However, even with the number of applicants rising, the funds to support these colonies have been drying up at an alarming rate. At Yaddo, annual expenses run to almost a quarter of a million dollars a year, and the only income from the Trask endowment — the rent from a perpetually half-vacant office building in lower Manhattan — was cut off when the building had to be sold last year. For the past four years, then, Yaddo has had to depend on a small endowment, the generosity of past guests, fund raisers, and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. The colony’s appearance — just this side of picturesque decay — is also a matter of concern. Director Curtis Harnack was recently quoted in a publication of the National Endowment for the Arts as saying, “Things are falling apart; we need new wiring, new plumbing, just a lot of overdue general maintenance.” Apparently, Yaddo will need a healthy infusion of funds just to keep it going.
The MacDowell Colony is in only slightly better shape. Since it is larger, it costs more to run — $326,544 in 1976 — but it has recently started charging those guests who can afford it $10 a day for room and board (against the $50 a day per person it actually costs to run the place). No consideration of payment is made, however, until applications have been approved on the basis of artistic merit.
Yaddo and MacDowell both receive tremendous support from the literary and artistic community. Elegant fundraising events in New York and Boston have not only brought together well-connected members of the art, entertainment and financial communities, but also raised a significant amount of money. A recent MacDowell benefit at the Hotel Pierre in New York netted the colony $54,473. So regardless of the talk one hears about deficits and hard times, it’s inconceivable that artists would let Yaddo or MacDowell slip away. After all, here are two places where a poet, painter, or musician can hang around a rustic studio, take meaningful walks in the woods, discuss aesthetics — in general, do all the things an artist is supposed to do — and maybe even get something done, all for free (except the occasional $10 a day charge at MacDowell). The deal is too good to let die, and as long as the literary and art communities can maintain their influence over certain well-heeled sources — agents, patrons, foundations, art dealers, publishers, wealthy hangers-on — MacDowell and Yaddo will be with us.