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Creativity and Camaraderie at the Montalvo Arts Center

In Saratoga, at the longest running artist residency west of the Mississippi, inspiration and ideas abound.


Cameron Hockenson’s “Control Tower”—dubbed a “bird condominium” and constructed during the artist’s threemonth residency—is located on the Great Lawn at Montalvo Arts Center.

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Artist residency Studio 61—which, along with Studio 60, was designed by Adèle Naudé Santos of Santos Prescott and Associates, in conjunction with artist Doug Hollis.

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The table in the artists-in-residence’s common building is set for a meal prepared by the culinary artist-in-residence.

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On any given evening, at the communal dining table for the artists-in-residence at Montalvo Arts Center, you might find a painter sitting beside a dancer or a poet, and across from a musician or a chef. The 60 artists that the Saratoga institution welcomes each year—part of its Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program (LAP)—are a wide-ranging group.

“[The LAP] is our programmatic anchor, from which all our Montalvo offerings—literary, performing arts, visual arts, even culinary arts—emanate,” says Montalvo Executive Director Angela McConnell. “It is also our mission in action—bringing diverse, international artists active in nearly every discipline here to Silicon Valley to live, work and engage the community in the creative process.”

Though Montalvo may be best known for the concerts and cultural events that take place on its premises, the LAP dates back 78 years. It is reportedly the third oldest program of its kind in the U.S., having hosted in excess of 1,200 artists from more than 40 countries. And in 2004, Montalvo became the first in the country to offer an annual culinary artist residency.

Set among 175 bucolic acres, featuring trails and site-specific installations—all part of a public park—the 11 LAP dwellings serve as both refuge and laboratory. The artists gather most nights in the common building, not far from their temporary digs, for hearty suppers prepared by the current culinary artist-in-residence. “Our meals are the time when the artists emerge from their studios and their practices to share the challenges and inspirations of their day,” says Kelly Sicat, the program’s director. “This is also the time when rich conversations transpire into new ideas, collaborations and projects, which extend far beyond the artists’ time in residency.” For example, Kija Lucas, who specializes in photography, connected with culinary artist Andrea Blum during their 2015 residence, and the pair is developing a cookbook.

To earn an LAP spot, the artists undergo a rigorous nomination process. Once selected, they can structure their three-month residency over the course of three years. Reminders of past Lucas Fellows dot the grounds, including Hugh Livingston’s “Birds of Invention,” a sonic experience located in the Italianate Garden. Monthly Open Access events invite the public into the creative process, says Sicat.

On Nov. 17 (tickets $10), two fellows, visual artist Maximo Gonzalez and composer Howard Hersh, will reflect on the significance of the Montalvo forest on their works in progress. Gonzalez’s “The Collector” is a large-scale installation of a small house, which will be filled with more than 100 paintings with a tree motif. Hersh’s “Four Bridges” will guide visitors on a hike, with music, poetry, singing and field recordings as their soundtrack.


Originally published in the November/December issue of Silicon Valley

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