For 100 years, artists have found peace and quiet in the bucolic setting of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., where the only interruption is a picnic-basket lunch that arrives on the doorstep.
But the solitude will be punctured tomorrow when New York artist Anna Schuleit, who won a MacArthur Fellowship this year, stages an art happening. In the work, titled "Landlines," 100 telephone receivers situated in the woodlands of the 450-acre campus will be activated to carry conversations from callers around the world. Those callers — past residents of the colony and others the artist has selected — will use a confidential toll-free number. Meanwhile, on the campus, several hundred artists and members of the community will assemble, wandering the woods and picking up the ringing phones.
The calling will take place on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. The Sunday event will take place at the same time as the colony's Medal Day celebration, at which documentary filmmaker Les Blank will be honored. Visitors can picnic on the grounds and visit artists, a ritual conducted annually but one taking on special significance for the centennial — with at least double the usual number of visitors.
"Landlines" will connect some of MacDowell's 3,500 past and present colony residents together. "Wherever you are, be briefly with us, in the woods, a voice making a difference," Ms. Schuleit wrote to past colonists asking for their participation.
Ms. Schuleit's past works have also focused on filling spaces with sound, most notably the installation "Habeus Corpus," in which she filled a hospital in Northampton, Mass., with music. In the MacDowell project, the sound will be spontaneous and generated by the participants. Children from Peterborough will be operating the switchboard to connect calls.
The idea of marking the achievement by bringing telephones onto the campus — some of them jumbo-sized and brightly colored — is somewhat radical: Telephones have always been forbidden, and the studios are not equipped for them.
But the administration of MacDowell is not uncomfortable with being radical.
"MacDowell is in fact the most contemporary of art centers," the executive director of the colony, Cheryl Young, said. "Even though it has this log cabin persona, it's got the things going on that are even hotter than what museums have. A lot of things are being cooked up here first."
Telephones may be forbidden, but many artists bring cell phones and use the Internet. The leaders of MacDowell Colony seem prepared to move with the times. "The challenge for people who support MacDowell is not just to stay current with the changes, but anticipate them," the president of the board, Carter Wiseman, said.
To that end, MacDowell is building its first studio for interdisciplinary art and a new wing in the library to house works by colonists that aren't on paper or canvas. It remains committed to its core mission: to provide artists with a place to work by themselves. The "Landlines" project and other aspects of the centennial celebration are all in fact a public statement about the private activity of making art.
"What we realized is that our core product is really more radical and transformational now than it was 100 years ago, because nobody can hide anymore," Mr. Wiseman said. "The time to be alone with your work is increasingly precious."
What MacDowell provides is indeed precious. "It would be impossible to chronicle the achievements of the American arts over the past century without acknowledging the seminal role of the MacDowell Colony," the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, said.
When "Landlines" concludes at 5 p.m. on Sunday, the telephone lines will come down, and the more than 2,000 members of the public expected to visit over the weekend will go home. The colony will go back to peace and quiet for the staff and the residents. But there is more interaction to come. In addition to Ms. Schuleit, 10 other artists are working on projects designed to foster relations with the residents of Peterborough.
Artist Peter Edlund of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is at the colony this summer working on a painting of the region with visual interpretations of Indian place names. It will be permanently installed outside the Peterborough Public Library.
In October, artist Nicolás Dumit Estévez of Longwood, the Bronx, will arrive at the colony with the goal of meeting everyone in the town. He just returned from a similar endeavor in a small town outside Barcelona.
"There's a romantic notion about colonies in general. Most of the time they're perceived as a place where you go to be creative and work in solitude. I want to challenge that notion, and create a public interaction that will activate the colony and the town at the same time," Mr. Estevez said.
"We will bridge the inside to the outside," Ms. Schuleit said in a statement. "It is only then that we can really understand the spirit and significance of MacDowell over the past century — and the century to come."