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    Is a virtual writing retreat worth it?

    Emily Temple

    July 29, 2020, 11:35am

    Yesterday, MacDowell, a prestigious artists’ residency in New Hampshire—who has suspended their regular fellowship program due to the coronavirus pandemic—announced a “pilot program” for a virtual version of its famous retreat.

    It will certainly look a lot different than usual, considering that the artists will be participating from their own homes—but MacDowell executive director Philip Himberg hopes to at least recreate the sense of community that MacDowell offers along with its solitude. Those famous group dinners and picnic baskets will even be involved—sent to the participants’ homes.

    One of the eight fellows participating in Virtual MacDowell is award-winning poet Brenda Shaughnessy, who has done stints at MacDowell in the past, and would have been there again this year. “I am doing it because I am so deeply grateful to MacDowell,” she said. “With this fellowship, I know it’s not going to be anything close to the experience I was supposed to have. You’re not going to get those magical elements that make MacDowell work, like uninterrupted time.”

    So will it be worth it without the magic? Only time will tell, but I would guess it would depend on the writer, and on their reason for going to a residency like MacDowell: is it to feel part of an artistic community, or is it to put nose to grindstone in a cabin far away from the distractions of everyday life? If the former, maybe the answer is yes—after all, we’ve already seen how great virtual programs can be at fostering community, even during this time of crisis. If the latter—well, maybe you can shut yourself up in a closet or something. That’s basically the same thing, right?

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