Leighton Artists' Colony: The Ultimate Writers' Retreat - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Leighton Artists' Colony: The Ultimate Writers' Retreat

Leighton Artists' Colony: The Ultimate Writers' Retreat

By Barbara Fletcher

Inside the Valentine Studio, designed by Fred Valentine.


Because who doesn’t dream of getting their every whim catered to, while also writing a novel? It’s a good, good life.

By Barbara Fletcher

Writers usually write to pay the bills. But when it comes to writing that career-defining novel or glittering piece of literary journalism, time often falls by the wayside. Writers are also good at excuses, citing every possible “task” as an obstacle in pursuit of creative nirvana: There’s the laundry, cooking and cleaning, looking after the kids, appointments, grocery shopping. Checking Facebook, playing Candy Crush. Breathing. 

Well, dear writers, it’s ass-kicking time — in the form of nature and nurture. Meet the Leighton Artists’ Colony

Located at the world-renowned Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, the colony is a busy writer’s dream. It comprises a set of nine secluded studios in a wooded area in the Rocky Mountains, each designed by an architect specifically to inspire creativity. While some of the studios suit visual artists and composers — complete with pianos — three are designed specifically for writers: the Hemingway (a circular floor plan with a “light wall”), the Henriquez (an old, refurbished fishing boat) and the Evamy (a “glass house”). Light-filled and ready for serious wordsmithing.

It’s not just the seclusion, über-cool rooms and the breathtaking scenery that make this place a draw…

Senior artists can spend anywhere from two weeks to two months. “The biggest draw for all artists by far is a quiet place to create new work without the disruptions of daily life,” says Deborah Cameron, colony coordinator, by email. “They have the luxury of having their needs looked after so they can spend as much time as they need in their studios, creating.” 

Because it’s not just the seclusion, über-cool rooms and the breathtaking scenery that make this place a draw for scribes from all corners of the globe. It’s also not just the chance to rub elbow pads with other arty types at the center. What makes this place the ultimate writer’s retreat: They do your cooking and cleaning.  

Wait a minute, what?

Small hut-like space in the woods.

The Hemingway Studio, designed by Peter Hemingway.

The point of the colony is to keep daily distractions at bay. “The biggest struggle in writing a book is finding the time without distraction for long periods,” notes Australian author Tim Cope who describes his colony experience on the center’s blog.   

So in addition to providing a private workspace complete with computer, printer, Wi-Fi (stay off Facebook), comfy furnishings, and a kitchenette, someone cleans up after you. And you get fed. Sold. 

Who is not a good candidate for the colony? Those with a fear of wildlife outside the window. Summer residents often see bears, deer, coyotes and cougars. During the spring and fall, it’s elk rutting and calving season — and you don’t want to mess with a momma elk. Which is why the center provides security, armed with various homemade elk avoidance tools.   Well, maybe. It’s not cheap, but try putting a price on completing your magnum opus (or that poetry collection you’ve been harboring) with utter peace and quiet, surrounded by mountains, with a full tummy. Average cost is around $110 per day — studios and single rooms are around $55 each (studios are for day use) — plus a meal plan. Interested in the kind of food that awaits? Writer Heather Clitheroe included daily menus as part of her blog about her colony experience. 

Boat used as a writer's space located in the forest.

The Henriquez Studio, designed by Richard Henriquez.

Not surprisingly, the busiest time of year is the summer, but the colony is open year round; studios are booked up far in advance. So if you’re interested in applying, give yourself at least six months. And international agreements bring in artists from all over the world, including Mexico, Colombia, Austria, Australia and Scotland. 

You don’t need to be a Yann Martel or Joni Mitchell (both of whom have used the colony) to apply for a residency. But if you’re not feeling “senior” enough in your career, the center also offers a variety of mentored and structured programs that allow you write your heart out in one of the prettiest places in Canada. Undisturbed.

“Most artists find it hard to leave,” Cameron says. No surprise there.

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