THERE IS A pervading peace at Ragdale at the end of the fall season. The sprawling, pastoral grounds contain colorful clusters of fallen leaves and native plants holding onto the last days of autumn. In the distance, the expansive prairie is a breathtaking vista of texture and color. Inside the Ragdale house, the former summer retreat of Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, artists prepare to return home, moving quietly throughout the space, imbuing it with a sense of change. A splendid dining table, where artists share evening meals together, is unoccupied, except for a centerpiece of rich, jeweltoned flowers.
Roland Kulla, a Chicago painter and former three-time artist-resident of Ragdale, points out that Shaw embraced the Midwest ethic that everyone around the table is considered equal. “At Ragdale, emerging and established artists share conversation, time and space, and of course, a wonderful meal together around the table. Everyone is equal.”
Executive Director Michael Cleavenger intends to draw on Shaw’s shared table philosophy within and outside of the bucolic Ragdale property in 2022. “Accessibility is a priority for us,” says Cleavenger. “That includes accessible spaces for artist residents, programs that engage our surrounding communities, and opportunities for local students and teachers to nurture art into being.”
Ragdale works with schools from Chicago to Kenosha to share a talented pool of artists with the community. Students as young as kindergarten and up to college-level receive unique lessons from creative professionals and engage in direct dialogue with creative makers and producers, reaffirming the importance of art as part of an expansive education.
Ragdale in Schools is a free program makes the most of Ragdale’s vast network of art and design professionals to provide an engaging retreat and “arts lab” for teachers and students. Onsite and offsite programs that foster healthy self-expression, community engagement, cultural exchange, and career development are led by Ragdale artist fellows, who represent an extensive range of artistic experiences and talents. Programs include teacher retreats, student workshops, high school art intensives, and many more.
In 2022, Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan is partnering with Ragdale to create a series of art exhibitions that will be organized, installed and curated entirely by students working with Ragdale staff. The in-school program will culminate in a series of performance-based open mic events at La Mesita de Martin, a student-led café at the school where the artistic installations will be showcased.
Alongside school partnerships, Ragdale’s education initiatives include partnering with other community-focused institutions. One exciting new collaboration will include the Highwood Public Library, which has functioned as a library and community center since the pandemic. This partnership will bring Ragdale fellows into the Highwood community for a series of public programs featuring artists leading hands-on creative projects.
Ragdale looks forward to resuming its Teacher Retreat this year. The retreat offers teachers in Lake and Cook counties a professional development opportunity. Offered over two separate weekends (spring and fall), Ragdale introduces educators to teaching artists who lead workshops and activities such as bookbinding or painting as well as photography, meditation, and soundwalks. Communal dinners, prairie walks, and individual time in Ragdale’s studios and on campus provide plenty of opportunities for teachers to relax, reinvigorate, and of course, explore or create new art while sharing resources and ideas with fellow educators.
Ragdale plans to resume its annual High School Arts Week this year. The event, which takes place next July, provides local high school students with intensive, week-long workshops in creative writing, visual art, performance, and new this year, dance and choreography. The latter will take place in Ragdale’s newly opened, fully accessible Studio House of Dance and Music, The Sybil Shearer Studio, a 2,500 square-foot state-of-the-art building for dancers, choreographers, and musicians.
Named in honor of the iconic modern dancer, Sybil Shearer, the stunning studio will host a one-week themed residency for Chicago’s Deeply Rooted Dance Theater company in 2022. Deeply Rooted brings a creative and diverse aesthetic to contemporary dance by uniting modern, classical, American and African American traditions in dance and storytelling. “We have such respect for Deeply Rooted’s work, their vision and values, and we’re thrilled to be able to host them on our campus. Who knows what work will be incubated or finished during their time at Ragdale? When an end product is ready, bringing them back to campus for a summer Ragdale Ring performance for the community to enjoy would be wonderful,” says Ragdale Board President Beth Boyd.
It’s obvious that Ragdale is a nurturing, generative environment for its artist-residents. And despite the legions of artists who have gone on to create great works, Ragdale remains true to its Midwest roots. Its bookcases are filled with best-selling fiction writers, prolific poets, and esteemed essayists, but they share shelf space with dozens of other Ragdale alumni writers. Like its dinner table, the bookshelf has a space for everyone.
Ragdale is one of the most highly regarded artists’ communities in the country and the largest interdisciplinary artist residency in the Midwest.
For more information on this local, historic treasure at www.ragdale.org.