Upstate New York Eco-Residency Imagines a New Model of Sustainable Art Patronage

Upstate New York Eco-Residency Imagines a New Model of Sustainable Art Patronage
The Shandaken Project's Catskill Mountains site
(Courtesy of Nick Weist)

Shandaken (pronounced shan-day-ken) is a small township in New York’s Catskill Mountains made up of a dozen even smaller hamlets. It’s the kind of idyllic locale that’s famous for picturesque hiking, bright autumn foliage, and an annual “Quacker Race” (as its official Web site boasts). Shandaken is also the site of a new artist residency named after the township that combines the creatively fruitful isolation of the countryside with an environmentally friendly initiative: residents will help to grow their own food on the program’s grounds, reviving the site’s heritage as a working farm.

The Shandaken Project was founded by Nick Weist, who came up with the idea for a sustainable artistic residency program after working on an organic production farm in New Paltz, New York. Weist wanted to propose an alternative to the traditional art-world structure of a few wealthy donors bankrolling creative non-profits and develop a system “whereby the creative community funds an organization that is by and for its constituency,” he told ARTINFO in a recent conversation.

After hearing his ideas, a gentleman he met at the New Paltz farm offered Weist the run of a 250-acre plot of land he inherited in Shandaken, a farm that had lain fallow for years. The site abuts the wild forest, includes a large pond, a sugaring shack, old logging trails, and a “huge amount of wildlife,” Weist described. “There are few places left intact that have the same type of magic… It’s unusual for creative practitioners to have complete access to such a piece of land.”

In its inaugural season running from June 15 to October 7 of this year, between 15 and 20 artists, writers, and curators nominated by the membership board (the program is considering an open application process for next year) will spend between two and six weeks on the site, living together in the farm’s original four-bedroom house. The residents will also work on a half-acre organic community garden, labor that will support the program’s cost-efficient food supply as well as provide a contrast to the participants’ more abstract pursuits. In his own experience, Weist observed that “manual labor actually fits really tightly with intellectual labor. As you were working with your hands, it left your mind free for some really intense critical thought.”

Shandaken’s new Kickstarter initiative will go toward funding the construction of three studio buildings for residents. Designed by artist Kant Smith, the studios will fit with the green, low-impact spirit of the rest of the project. Meant to be cheap, easily assembled, and portable, the 10-by-15-foot cabins are intimately tied to their context. The buildings’ construction materials and open plan mean that “the person working inside the studio feels immediately connected to the surrounding landscape, through sight, smell, sound, even weather,” Smith wrote in an email. The team hopes to power the studios through rooftop solar panels.

Watch the video for Shandaken's Kickstarter initiative, below: