Universal Design at Work: The Millay Colony
by David Low, National Endowment for the Arts
Since 1973, The Millay Colony for the Arts has provided residencies to professional writers, composers, and visual artists to develop work without interruption in space designed and equipped for artistic work. The Colony is located in eastern New York State three hours north of New York City, at Steepletop, the 600-acre National Landmark farm-estate that was the home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Over 1500 artists have been in residenced at Millay. Until now, however, none of the Colony's studios, housed in the old Steepletop Barn, have been truly "accessible."
In September 1997 the Millay Colony for the Arts will open a new facility that will provide a fully accessible work and living environment to artists with and without disabilities. Every aspect of the 3,200 square foot facility, simply called The Main Building, incorporates principles of universal design. It is the first structure of its kind at an artist colony and is the result of a unique collaboration between Millay, artists, architects, designers, funders, and corporate partners.
To insure that the building would be responsive to all artists, the distinguished visual artist Michael Singer was invited to lead the design project along with an advisory panel of artists with disabilities that included the writer Kenny Fries, filmmaker Sharon Greytak, poet Raymond Luczak, visual artist Scott Nelson, writer, Peter Slatin, and painter Charles Strouchler.
"We approached this as a model project," explained Ann-Ellen Leser, Millay's Executive Director. "Artists change and how artists make art changes. Part of what makes this project exciting is that we designed flexibility into the facility so that it can change over the years in response to people's needs. It would be accurate to say that if we do this project correctly it will never be finished."
The project was begun with an important set of assumptions:
The Main Building will serve all artists in residence with both individual and common spaces. Some of the noteworthy elements include:
The Marcia Speinson Studio includes a 16' x 20' studio with full-spectrum florescent lights and adjustable incandescent lights, as well as a sink, a full-room ventilation fan and a source-capture exhaust system, two bedrooms and a bath with a roll-in shower, and a door direct to a carport for someone using a disability-equipped vehicle. The two bedrooms make this studio ideal for an artist needing an aide or for two artists working on a collaborative project.
The McClennan/Hope-Davis Studio includes a 15' x 22' studio with an upright Steinway piano for a composer (usable by a writer or painter when a composer is not in residence), a sink, and, like the Marcia Speinson Studio, full-spectrum florescent lights and adjustable incandescent lights, a full-room ventilation fan and a source- capture exhaust system. The bathroom for this studio will have an adapted shower/tub unit.
Millay's common rooms, including the kitchen, dining room, living room, music/library, and laundry room, will be housed in the new building. The kitchen has been designed with two sets of appliances and counter space at different heights usable by people with and without disabilities. The Main Building will also house a sitting-darkroom accessible to someone in a wheelchair.
Two accessible pathways are being constructed to give all of the residents access to the unspoiled beauty of Steepletop. One pathway will wind through the woods with stop-offs where artists can work or relax. The other will connect the Steepletop Barn, which will continue to house four artist-residents, and the Main Building.
The success of the project is due not only to the fine work of Mr. Singer and the artist advisory board, but to the significant contributions of corporate partners. Whirlpool worked directly Michael Singer on the kitchen design and is donating appliances. Nederman, Inc. of Westland, Michigan has collaborated with Millay to adapt one of Nederman's source capture exhaust systems for use in artists' studios. A prototype of the system which will take toxic materials out of the air before they pass by the artist, is being tested at Millay and will be ready to present to artists by June. Visual artists should check the Millay website this summer for more information on source-capture.
More detailed information about Millay, and about the universal design project can be found on the Millay website.
For more information:
To receive an application an artist should send either a self-addressed stamped envelope to: The Millay Colony for the Arts, Post Office Box 3, East Hill Road, Austerlitz, NY 12017-0003 or email email@example.com. If artists have any further questions about the facilities or program, call 528-392-3103 or email firstname.lastname@example.org before applying.
The recently published Artists' Communities: A Directory of Residencies in the United States Offering Time and Space for Creativityis an invaluable resource of information on residency programs in the U.S. and abroad. The 226-page directory profiles the 70 leading artists communities in the U.S., provides information on 40 other similar progrms in the US and 120 abroad. The directory can be ordered from the Alliance of Artists' Communities, 210 SE 50th Avenue, Portland, OR 97215 (503-239-7049) for $16.95. Email is email@example.com.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal