Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Hermitage Artist Retreat with Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg

New York native and 2005 Yale alumnus Andy Sandberg has recently expanded his accomplished multi-hyphenate stage and screen career as a director, writer, performer, and Tony Award-winning producer (the youngest ever, for the 2009 revival of HAIR) with his current position as Artistic Director and CEO of the non-profit Hermitage Artist Retreat, which invites artists across multiple disciplines for residencies at its beachfront campus, on the National Register of Historic Places, in Manasota Key, Florida.

Andy Sandberg. Photo courtesy of the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

Each year, the Hermitage awards the $30,000 Hermitage Greenfield Prize for a new work of art (rotating between music, theater, and visual art), the newly announced $35,000 Hermitage Major Theater Award for an original theater commission, and the Aspen Music Festival’s Hermitage Prize in Composition. Past Hermitage Fellows have included fifteen Pulitzer Prize winners, Poets Laureate, MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellows, and multiple Tony, Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar winners and nominees, whose works have gone on to renowned theaters, concert halls, and galleries throughout the world. Among the impressive roster of theater artists with Hermitage residencies over the last two decades are Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, Doug Wright, Craig Lucas, Aleshea Harris, Denis O’Hare, John Guare, Michael R. Jackson, PJ Griffith, Adam Gwon, Michael R. Jackson, Rajiv Joseph, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Martyna Majok, Lisa Peterson, Regina Taylor, Jeanine Tesori, Liesl Tommy, Leigh Silverman, Bess Wohl, Kristina Wong, Kara Young, and many more.

Andy Sandberg, Martyna Majok, and Zoe Sarnak at the Haven Rooftop. Photo by Danny Bristoll.

Since Sandberg was appointed in 2019, and began work in January 2020, he has guided the organization through a period of significant growth and transition, dramatically expanding its programming, more than tripling its operating budget, completing a campus-wide restoration, and establishing dozens of new collaborative partnerships throughout the region and across the country. He also hosted a 20th Anniversary Alumni Bash on Monday, June 5, at midtown Manhattan’s Haven Rooftop (132 West 47th Street), as a celebration and opportunity for the Hermitage Artist Retreat alumni to reconnect or, for those from different years, to get to know others in the community.

The day after the celebration, Andy graciously made himself available to speak with me about the Hermitage and his role in it.

Andy Sandberg speaking at the 20th Anniversary Alumni Celebration at the Haven Rooftop. Photo by Danny Bristoll.

How did you become involved with the Hermitage and what attracted you to it?

Andy: Actually, I was not looking for this opportunity. I had never been to the Hermitage myself, and I still have an active freelance career, but a Board member I had worked with on a past project recommended me for it. When I was approached about the position, I initially said I couldn’t consider it because it was such a busy time. Then I was contacted again and, in addition to the beautiful beachfront location, I fell in love with the organization’s dedication to developing new work and supporting artists doing new work. I sometimes had a chip on my shoulder when people would show up for opening night at the theater and tell me they were happy to be there at ‘the beginning’ – I was always grateful for their support and belief in the work, but often pointed out that the show had already gone through twelve or so years of development! The Hermitage is not a producing organization; we’re a developmental organization providing artists with space, time, and resources to get their work done. I’m often hearing that they get more done in a few weeks with us than they would in many years at home. In the past, we’ve been regarded as ‘a hidden gem.’ I wanted to banish that phrase and be sure the Hermitage is known for what it truly is – a leading national art incubator.

Andy Sandberg. Photo courtesy of the Hermitage.

What do you find most gratifying about your work there?

Most gratifying is knowing that so many new works came to light because of the support we have given to these generative artists and writers. I also appreciate having the opportunity to connect with an eclectic mix of outstanding artists from different fields, who learn from each other, just as I learn from them. It’s also rewarding and exciting as a freelance artist to join with others going through that same journey. The Hermitage is one of the most interesting and diverse places in the world and it feeds my artistic soul to be working there.

How are artists selected for the retreat?

Interestingly, not by me, or our staff, or the Board, and not by application. We have a National Curatorial Council made up of a rotating body of fifteen respected professionals in the arts, from leading arts institutions. They come in with an extensive list of artists and ‘debate’ which artists would make the most of the time, best take advantage of the opportunity, and advance their work. They also consider who will appreciate the camaraderie with the other artists and the Hermitage’s multidisciplinary arts community. I believe that this curation process actually makes us one of the most diverse organizations. We don’t rely on open applications at the Hermitage, because we’re not all about deliverables; application processes can sometimes result in selecting artists based on their application know-how.

What can the artists expect when they arrive for their residency?

After receiving many pre-arrival communications from us, they are greeted by a welcoming and accommodating staff. They are given a tour of the historic property and ecological preserve, then we host a welcome dinner at which they meet other artists. One of our Hermitage Fellows recently commented on the retreat as providing “unstructured support and support in the best way,” meaning that we provide resources for them but don’t lock them into a set routine or hours; they are free to let us know what they need. Many collaborations have sparked across the different disciplines, while certain artists prefer holing up to get their own work done. They all get their own private historic house and studio, they’re not in a dorm, so they are given the space and time to do what they like.

Andy Sandberg (center) with Hermitage alumni and guests at the Haven Rooftop. Photo by Danny Bristoll.

Do you have any plans in the works for future development of the Hermitage?

One thing we’re trying to do, and what the party at the Haven Rooftop was about, is to engage our alumni more deeply. Many past Hermitage Fellows have told us that their residency with us has been the most meaningful experience of their career. We want to continue to engage them and grow the community, encourage networking, and have everyone take pride in what it means to be a Hermitage Fellow; there’s a lot of love for the Hermitage. Most of the current format is individual residencies; long-term, we’d like to be able to support more collaborative project residencies. We’re also committed to presenting readings of the new theater works in major centers like NYC, London, Chicago, and LA, through our recently established Hermitage Major Theater Award. And we just started making seasonal use of an alumni cabin up in Canada for further growth opportunities. We have more than 700 past Fellows, and we want to keep them in the conversation with the 90-100 new artists we bring in each year. Notably, we are the only major organization in Florida committed exclusively to developing and supporting new work, and we’re growing both nationally and internationally.

Thank you, Andy, for sharing your experience and giving our readers more information about this vital organization.


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