Free retreats for artists, writers and performers

Are you an artist, looking for a free retreat opportunity? Here are some places in the UK, Europe, the US and South America that offer free or very cheap retreats for artists, performers and writers.

IMG_2345Retreats are an essential for the writer or artist. On retreat, all you have to do is hone your craft, relax and nurture your creativity.

And while there are thousands of retreat centres out there, many are costly. Artists, writers and performers don’t start life rich, so here are a few retreats I have found out about that won’t cost much.

The US seems to offer many artists retreats with different entrance criteria and expectations.  Some offer residencies for free, some are subsidised, some are on a barter scheme. Check out individual venues in the USA on the excellent Mira’s List, featuring links such as the free residencies scheme at the prestigious MacDowell Colony.

One great page of US residencies can be found here: 26 Amazing Writing Residencies.

It seems that Amtrak are just about to start offering writers’ retreats… the details are vague right now, but if retreat-by-train gets you going, check out this news story for more information.

One such opportunity is the month-long residency in Finger Lakes from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation. Artists/writers must be from New York State, and there is a  $500 stipend available to help with your travel costs. Applications are now open.

One fantastic program in Massachusetts is the Artists’ Pointing The Way residencies in Edgartown, offered by the Point Way Inn owner Claudia Miller. Read an article about the opportunity here and find the contact details here.

Residency Unlimited is a site dedicated to finding residencies for artists and writers. You can search by art form, deadline or location. There are opportunities all over the world, from Mexico to the Himalayas to the Galapagos Islands. Many opportunities are free, some offer bursaries to the artists, some involve costs.

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, UK is the reputed castle of King Arthur.  It’s ruins lie before the spectacular scenery of the Cornish coast.  Rugged cliffs overlook the tidal Merlin’s cave. Take the path down to the beach, where you will crunch on sea-worn pebbles.

Even better is that you can enjoy this idyllic place through Camelot Castle Hotel‘s free artists-in-residency programme.  You have to apply in advance.  Regarding selection criteria, the owners John Mappin and Ted Stourton make this refreshing statement:

As soon as some one says they are an artist, why then they are one. The decision to create is probably one of the most powerful decisions that a being ever makes and by validating that decision and giving it a window of space to be nurtured it is extraordinary what can occur.

Odsherred Teaterskole in Nykobing, Denmark has a fantastic residential theatre school near to forests and beaches. I found out about it on a week-long residential mask workshop with Steve Jarand.

Nykobing is about two hours by train or bus from Copenhagen, which costs about 40 Euros return. Odsherred Teaterskole is not easy to find if you are a stranger so ask when you get there. The teaterskole is a good half hour’s walk through the woods from the train station, although buses and taxis are available. I choose to walk because it is delightful; through an ancient forest with Hansel and Gretel style cottages just off the path. The Teaterskole has a subsidised policy for playwrights and theatre practitioners: for 5 Euros linen charge you can stay in a room there. And that charge is not per night, it’s for the duration! There are kitchens and showers to use, or you can pay 15 Euros per day full board, which will buy you a share of a delicious, home-made organic buffet.

You can stay at Odsherred Teaterskole as a writer in retreat, or you can take part in one of the many residential theatre workshops are hosted there. Check out their workshop programme here. Staff are friendly and efficient, and if your Danish needs brushing up, don’t worry: most people speak English. If you like quiet beaches, gentle seas and walks in forests, this might be the retreat for you.

You can pay to stay at La Muse in the South of France, or you can apply to stay for free as part of a trade barter.  The barter involves free board and accommodation in return for 24 hours work per week.  You have to apply to barter at least two months in advance, and barters are not available during summer months.

The view from La Muse Artists' Retreat, South of France
The view from La Muse Artists’ Retreat, South of France

La Muse is a rural, mountainside retreat with a cosy, village lifestyle and views of lush green valleys.  If you want to be inspired while watching the sun set on the thousand-year-old cypress trees in the churchyard, then consider coming here on retreat.

This retreat page on mentions another opportunity in Paris, France. They say: “If you’re a writer and willing to put up with less than ideal conditions, the famous Paris booksellers Shakespeare & Company may let you crash above the shop.”

I couldn’t find details of this on the Shakespeare and Company website, but please look for yourself or contact them and ask.

The La Napoule Residency, a château in France, offers a five-week residency for artists.

They say:

La Napoule Art Foundation offers time and space for creative minds to engage in cultural interchange and meaningful work that impacts the world for the greater good. In addition to using this time to explore new ideas and develop their work, artists are expected to take every opportunity, especially mealtimes, to build community and friendship as well as to exchange ideas and experiences.We are not a hotel, and only welcome guests on certain occasions such as residencies, workshops, and nonprofit partnerships.

Application details can be found on their website.

The Art Monastery in Italy seeks to offer residential opportunities for those interested in the arts, spirituality and ethics. It has a wonderful website and offers many different opportunities from internships to work trades, from residencies to becoming a visiting lecturer.

The Creators Inn in Sweden offers artists free accommodation for visiting creators. They hope that this will promote the local area and that the presence of creative people helps enrich local life. So participation locally would be very welcome.

The Saari Residence in Finland hosts both individuals artists and groups who are looking to research creative work. Grants are available through the Kone Foundation, and you can stay for up to two months. There is an application process.



They have facilities to accommodates artists from many disciplines: “The barn contains four kinds of workspace: an artists’ studio, a dance studio, a woodworking shop and a metalworking shop.”

Their website says:

The Saari Residence’s historical surroundings and peaceful location near a nature reserve and bird wetlands help to fade away all distractions.

Artists and researchers can also come together under this interesting residency scheme.

The 360 Xochi Quetzal residency in Jalisco, Mexico offers three to five live-and-work spaces in a small town complete with cowboys and stunning lakes and countryside nearby. National and international visual artists, photographers, dancers, writers, new media makers and musicians over the age of 23 are welcome to apply for free one-month residency programs that include accommodations and a food stipend of 1,000 pesos – that’s about £35 GBP. You can apply for a summer or winter program or rent a live/work space at other times. There is a small application fee.

Organise your own retreat

Or why not organise your own informal retreat? My generous Danish friends have a log cabin that they use as a summer house. I was allowed to stay there for a couple of months in spring to do some writing. I offered to do some cleaning and painting and generally look after the place. I also paid for the electricity and water that I used. The great thing about organising my own retreat was that it was totally personalised with no application process. I stayed in a beautiful location with no wifi, no TV, no people to talk to, so I could really get my head down and write, undistracted. If you are not interested in collaborating, this kind of arrangement could suit you well.

Do you know anyone with a cabin or a caravan like this?

Alternatively, housesitting might fit in well with your plans. I can recommend the website Trusted Housesitters. There is a membership fee but the service is excellent.

I recommend every artist, writer or performer goes on retreat at least once a year to rediscover their passion, and allow space for new creation.

If you hear of other retreats, let me know and I will update this list.  And if you visit one I’ve recommended, please let me know what you think!

Lots of love and luck on your creative journey : )

The heart wisdom of the plum tree

Life here at Casa Saraswati is full of plums. About two hundred kilos of them.

The Plum Research Team have been busy making plum crumble, plum jam, plum compote and getting drunk on the nectar that is pure plum juice.

While plums can be deliciously fun in the kitchen, there is also much wisdom to be learned from the old plum tree.

Last week, I went to the big plum tree in front of Casa Saraswati with my fruit net and my baskets and my ladders and learned many lessons from that gnarled, wise tree.

Here´s what I learned.

When picking plums, a good technique is to look for the most golden ones and tug on each fruit gently to see if it wants to come away.

Lesson #1: The ripest plums won’t fight the plum-picker.

Ripe plums will readily come away in your hand. Sometimes, we want plums but they are not quite ready for us yet. Pick an unripe plum and bite into it and you will find your action both strenuous and dissatisfying. The unripe plum requires much more energy to pick. And it tastes awful.

When we want something, a conversation begins between us and what we want. Let us say we want a hug from our partner. If we don’t get the timing right, if our partner is not willing to or ready to hug us, we waste our own energy and create bad feeling between us. When two people come together to hug, there are two different energies wanting to unite. This is very important. Two energies – not one, not just our own energy. If we want to hug, we must open our arms and wait for our partner. We must be clear that we want a hug and then wait, to see if they want to hug us back. This is caring. If we grab onto them, like grabbing onto an unripe plum, and tug at them hard when they are not ready, we will not receive the hug we want. The hug will be shoved away, or won’t feel right. There will be no loving exchange of energy. If our partner cannot or will not hug us right now, we must accept this. We must accept and simply hug ourselves, and wait for our another time for our hug.

Not all of life’s plums want to leave the tree when we want to pick them. Listening and accepting is the key. To benefit everybody and get the juiciest plums, make offers gently and with good humour, and good timing, and not by forcing your way. Otherwise that plum won´t come, or it will leave a bitter taste.

One morning, after two hours work, I thought I had collected all the plums from the tree. My basket was full. I sighed and had a sense that my work was done. I was pleased, as I was thirsty and wanted a cup of tea. When I turned around, I saw that there were still more plums in the tree branches behind me.

Lesson #2: You can’t see all the plums on the tree from any one direction.

Looking in one direction only reveals some of the fruit. You can easily miss many ripe plums in this way. Better to view the tree from several different angles before deciding whether you’ve found all the plums. In a similar way, Leonardo da Vinci would always view his subjects from three different perspectives before drawing, or before making any important decisions in other areas of his life. This approach of having many standpoints can reveal a situation in its entirety and help us solve problems. This is useful for finding empathy with others, or overcoming obstacles.

I discovered too that plums appearing ripe from underneath do not always turn out to be good through-and-through. I saw many fat, honey-coloured plums that whet my appetite, only to pick them and discover that they were rotten. Seeing the plum from both sides is important before you bite into it and discover it is full of maggots.

Like a bold, bikini-clad explorer, in the shining morning sunshine, I set forth with plum net on my shoulder, plum-basket strapped to my waist, and pick my way through jungles of succulents and nests of wasps in search of golden, fruity treasure. I climbed the plum tree, wasps inches from my face, in order to select its juiciest plums.

Lesson #3: Climb the tree and face the wasps and a bounty of plums await.

Before this, I was quite wary of wasps. I would shoo them, or shriek and run away from them. But the plum treasure was too tempting. And as I ventured forth, I discovered that wasps aren´t all that scary. Yes, they want plums – don´t we all – but they are just as scared as we are. They can be annoying, but they don´t put up much of a fight.

In life, we face many wasps. I wonder how many annoyances I have avoided in life, and how many treasures therefore I have forsaken?

If our motivation is strong, if we really see the value – see the treasure – it is worth navigating all manner of wasps and prickly branches in order to fulfil our destiny.

The wasps returned after the plums were picked. Many wasps would sip from slightly-split plums as they sat in their basket, waiting to be taken to the kitchen. When the basket was full, two or three wasps would be buzzing around inside, getting drunk on delicious plum nectar. I tried lifting the basket with the wasps still inside. As they buzzed more loudly, I felt myself growing tense. I didn’t want to be stung!

I removed one ripe plum that a wasp sat on, and threw it away, far into the corner. The wasp happily buzzed along with its yummy plum. The wasp is happy to face the giant human plum-pickers, and have its plum flung far, to get what it truly wants. Are we this committed?

I saw a wasp so intent on getting to one certain plum that it became trapped in between plums in the basket. It buzzed very loudly when this happened, frustrated in its plummy prison. I did not wish to hurt the wasp, so I moved aside the plums to set it free. The same wasp then buzzed angrily around me. “What a cheek!” I thought, dancing away in case I got stung.

Lesson #4: A wasp set free still stings the same.

Sometimes we help a person and expect that in return, they behave in a certain way. This is not generosity. This is dangerous. If we place an expectation on our giving, it ceases to be truly given from the heart. Sometimes we give our help and we are very clear that we expect something back, and the person we are helping agrees fully to our terms and conditions. This is not generosity. This is a contract. Can you make a contract with a wasp?

While picking plums, I have felt the quiet wisdom of the tree. The life of a plum tree seems full of lessons for the life of humanity, too. In quiet moments under its branches, I have been able to gather its generous insights, as well as its succulent, organic plums.

Here I share some of those insights with you, and if you come to visit us at Casa Saraswati, we might share some of our delicious plum jam with you, too.

ICEDIP and creative process

Is there a common process to creativity?

Geoff Petty thinks so. ICEDIP is Petty’s six-phase model of the creative process.

It divides the creative process into six phases:

INSPIRATION, where you explore, generate ideas, have visions, research similar projects, brainstorm and dream.

CLARIFICATION, where you discuss your aims, focus on your goals, research costs and assess risks.

EVALUATION, where you assess which ideas have best potential, and how to improve your work as it moves forwards.

DISTILLATION – the process of concentrating or boiling your ideas down into a single vision.

INCUBATION, or not thinking about your idea! This phase is about letting go and allowing new connections to happen naturally. You may have the occasional ponder.

PERSPIRATION, the hard work phase where you actually put plans into action, with determination.

Petty recommends you need use the six phases in any order you wish.

Personally I find this neatly labels a process we have all been using within creative projects for many years. However it is interesting to note Petty includes incubation, the idea of not working on a project, as a beneficial phase. My best work has included this phase but I have sometimes left this out with projects on a tight timescales.

Petty reminds me not to do this. He is right. There are parts of the creative process that will always be a mystery. We do not truly know where ideas come from, for instance. Incubation allows this mystery to remain, without seeking to grasp at it for definition. And as the Zen saying goes, he who grasps loses.

Can we learn the value of doing nothing?

To hell with perfectionism

Do you ever give yourself a hard time for not being perfect? Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist? Is it possible to stop being a perfectionist?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist… I should say ‘was’ a bit of a perfectionist because I’m sick of perfectionism. It’s rubbish.

Now let’s define the difference between perfectionism and having standards… It is okay to have standards, especially morals and good principles.

Perfectionism is different. Perfectionism is always striving for the best, to be the best, even when there is no reason for it. It is a compulsion. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with self improvement or having a goal. But where do your standards stop being enjoyable and loving and start operating from a place of fear?

I feel like I have been programmed to be perfect from a young age. I always believed I should get straight A’s, and conversations about school with my dad usually went like this:

“Still top of the class, Lynd?”
“Yes, Dad.”
“That’s my girl!”

So it’s easy to see how this habit was formed from wanting approval. Of course i forgive my dad; he grew up in a generation where an education really meant an escape from poverty or hard manual labour. Not necessarily the job market today, with so many unemployed graduates.

Here are the rubbish things perfectionism has made me do:
• not send a text ’til all the grammar and punctuation was correct
• worry about whether I’m dressed ‘cool’ enough
• only use certain pens in certain notebooks

I have now dropped these habits. Thank God.

I took up improvisation four years ago to have a bit of fun and be a bit more spontaneous. I love it and I find it useful for getting into a state of not being self-conscious.

Andy Fitzgibbon, a wonderful role model for awareness, recently advised me that I could afford to do 65% less, and still do an okay job. I found his comments interesting and scary.

So I decided to look at this habit a little more closely.

My perfectionism seems to stem from fear. From fear of not being right, from fearing failure, from being scared that my truth might not be good enough for someone else’s approval. From not trusting that everything will be alright, if it’s not perfect.

But look at nature. Nature isn’t perfect. A tree grows crooked; it still grows. The daisies are all different heights. They are more beautiful because of it

So I come to the conclusion that perfectionism is not natural, or trusting, or forgiving.

If I can’t forgive myself, how can I forgive others? As Pema Chodron says:

“The way that we can help is by making friends with our own feelings of hatred, bewilderment, and so forth. Then we can accept them in others.”

So true. So if I stop judging myself, I can stop judging others too. Makes sense.

That means, when an uncomfortable feeling, like desire for instance, comes, I should live with it. Let the desire be, and love it. Maybe give it a little wave.

Not jump on it, terrorise it, tell it how wrong it is and try to change it.

“Okay desire, there you are. You can stay as long as you like. I understand. I’m not gonna act on you, but I accept you.”

This conversation can only come with awareness of what you are feeling. So recognising feelings, accepting feelings but not being forced into action by feelings is key.

Another teacher put it like this:

“Within our impure mind, our pure mind is to be found.” (Dajian Huineng)

The pure mind is just a step away, in the stillness and the silence. If the ordinary mind can come to standstill, there the pure wisdom nature of our mind shines through. The pure mind is not a perfectionist, it is simple and loving and full of light. And within all of us, if we can just let go of grasping for just a few seconds.

So that’s it. Me and perfectionism – we’re over. I’m gonna care a little less, and chill a little more. So if you see me out on the street in my slob-out clothes, getting a little sloppy over my written presentation, or deliberately letting projects go a bit wrong, please know it’s natural, and in all of our best interests : )

Where do ideas come from?

Where does genius reside? Is it learned, or innate? Or does it come from some external force?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” explores in a TED conference the idea that genius is outside the individual. Therefore, rather than seek inspiration internally, the artist should try calling his or her muse. This ancient idea was lost sometime in the Renaissance as man became the centre if his own world and the idea of rulers appointed by God (Divine Right) faded out if fashion. Gilbert also raises an important point; that this perception takes the pressure off the artist. The artist is not responsible for the outcome – the muse is! All the artist need do is make the necessary preparations for that muse to come. Gilbert proposes that if this theory took hold on a large scale it might tackle the problem of depression and alcoholism/drug dependency within the artistic community.

Koestler said in ‘The Act of Creation’ (1964) that the neurotic “does not get beyond the destructive preliminary work and is therefore unable to detach the whole creative process from his own person and transfer it to an ideological abstraction.”.

So is creativity an internal or external factor?In Deepak Chopra‘s audiobroadcast “The Cosmic Mind and the Submanifest Order of Being” he explores the theory that ideas and memories may not be found in the brain, and that they may be in the nonlocal universal field of consciousness before becoming electrical impulses in the brain. He compares these electrical signals to radio transmissions, and uses this theory to explain coincidences. Chopra uses the anecdote of thinking of a mushroom omelette and being unable to get the idea out of his mind. Two hours later, he finds himself on a plane, being served a mushroom omelette. Chopra explains that this coincidence was because the concept of a mushroom omelette was in the nonlocal unified consciousness before it manifested in his reality.

Certainly many of us have had the uncanny experience of thinking of a friend, and finding simultaneously that they are calling on the phone. But is there any evidence to suggest that ideas originate outside of our minds?

Evidence by William Maddux and Adam Galinsky in their study of how living abroad affects creativity suggests that external factors have a large part to play. Maddux and Galinsky found in their creativity tests that expats were more likely to find innovative solutions to problems, such as negotiating a deal. Their study also included controls for personality factors like openness. The results showed that people who had not lived abroad tended to be less creative than expats, even if they were equally high on the openness trait. It was not the openness that made them creative; it was the act of exposing themselves to new ideas and new ways of living and working.

This concurs with Gilbert’s theories that creativity is not just about who you are; it is equally about the environments and spaces you create for yourself.

So don’t beat yourself up when ideas aren’t forthcoming. Try changing your environment and see if this inspires your creativity. Try preparing for the genius to come and then channel it’s voice. And if all else fails, it’s not you who is inadequate! It’s your Muse.