Residency 2013: @Ragdale Overall

Well, I'm a few days in from my return from Ragdale and am doing okay. Writing is at the wayside while work and freelance and reviewing take precedence before the next trip. But, I did want to write about what future applicants/participants may want to take note of. Overall, enjoyed myself at Ragdale. And that was increased mainly because of the people. The other residents were great people all around. Attentive and keen and kind. Talented and intelligent and open. We all bonded within hours of meeting each other. Compliments and wine and laughs flowed at every dinner and you'd find yourself meaning to only get a bite and jump into some great conversation. So the residents and kind staff and especially Linda the Chef made it a really great and relaxing experience. Despite the lack of my own brain mojo working I got away from a major metropolis and was surrounded by other artists to discuss our work and our goals and our doubts and our appreciation for getting a bit of incentive as artists by being accepted to Ragdale. So, in that sense, and what a residency is supposed to provide in general, is that time away to get what you need. Yes, you want to get work done. You may even have a plan all laid out but if it doesn't happen: Do. Not. Freak. Out. Some of us are fast writers, composers, painters, etc. Many of us work at our own pace and when you don't have a paycheck or deadlines to push the creative process it can make things a bit slow going. But it gets done, as long as you maintain focus and take yourself seriously as an artist.

So let's break it down shall we?

The Digs

As mentioned in my previous three posts the working area for writers is the same as where you sleep. Essentially your bedroom is your studio. Now, would this work for you to get out of bed and fumble around a bit before writing (or just jumping right into it) in your sleep space?

For some having a studio set apart from your living space is ideal. And for the visual artists they have this at Ragdale for the most part. Three of the four spaces for visual artists are separate from their room, with one exception being the Chandelier Studio in the Ragdale Barn. While a spacey room it may be somewhat cramped for those who are used to a larger working space.

Will noise be an issue for you? Because it was for me, initially! The Ragdale Barn is also home to the Ragdale main office where staff is from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday. Conferences are held in the conference room but being an older space, literally it was a barn, now turned into a living/working space it may be distracting to hear the ins and outs of staff and visitors throughout the day during the week.

When I had brought this up to staff originally there seemed to be a misunderstanding of how much sound can travel in the barn (or how sensitive some of us can be to sound) and thus I had to move the following week. If sounds aren't an issue for you and neither is a smaller room (the smallest is the Sewing Room in the Ragdale Barn) than you may be suited for the Barn. However, if these things will be a problem and you need a more spacious spot to work and sleep then the Ragdale House is where you need to be.

The Ragdale House is large and drafty and creaky. But beyond the residents (and perhaps staff coming to clean) this is more ideal a setting. The rooms are spacious and each has it's own bathroom. So, unlike the Ragdale Barn, you do not have to share a bathroom and this can also be more conducive to getting work done, especially if you are a solitary person. The Ragdale House has a full kitchen (whereas the Barn has half a kitchen since the chef works out of the majority of the area) a huge living room, a plant room, and is a historical landmark and so forth. Most of the rooms, if not all, in the Ragdale House have sun porches attached!

Now, I was told that there's no "code" for who gets what room but I noticed a trend. Those (writers particularly) who were staying 3 or 4 weeks or more got a room in the Ragdale House, while writers staying a shorter time got planted in the Ragdale Barn. And perhaps even veterans got preferential treatment of the Ragdale House as well. Code. Cracked. Or at least it was for my session.

There's also the Friend's Studio which has one side for a composer and another for a visual artist and is big and has ample windows. This studio is set apart from the House and the Barn. If you're a writer who needs a lot of space like the writer who was in this studio while I was there this may be good for you. The table situation isn't the best since there's no formal desk but in terms of spreading out it's great.

And one of the largest studios for visual artist is: The Meadow. This place is like it's own house. It has an island for a kitchenette, Northern light (which I hear is a big deal for artists), a bathroom, and a couch (albeit small) should you want to stay overnight. It's located beyond the House, Friend's Studio, and Barn but not too far off at the beginning of where the prairie begins. One of the residents who had the smallest rooms to sleep in (Sewing) got the largest studio in The Meadow. So it kind of balanced out. If you're a visual artist I do hope you get either space in The Meadow or Friend's Studio because the space and lighting would be ideal to spread out.

The Food

You will not go hungry at Ragdale. Guaranteed. Though I am not a picky eater. But, Ragdale is one of the few residencies that provides food and caters to your meal preferences. While the chef only makes dinner Monday through Friday she is very cognizant of what your restrictions are and knows how to make sure flavors litter every meal. So no worries there. Linda also takes requests for items that you may need/like. But there are some (like ice cream) where you'll be on your own. But the bare necessities like milk (regular, almond, soy), eggs, butter (or butter like products), bread (gluten free, wheat), etc. will be accounted for along with pasta and lentils and canned tuna/salmon, turkey, salad, fresh fruit and veggies, and peanut butter-filled pretzels which is my new addiction. Thanks, Linda!

Linda makes an abundance of food so if you don't go to dine with the residents (and occasional visiting staff) during the week you'll be okay if you check the fridge later on in the evening. But try to get at that food before lunch because people love their leftovers.

Since most of the food is housed in the Ragdale Barn (which Linda works out of) you'd have to make sure to remind her about some items needed for the Ragdale House and don't hesitate to go back and forth between houses in case stuff is needed, but try to put it back in case people want eggs or juice in the morning! (Sidenote: I'd highly recommend making fresh OJ every morning with the electric juicer in the Barn. Excellent.)

The Locale

Lake Forest is a small town where the inhabitants have money. You will not see houses, you will see HOUSES. McMansions as some like to call them. People have land not just yards and Ragdale also has an abundance of land in the prairie behind it and beyond. You will even see many of these lovely places peppered around the prairie as you walk.

Should you want to go to "town" it's about a ten minute walk from Ragdale. Most of the liquor can be purchased from the Jewel Osco which is the supermarket. There are brunch spots and lunch spots and areas to get drinks but on a Saturday most bars call it at 12:30am or 1am. Yup. One am on a Saturday. It's a small town like I said. So don't necessarily expect to party it up there.

If you want to go to Chicago it's about a 30-40 ride via car. A car service from Lake Forest to O'Hare airport will cost $50 not including tip. If you take a cab expect to pay $80 and up. So just don't, people. You can also take public transit but that can take a couple hours since you have to take the rail from Lake Forest to downtown Chicago and then take the rail back up to Chicago because there's no direct route via the rails, but it's way cheaper.

The Staff

Everyone is super nice and well meaning at Ragdale. The executive director Jeff and his partner currently reside in the Ragdale apartment which is connected to the Ragdale House. They came to dinner twice a week to get to know the residents for the session and also came out to drinks with us once! So nice and they're super friendly and personable and get to know you on a personal level not just as someone who's paying to be there.

Regin who handles the whole resident process, and was a former resident at Ragdale, also came to dinner once a week. He and I spoke about art and being an artist of color and what that means for the expectation versus our product which was really cool.

Everyone in general was super helpful and friendly and kind and generous. Even when I complained and complained about the noise factor for me they adjusted it because there was a work around, so I appreciated that.

There's usually a line between staff and residents. And while people may want to welcome you they also understand your time is your time and do not want to impede upon it. So it was nice that having dinner was a nice break and lended us and staff the opportunity for us to get to know each other more.

Marta and David (part of the grounds crew) were very sweet and helpful. I do want to provide a side note that if you are in the Ragdale House one of them will come to your room during the day to clean it out. So this could be disruptive to your process for an hour or so once a week.

And I think that covers it! Since I summed up my personal experiences (and ebbs and flows) in previous posts I wanted to mainly focus on what to think about and expect should you want to apply or be on your way. And if you have specific questions call the staff. I had to call a few times to get my questions/concerns answered. At the moment the staff is looking to update the website to give a better idea of what Ragdale is and what the grounds look like because it may not be properly outlined and visually available on the website nor in their guidebook. So, take things into consideration of what you need to work and how Ragdale may fit into your plan.

Again, I am very appreciative for being accepted and for having the opportunity to get away and work on my writing once I was ready to go full force and was no longer blocked. I ate well, slept in comfy beds, and got away from the day-to-day minutiae that can make you a bit stir crazy. And already being thrust back into full work and freelance mode I am missing that time. So check out Ragdale and their application process and go for it! It's a paid residency but very affordable and well worth the costs and more.