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Artistic Vision

Kerrie Kennedy | November 7, 2016 | Feature Features National

Almost everything about Ragdale—from the breadth and quality of the creative people it hosts to its fascinating 40-year history—surprises people, says Executive Director Jeffrey Meeuwsen.
Jeffrey Meeuwsen balances on the 2016 Ragdale Ring, a temporary outdoor performance space that is reimagined each year.

The best part of Jeffrey Meeuwsen’s job is the amazing, creative people he gets to meet regularly. The worst part of his job is that 18 days after they arrive, they pack up and leave. As Executive Director of Ragdale (ragdale.org) in Lake Forest, home to one of the largest interdisciplinary-artist communities in the country, Meeuwsen is nonetheless proud that each year Ragdale is able to offer some 200 artist residencies and fellowships that support people at pivotal moments in their careers. “In greater Chicago, I don’t know of another arts organization that is bringing in as many creative professionals from all over the world for three to four weeks at a time,” Meeuwsen says. “That makes us unique, but it also gives us a great sense of responsibility.”

Ragdale’s mix of rich history and contemporary art initially attracted Meeuwsen, who hails from Michigan. Built in 1897, the Arts and Crafts-style main building was the summer home of Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. The estate is now home to the Ragdale Foundation, which hosts the artists-in-residence program as well as an growing arts education program. “The Ragdale we know today is the foundation, but the idea existed long before that was created. Many of Shaw’s friends and the who’s who of Chicago’s creative community came here to work and retreat. It’s an incredible history.”

This year, as the Ragdale Foundation celebrates its 40th year, Meeuwsen reflects on its future. “We are sort of a lab for research and a development hub for the arts,” he says. “Because our focus is on the needs of the creative community—whether you’re a 5-year- old creative person or a 50-year-old creative person—I’m interested in how Ragdale can help support you to take those creative leaps.” As such, the foundation continues to look at investments in technology and furthering the Ragdale in Schools program. It’s important work, says Meeuwsen. “The arts are the most human thing we do.”

MEEUWSEN'S HOTS
Imperfectly perfect handmade things—art, entertainment, food, clothing, furniture and everyday dishes

MEEUWSEN'S NOTS
Being unaware and self-absorbed—like that person driving on the shoulder until the last possible moment



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