be doing for my space myself, anyway,” Barratt said.

She is converting the backyard, living room and second bedroom of the home that used to belong to Barratt’s parents into the Center for Connection and Collaboration. Unemployment insurance and modest fundraising have picked up most of the cost for materials.

“Everything has to stay small and intimate. It’s still a residential area, so I can’t have big public events,” Barratt said. “But it can serve as an incubator, and it can be a meeting place and a rehearsal space and an ideas space and a small presentation space, so it can be a lot of things.”

At Township 10, Marjorie Dial plans two extended residencies for herself each year—she lives in Portland, Ore.—but she’s otherwise turning over the culture and dynamic of the space to the resident artists.

“I’ve had a number of people question me about the return I’m getting on my investment, and I just gently ask them ‘What return on their investment are they getting on their second home or country club membership?’” Dial said. “This has been the most transformative thing I’ve ever done and you can’t really evaluate what’s coming back from doing this project.”

There are other residencies in this region. Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland has a program and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offered a six-week residency to one writer last summer.

NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Center for Craft has a residency program. It doesn't.