The Art Commune In An Italian Monastery For Art Monks
Now that the entire globe is experiencing a full-bore crisis of capitalism, some folks are no doubt exploring alternative ways of living. Take Betsy and Christopher Fuelling-McCall, for instance. While never official entrants in the rat race, they did lead slightly less unusual lives before convincing a small Italian town to hand over its abandoned monastery to a community of artists.
Thus, the Art Monastery.
“We had this notion that there are ‘art monks’ living in society,” says Christopher. “People completely devoted to scholarship or a craft or high-concept art. The art monastery is intended to be their haven.”
The non-profit project has established a relationship with the town of Calvi dell?Umbria, 45 minutes north of Rome. After turning down offers from hotels and institutions, Calvi has granted free use of the early 18th Century convent to the Art Monastery project in exchange for staging free performances and exhibitions.
The town is currently renovating the building, but when it is complete, the Art Monastery will invite 30 artists to live on the grounds permanently, rotating an additional 12 on a temporary basis.
“The 30 will provide the backbone, culture, discipline, and values,” says Betsy, herself a professional artist. “The other 12 will inject new energy and hopefully revenue.”
Before deciding on a monastery, the Fuelling-McCalls researched different kinds of communal living projects. “We felt thirty people is the tipping point, when it feels bigger than a big family but you still know everyone,” says Betsy. “But it also gets a little stale. On the flip side, we talked to artist residency programs, who said always having new people is exciting, but there?s no real community. Our model will hopefully provide the best of both worlds.”
Christopher, who worked throughout Europe as a professional tenor, at first considered launching the project at one of the continent’s many castles-for-sale. But that style of architecture proved too hierarchical. “If you tried to put a bunch of artists in a castle and assigned them rooms for studios,” Betsy says, “they’d be like, ‘He’s got better light, she’s got a better room, he’s got access to the secret passageway.’ But in monasteries, every room has the same shape, size and view. It creates a sense of community.”
“And we want to apply the discipline and contemplative nature of monastic living to art production,” adds Christopher. While the whole enterprise might sound fanciful, a very practical idea lies at the heart of it.
“In a lot of traditional hippie communes, the happiness of the residents is the ultimate goal,” Christopher says. “But we have more of a product-driven model, the product being the quality of the work and the difference it makes in the world. The happiness of the residents is a byproduct.”
During the renovation, the project is leasing a nearby bed and breakfast as its office, where it fundraises and works on upcoming events like the First Annual Arts Monastery Festival, slated for this summer.
Some enthusiastic Italians have even suggested franchising the idea to other communities. “Every town in Italy has got a crumbling monastery on the hill,” says Christopher. If we can prove this can work once, maybe everyone will want one.”