The residency co-exists, and is funded in part by, a hotel run out of the same villa where residents sleep. For artists, room and board is gratis, and a breakfast and dinner combo, prepared by a chef-in-residence from ingredients grown in large part on the Villa Lena property, costs €15 a day. The only other requirement is interaction—with other artists and hotel guests in the form of dinner conversation, and by organizing a talk or workshop related to their respective practices.
Last summer, American writer McKay McFadden had planned to deliver a straightforward reading of the manuscript she was reworking while at Villa Lena, “but that seemed too formal and forced for the setting,” she explains, a year later. Instead, she concocted a different approach, one that felt more native to her new surroundings. “The narrator [of my novel] has a Carl Sagan-inspired fascination with outer space, so I decided to give stargazing readings to the guests. I set up the pool chairs on the bocce court, the darkest area I could find. After dinner, they brought wine and lay down to look at the stars while I read (by headlamp) one of my favorite scenes about the impending collision of galaxies Andromeda and the Milky Way.” As she continues, vividly describing the moment, one cannot help but feel a strong desire to have been amongst the guests, experiencing art and nature in mind-bending concert.
Residents don’t necessarily come to Villa Lena with the intention of being inspired by their surroundings, but often, they can’t help it. During her stay, McFadden shared a studio (formerly a barn) with South African fashion, jewelry, and furniture designer Katherine-Mary Pichulik. The designer named her spring-summer 2016 collection, sketched during her residency, after the villa. “When the sound of crickets and birds replace the hustle of the city, when long walks with vistas and collecting wild poppies become your daily outing, something in oneself starts to unbutton,” she explains. “Your thoughts begin by being in overdrive, trying to fill the languid time—they too, ease up and make way to finer observations.” The necklaces and earrings Pichulik produced after her stay were inspired by Tuscan marble sculptures, the embellishments that decorate nearby age-old Catholic churches, and the striped umbrellas that fringe the Villa Lena pool.