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The 2023 Yaddo National Benefit: The First Artist Retreat

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

“It’s about a future we would like to live in.”

By Katie Song

Photo courtesy of Katie Song

Zibby Mag had the honor of attending the 2023 Yaddo National Benefit, a nonprofit retreat for artists and writers that provides a room, board, studio and more. The organization boasts an impressive list of participants, from James Baldwin and Laurie Anderson to Hernan Diaz, the author of Trust and recipient of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize.

At the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan, Emmy-nominated actor and host of the annual Yaddo benefit dinner John Slattery––best known for his work in Mad Men, as well as 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Veep, and Modern Love–opened the evening’s festivities with a speech addressing the ballroom of 100 plus guests.

“Tonight is the National Benefit for Yaddo, the great artist residency in Saratoga Springs. It was the first artist retreat to ever be founded. The New York Times called it rare and unique,” opened Slattery. “People ask, ‘How do you get into Yaddo?’ Like any other merit-based selection process…you have to know someone. Like getting into heaven, or the Yale School of Drama.”

Pictured: Guests arrive at the Bowery Hotel.

“Yaddo is privacy. Solitude. A studio space. It is 400 acres of gardens, woods, and contact with nature. It’s time and quiet to work undisturbed on your brilliant new screenplay, book, or painting,” continued Slattery.

The organization was founded by Spencer and Katrina Trask in 1900 with the mission of giving uninterrupted time and space to artists. Since then, Yaddo’s emphasis on the need for artists to have a place where they can retreat to dive into their work is now more pressing than ever before.

“We see very clearly in the number of applicants,” shared journalist and president of Yaddo Elaina Richardson. “By the time we end this year, we’ll have almost 3,000 applicants.”

Yaddo also offers its applicants access to grants which cover child care, travel costs, lost income, and more, providing the support necessary for people to accept the opportunity.

“The act of making art is many things: commitment, hard work, unavoidable passion, and drive,” said Yaddo board co-chair and photographer Peter Kayafas. “But it also takes faith and courage in one’s own ideas and process. That’s what Yaddo celebrates and supports, and has for 100 years. In doing, so we maintain faith in our artists.“

Speeches were followed by a special performance from the Brooklyn-based experimental band Arthur Moon, who performed four songs from their albums: “Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!,” “Ghost Ranch,” “What My Name Was,” and “Homonormo,” blending jazz, choral vocals, and rock.

Pictured: Arthur Moon performing their song “Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!”

Following the performance, Slattery closed with a powerful statement, “Support for the creative process and the free exchange of ideas over a good meal, these are the sacred rituals of Yaddo.” .

And with that, the guests were sent to dinner. Zibby Mag was seated with some of Yaddo’s board members including composer Manuel Sosa, painter Laura Karetzky, and designer and artist Mark King.

Over the steak and fish entree, the auction began where artistic lots were bid over, including original music by Grammy-nominated contemporary classical composer Tarik O’Regan, a cross-stitched portrait by The New York Times journalist Katherine Rossman, a painting of the highest bidder’s home by prize-winning author Amitava Kumar, and a portrait of the highest bidder’s pet by noted author and illustrator Rosie Bruno.

Though the night was filled with great drinks, delicious food, and robust conversations with artists who’ve attended Yaddo themselves, what actually goes on at Yaddo remains to be seen. I suppose Slattery was correct: “What happens behind the gates stays behind the gates…like Vegas.”

Posted October 11, 2023