There is a library, a working area, workshops and a living room. Prices are lower than in a rural hostel “We offer them the PEACE AND QUIET they need to work”
Hemingway often used to rent room 511 at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana. He would shut himself in there for months on end and it was there that he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, among other novels. Mary Shelley and John Polidori wrote Frankestein and The Vampyre in Lord Byron’s Swiss chalet. Truman Capote used to escape to the Costa Brava to write in peace, away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Vivaldi used to give music classes at the Metropolis Hotel in Venice and it was there where he composed The Four Seasons. The space where creation happens is not just anywhere. Leonardo da Vinci theorised on it and concluded that creative space is the co-author of the work: the place where you write a book, develop a philosophical theory, or compose a melody influences the creative process.
Not everyone has a friend with a gothic castle in Switzerland like Lord Byron, or afford the expense of a luxury suite in a neo-colonial hotel in the Caribbean. But there are always solutions. In Catalonia, there are some 30 residences for artists, where they can spend days, weeks or even months away from the daily grind to concentrate on their creative work.
One of these pioneering centres is Art Natura in Pallars Subirà, in the village of La Farrera: a small neighbourhood of 25 stone cottages in the middle of mountains, crossed by trails that go deep into the woods. One of them is known by the locals as the smugglers’ route, and leads towards some clandestine entry into Andorra. They were mostly abandoned and from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, a small community of neo-rurals settled there. Among the visitors was the Irish writer Bernard Loughlin, who returned in 1989 and told villagers he had set up a residence for writers and artists in his country. They liked the idea and decided to turn one of their empty houses into one, and so the project formally took off in 1995.
Since then, the centre has welcomed hundreds of creators. One of the most recent is the writer Joan Lluís Lluís, winner of the latest Sant Jordi novel award. Feliu Formosa also worked on his translations there, and artist Eulàlia Valldosera and British composer Nicola LeFanu are regulars. The centre belongs to an international network of artists’ residences, and some 40 of the artists they have hosted come from there. “Different artists living together can be a very enriching experience, which allows the birth of projects of interdisciplinary collaboration,” says Lluís Llobet, the centre’s director.
Art Natura has room for seven residents. There is a library, a working area, workshops and a living room. Prices are lower than in a rural hostel, but you first need to apply and get accepted. Another option is to go there with a grant from another institution, like the visual artist Joan Pallé, who spent three months there last spring, with a grant from La Panera art centre in Lleida.
Research and environment
This kind of residence for artists has spread around the territory, and in Montsià, Empordà, Solsonès and Menorca there are similar centres for artists, creators and researchers who need a space to work. In Olot, the Faber centre, which specialises in professional research and is promoted by the local authorities, has been functioning for two years. “We offer them the tranquility they need to work, but what interests them is the coordination and relationship between them and the local area,” says the centre’s director, Francesc Serés. Teachers and researchers have done research on feminism, urbanism, mathematics and other disciplines, but return to give talks and host roundtable debates and gatherings with local professionals and researchers. “Basically, what we do is put people in touch, through theme-based stays, and in exchange, the residents share their projects and experiences with the other residents and with the local area.
“We’ve had about a hundred people a year, and at the same time they bring knowledge and experience to us, we also do some cultural diplomacy: they go away with a certain image of Catalan society, of our culture, research and environment, which can help to promote an image of the country they didn’t have before.”
Most of the 30 artists’ residencies in Catalonia are part of the Xarxa d’Espais de Producció i Creació de Catalunya, and for those who prefer urban areas, Barcelona hosts a large number of coworking spaces for artists. One of them is Hangar, in Poblenou, which was set up in 2000 after local residents and artists fought against pulling down the warehouses of Can Ricard; since then it has become a centre of artistic creation. The Hangar has specialised in visual arts, but also hosts performance arts, plastic arts and music. It can host a maximum of four artists, who can stay for shorter or longer periods of time of up to three months. Residency and working space cost about €525 a month, with acceptance coming after a jury analyses the CV and the projects of interested artists.
A different project with a local return
Francesc Serès runs the Faber Residence, a project in Olot that mainly hosts researchers and scientists, although humanities and artistic creation are also allowed. The aim of the project is to have some return for the local area, thanks to the contribution and exchange between the resident scientists, many of whom are from abroad, and local companies, training centres and civil society in general.