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Approach to MacDowell's grave at MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, 1950. Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The MacDowell Colony artist retreat renames itself MacDowell

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the country's oldest retreats for artists — The MacDowell Colony — will drop "Colony" from its name and call itself "MacDowell."

"This name change is at once a significant step and a natural evolution consistent with how the organization is widely known," MacDowell Board Chair Nell Painter said in a statement.

"While the decision to make this change now aligns with the calls for social justice and reform that are sweeping the country, it is in keeping with the organization's longstanding commitment to eliminate financial, geographic, cultural and accessibility barriers to participation."

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According to Tuesday's announcement, the change was in response to "feedback from Fellows and the larger artist community." MacDowell, based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, was founded in in 1907 by composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, the musician and philanthropist Marian MacDowell. Visiting artists have included Aaron Copland, James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Jonathan Franzen.

The term "artist colony" pre-dates MacDowell, but is used far less frequently as an official title than in the 20th century. One of the few organizations still calling itself a "colony" is the Millay Colony of the Arts, founded in 1973 and based in Austerlitz, New, York, where the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay once lived.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Painter said that concerns about the word "colony" had been raised over the years to the board but the issue took on greater urgency after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the worldwide protests which followed.

Painter acknowledged that the word "colony" can mean a country or given location under the control of an outside power or, as would apply to MacDowell, a community of like-minded people. But she said both definitions carry a sense of exclusion and hierarchy, and that the first definition was far more prevalent. She added that MacDowell was formed during a time of legal segregation and for decades was virtually all-white.

"I'm sure Marian MacDowell never imagined artists of color being there," said Painter, who earlier this year's became MacDowell's first Black board chair. "In the language we speak today, colony is a word tied to occupation and oppression."

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