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MacDowell will no longer require reference letters for applicants. That’s a good decision.

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October 14, 2021, 1:24pm

MacDowell, the storied artist residency, has announced that it has temporarily removed reference letters as part of the application process. The trial phase for removing reference letters will begin with the next application cycle, which begins this November 1st.

For artists looking to apply, this is wonderful news: the process of getting recommendation letters is long, stressful and often political. The recommendation letter requirement elevates applicants with institutional access and experience, and so for MacDowell, whose materials indicate that “highest talent” is the only criteria for entry, removing the requirement just makes sense.

“We’ve been hearing for some time that reference letters are a barrier to equitable and fair treatment of all artist populations,” Admissions Director Courtney Bethel said in a statement, “so in line with our moves to increase equity and access in our culture at MacDowell, we’ve decided to experiment with dropping them as an application requirement.” Let’s hope this experiment goes well—and that other residencies and fellowships follow suit.

In addition to the change regarding reference letters, MacDowell is shifting its schedule from three annual application periods and residency seasons to two, to give staff more time to process and panelists more time to read applications due to their expanding applicant pool.

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