Sometimes creativity requires breaking away from the normal routine and focusing on one’s work. Now in its sixth year, the New River Gorge Creative Residency at Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville, W. Va. allows writers and visual artists a quiet place to stay and make art.
When Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin opened LaFayette Flats as a boutique vacation rental space in Fayetteville, they wanted to “change the narrative” about the state. They began by decorating their four rental suites with West Virginia art and loading shelves with books by West Virginia authors.
“We realized that our bookings were going to be much lighter during the winter and we were going to have some space,” Means said. “We thought, ‘How can we use this to better promote the arts?’”
So in January 2015, they decided to host a writer-in-residence.
“We continued with just having the writer-in-residence for the next three years. And then actually last year, we changed it up a little bit and decided to expand it to visual artists as well,” McLaughlin said.
The first several years, the program was a three month long residency. This year, they decided to allow creatives to come for shorter stays. Applicants for the residency had been almost exclusively out of state, but those changes appealed to more West Virginians. This season, they are three creatives, all from West Virginia, staying for one month each.
Matt Browning, a Charleston, W. Va.-based author just finished his one-month residency at the end of December.
“At the risk of sounding corny and cliché, I hoped this experience would change me. I learned very early on that it was going to do that,” he said. “Being here has really allowed me to rediscover my creativity. I won't finish this book that I'm writing while I'm here. You know, four weeks isn't enough time to write a novel, but I'm hoping to have probably 75 percent of a first draft done.”
Means said the key to the success of this program has been the reaction, and the reception, the creatives have received from the entire community.
“The Fayetteville community is very welcoming anyway, and they seem to have gone over and above welcoming our creative-in-residences. They've had people who recognize them on the street just from social media posts and welcome them to the town,” he said. “A lot of local businesses think of the residency as their's, not just ours at Lafayette Flats. They think of it as the Fayetteville residency.”
You can find out more about the New River Gorge Creative Residency program at Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville on their website. They will begin taking applications for next winter in August.