Picture a sprawling farmhouse tucked into a green slope halfway up the side of Mount Subasio National Park, a sparsely populated hiker’s paradise overlooking the ancient fortified town and UNESCO site of Assisi, Italy. Nearby, a remade open barn that once housed animals and farming equipment now bursts with paint-studded wooden tables, collapsed easels, Bunsen burners, outdoor sinks, and any number of collected odds and ends from neighboring farmhouses and artists’ discards (half a dozen wooden doorframes, an assortment of jars and other vessels, paintbrushes of all sizes, a few canvases—some used, some blank). Fig trees poke their branches through the walls and fat bees trundle through the heavy air, making the journey from yellow ginestrelle blooms to flowering vines to dandelions studding the sloped lawn and back to hive. Neroni, the black cat so named for his tyrannical nature, occasionally swats at these pollen-laden projectiles.
And that’s just the outside.
Inside the Arte Studio Ginestrelle, eight rooms wait for artists of every type. During the three weeks I spent writing 30,000 new words of a novel there last May (which coincidentally opens in an Italian farmhouse), those rooms were occupied by a poet from Uruguay, a papermaker from Chicago, a studio artist from South Korea, a sound designer from Taiwan, and a fellow Texan who split his time between sketching in the Basilica of San Franceso d’Assisi and painting in the outdoor studio amid the brays of donkeys from a working farm just down the road.
Before you ask, yes, I’m a fiction writer, but no, I’m not making any of this up.
The usual stay for an artist in residence is two or four weeks. I stayed for three and paid 700 Euro (about $878) for a room containing a double bed, desk, and private bathroom, plus a daily breakfast hearty enough to last me, most days, until dinner. The facility includes three communal bathrooms with either showers or bathtubs, and a communal kitchen where the artists keep individual stores of food and cook meals, often together. The house also boasts an attic studio, and a common living room with work tables, wifi, reference books, and a fireplace that glows bright every night.
The amenities of the house and individual rooms are ample and support the work of various types of artists, but what made this residency so special was the family running the program. Dr. Marina Merli has a degree in hospitality and set out to open the doors of Arte Studio Ginestrelle eight years ago in order to bring the innovations and pleasures of contemporary art to a country and a city that she felt venerated the past to the exclusion of the present. Now, every December, Dr. Merli hosts an exhibition in the heart of this old-world city, bringing digital media, modern installations, and work that celebrates “the now” into the lives of those who live in and around Assisi, including hundreds of Franciscan monks who roam the streets in sandals and plain brown robes. Most artists who work at the Arte Studio Ginestrelle contribute to the exhibition.
Dr. Merli’s mother cooks for the artists and cleans while her father, a postman, tends to the grounds. Maintaining the house and the program is a family affair, and while artists stay there, they are made to feel like one of the fold. There is no need to rent a car as well, since Dr. Merli frequently makes trips into town, shuttling artists to the grocery store, the Laundromat, art supply and hardware stores, and to the ancient city for day trips, frequently joining the guests for cultural events or for dinner at one of two nearby restaurants featuring local cuisine (regional delicacies include truffles, boar sausage, and homemade tagliatelle pasta). She meets and returns artists to the local train or bus station, and communicates promptly via email prior to arrival (in English!), soothing the worries of those unused to international travel. In short, meeting Dr. Merli and tapping into her extensive knowledge about the region of Umbria is one of the most valuable aspects of the residency. The personal touch lifts this experience above and beyond the norm.
To learn more about the Arte Studio Ginestrelle, visit the website:
And to apply (you won’t be sorry!), email Dr. Marina Merli for application instructions.
--Katie Cortese, Assistant Editor