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Multidisciplinary Retreat Brings Creative Artists to Norfolk

Courtney Maum’s The Cabins Project


By Ruth Melville

Courtney Maum is a writer married to a filmmaker, so perhaps it’s natural for her to think about how artists from different fields can learn from each other. For years, she would go to writing conferences and meet other writers whose stories seemed perfect for filming. And when she went with her husband to film festivals, she could see that directors were in search of good material to turn into films. “It was weird that artists of all backgrounds and disciplines didn’t get to talk to each other,” she says, “That just got to me.”

But it was not until Maum moved to Norfolk from Sandisfield, Mass., that the idea of organizing a collaborative retreat started to take shape. “Norfolk is so supportive of art and culture,” she says, mentioning particularly the town library and the range of activities that go on town-wide in the summer. Added enticements were beautiful places to walk and swim, and the availability of cabins or small guest cottages to borrow or rent. “We didn’t have resources like that in Sandisfield.”

So last year Maum, who seems a woman of boundless energy and ideas, launched The Cabins, a three-day artists’ retreat that was based in two cabins near Tobey Pond. Her goal was to provide a place for writers, artists, musicians, poets and filmmakers to come together to socialize, share their work and inspire each other. Keeping the retreat short meant that people with jobs and families could spare the time and money to come.

Another crucial part of the project is that the participants also serve as teachers. Each participant is expected to lead an hour-long masterclass that should instruct and stimulate the others, adding richness to the group experience.

Maum was able to put the first year of the retreat together very quickly. And she appreciates that for the seven participants that signed up that year, coming to Norfolk was “an act of faith,” since she had no track record in running artists’ retreats. But the experience exceeded her highest expectations. “Everyone had a super great time,” she says, “and many of them have stayed friends. They have gone as a group to each other’s art openings or film screenings.”

And, perhaps not surprisingly to those of us who live here, “people became enamored with Norfolk. They absolutely loved Norfolk.” One writer from last year, Catherine LaSota, who attended with her (nonofficial participant and official babysitter) husband and one-month-old baby, came back to Norfolk this summer just to spend more time here with her family.

This year the retreat will be a little longer, four days not three, and with a few more members. “It was probably overly ambitious of me to do it again so quickly,” Maum confesses, especially since she has been traveling a lot recently, promoting her new novel, “Touch.” Also, the logistics were more complicated this year. She has started to set up the retreat as an LLC, but in the meantime the Coalition for Sound Growth has acted as her fiscal sponsor, making it possible for her to accept tax-exempt donations. This year she was able to offer three full and two partial scholarships, which she’s delighted about: “We can now be open to a much wider range and diversity of participants.”

There will be nine participants coming to The Cabins on Tobey this August, and they are a varied group. “We had some really strong applications this year,” Maum says. Several members of the 2017 retreat describe themselves in interdisciplinary terms: filmmaker/visual artist, writer/visual artist, writer/activist. Although a few live relatively nearby, in Brooklyn and New York City, others are from as far away as Los Angeles and New Zealand. She is particularly happy to have a musician coming, a former opera singer and a singer/songwriter, who will perform at the opening night’s dinner.

Norfolk residents will have their own opportunity to meet these talented individuals. The Cabins concludes with a program at the Norfolk Library on Sunday afternoon, August 13, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. All the participants will do short, five-minute public presentations of their work, and there will be time for discussion. More information is available at thecabinsretreat.com.

Photo by Bruce Frisch.

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