The art-filled environment inside Lafayette Flats fosters creativity and inspires visionary thinking. Our guests have affectionately compared it to sleeping in an art museum.
This comparison makes us very happy. And we know it makes our art benefactors, Mark Tobin Moore and Donna Whitten, happy too!
When the director of Moment Makers, a series of videos produced by HomeAway, asked Mark why he and his wife donated so many pieces from their private collection of West Virginia art to Lafayette Flats early in our renovation process, Mark had an interesting answer.
He said that he knew Lafayette Flats “would become a showplace. This would be the place for people to see art. They could spend time with it. They could live around it. That’s what I love to do.”
It’s true. You’ll find original West Virginia art throughout Lafayette Flats. In every corner. In the stairwells, in each flat, filling the bookshelves, behind doors and suspended from the ceiling.
We immerse our vacation rental guests in contemporary West Virginia culture and give them a unique, unforgettable experience that will slowly but surely create a new narrative for our beloved home state.
To help us on this mission, we’ve been opening our doors to creative souls every winter since 2015 for the New River Gorge Creative Residency.
Here are a few things you probably don’t know about this special program.
1. Our creative residency was once just for writers.
In 2014, after we finished up the building renovations and opened to guests, we got to thinking about how we could use our lovely vacation rentals in the quiet winter months when tourism slows in the New River Gorge.
Given our interest in visual art, our first thought was to provide space for a painter to live and work. But there is no real studio space within the Flats, and we aren’t keen on the idea of paint-splattered floors.
Knowing the transformative power of a good book, we decided to develop a writer’s residency. It made perfect sense. Who better to help craft a new narrative for our beloved home state than a writer?
And so, for four winters we hosted The New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. We were fortunate to have a tremendously talented writer each year. They were Eric Shonkwiler (2015), Mary Ann Henry (2016), Kathleen Jacobs (2017) and Wendy Welch (2018).
In 2019 we thought we’d try something new: Going back to our original idea of hosting a visual artist, we thought if we could find the right person working in the right medium that we might be able to make it work. So, we asked nature illustrator, Rosalie Haizlett to come live and work in Fayetteville.
Rosalie’s residency was a success and encouraged us to expand changing the New River Gorge Writer’s Residency to the New River Gorge Creative Residency. Now, for the purposes of this residency, we define creatives as writers and/or visual artists.
2. Past residents stay connected to Fayetteville.
Can you imagine how thrilled we were upon learning that our inaugural writer-in-residence got engaged to be married at Lafayette Flats during one of his return visits to Fayetteville? Eric chose to bring his love here to propose!
Our 2017 writer-in-residence couldn’t get enough of Fayetteville and ended up renting a small office next door to Lafayette Flats for her writing consultation business.
And as we are preparing this blog post, we are planning to have dinner with the 2018 writer-in-residence, Wendy, at The Station during her return visit to Lafayette Flats to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday.
We give our residents the same warning we give our vacation rentals guests. We first read it in Noah Adams’ Far Appalachia and it certainly rang true for us: “A lot of people who come to Fayetteville spend time trying to figure out how to stay.”
3. We have their books on the shelves and art on the walls.
On the second floor of Lafayette Flats, there is a large built-in bookshelf that Shawn created during the building renovations in 2013.
It houses a large collection of books about West Virginia and by West Virginia authors. It also includes the books written by all our past writers-in-residence.
Only two of them hail from West Virginia, but we consider them all to be too important to our state’s narrative and love having their work available to our guests.
We also have a large original illustration that we commissioned from Rosalie Haizlett, our first artist-in-residence, hanging in Flat No. 1, Nuttall.
4. The creative residency timeframe is flexible.
For the first four years of this program, we offered a three-month residency which began on January 1 and ended on March 31.
We decided to shorten the residency after gathering feedback from our past residents. We worked in more flexibility to better accommodate creatives that may not be able to get away from day jobs and family commitments for such a long period of time.
Starting this year, the creative will determine the arrival and departure dates for their residency. The following parameters apply.
The residency must be no shorter than two weeks (this is not intended to be a vacation) and no longer than six weeks. The residency must be scheduled between December 1 – March 31. This allows the creative an expanded timeframe from which to select dates and stays within the “off-season” period for tourism.
5. Fayetteville folks give a warm welcome.
One of the things we love most about this charming small town is the people, and we want our creatives to have the opportunity to meet these special folks. So, every year we have some sort of welcoming reception for the new resident.
The first year we invited locals to join us at Cathedral Café for carrot cake (the absolute best) and coffee. They got to meet Eric Shonkwiler and learn more about the residency.
For the next several years we mixed, mingled and listened to readings from Mary Ann Henry at Vandal’s Kitchen and Kathy Jacobs and Wendy Welch at The Grove.
In 2019, we collaborated with The Station. Rosalie Haizlett met the Fayetteville locals and sold her artwork at their Maker’s Market event.
It seems that all the past residents have fallen for the charming Fayetteville folks. You can read about their smitten observations in the blog posts they wrote and contributed to lafayetteflats.com.
Here’s a quote from Mary Ann Henry, the 2016 writer-in-residence that particularly stands out.
“One of the unexpected bonuses of coming to Fayetteville – and truly I did not expect this – was that I was surrounded by amazing people in a progressive community. These people are not just background/wallpaper to the town. They are front and center, committed to making it a healthy, thriving, fun community. And it is community in the truest sense.”
6. The creative resident is expected to be . . . creative.
So, advertising a residency program is not as easy as one would think. In the early years, we naively believed, “we are offering free luxurious lodging for three months – this will be easy to promote.”
We were wrong.
Turns out most writers and artists media want cold hard cash for the advertisement of residencies and many West Virginia publications simply aren’t interested in sharing the opportunity.
When we were lucky enough to finally get mentioned on a writer’s forum, one of the first comments was from a Debbie Downer asserting that this was a sham or some sort of indentured servant program.
Rest assured, Debbie, we do not expect the New River Gorge Creative-in-Residence to run our business, clean flats, greet guests or slave away in the basement doing laundry. In fact, we do not require anything except respect for our beloved historic building.
Sure, we ask to be notified if there is a maintenance problem, and we’d love to have a record of the creative’s experience, but otherwise, we leave the creative to be creative.
There is no charge for the nicely appointed flat, we pay all utilities and we also pay to have the flat cleaned before, during and after the resident’s stay. We host the welcome reception and do our best to promote the creative’s work far and wide.
This residency is a big part of our mission to support the arts. We take it seriously.
7. Fayetteville is a vibrant small town in the winter, too.
Fayetteville is a bustling tourist destination from May-October, filled with vacation vibes and cars with out-of-state license plates.
But it turns back into a small town every winter. With all that Fayetteville has to offer, it’s easy to forget that less than 3,000 people actually live here.
The locals keep the cold months interesting with fun events like the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge, Valentine’s Day Wonka Walk and adult Easter egg hunts.
Even in the winter, there are seemingly endless opportunities for hiking and biking in the New River Gorge. And thanks to Active Southern West Virginia, there are many free guided exercise opportunities.
All of Fayetteville’s popular restaurants are open year-round and live music still fills the air at our local pubs, even after the snow falls.
But things definably slow down to reflect the cozy winter vibe.
The more relaxed pace of life and opportunities for interaction with the diverse and eclectic people who make their home here are perks for this residency.
The adjacent New River Gorge National River and its acres of natural beauty is a pretty big perk too.
8. This residency is good for introverts and extroverts.
The creative resident’s time in Fayetteville can be filled with social interactions or cozy, quiet time in a luxurious flat. Both opportunities are here for the taking.
There’s a path for the introverts and one for the extroverts. We are an equal opportunity provider.
9. The creative residency is one way we support the arts.
Supporting the arts and West Virginia artists is not just our passion, it’s in our business plan. The New River Gorge Creative Residency is just one of the ways we try to do it.
We also purchase original art from local galleries and commission art from West Virginia artists. In fact, every year we set aside money from our vacation rental income specifically to purchase more art.
With the addition of gifts and donations of art, we’ve amassed quite a collection. We’ve also started promoting the artists we collect in a little YouTube series we created called “Untitled.”
Additionally, we consciously use our purchase power to support West Virginia artists whenever we can. When we need fliers or promotional pieces designed, we hire West Virginia artists. When we needed a unique souvenir to offer our guests, we collaborated with a West Virginia artist. And when possible, we buy goods created by West Virginia makers for our utilitarian and decorative needs.
10. New River Gorge Creatives-in-Residence are immortalized.
Maybe “immortalized” is a bit too strong of a word, but a photo of every resident is proudly displayed in the entryway of Lafayette Flats.
To date, there are five framed photos accompanied by five little metal plaques surrounding an article from the Charleston Gazette-Mail announcing the New River Gorge residency program.
This is a big building, and we have plenty of room for more.
Please help us spread the word about the New River Gorge Creative Residency by sharing this post on social media and by emailing our link to individuals you think may benefit from this program.
Applications are accepted every year through November 1. Full application information is available on our website.
Please leave a comment below or contact us through our website if you have questions.
To stay up to date with the creative residency announcement (and all the fun stuff happening in the new River Gorge), please sign up for your email list here.