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Cultivating the creative spirit

Ucross Foundation.

It was March when Wyoming began to thaw. The trumpeting of thousands of sandhill cranes, making their way north, filled the sky outside the cabin of Samuel Adams ’10MM, a composer. “They became a soundtrack to my work,” remarks Adams, fondly recalling his 2018 residency through the Ucross Foundation. The annual migration is among the many marvels that encourage artists at Ucross’s 20,000-acre ranch to seek inspiration in nature.

“Ucross’s natural surroundings appealed to me,” adds Adams. “The residency gives you the gift of undisturbed time and space. Meeting other artists and learning about their work also helped me find new ways to express myself through music. It was an unforgettable experience.”


Human Potential

In 1964, Raymond Plank ’44BA expressed an idea that would follow him throughout his life as a business leader and philanthropist: “The capacity of the individual is infinite.” His desire to nurture that capacity led him to establish Ucross Foundation. Its home is a working ranch where artists can explore both creativity and responsible stewardship of the land. Since Ucross’s residency program opened in 1983, the foundation has welcomed nearly 2,200 writers, visual artists, and composers for periods of focused work and camaraderie in an extraordinary setting. Many Yale alumni and faculty members have participated in the program, including Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright ’85BA and Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Adam Guettel ’87BA.


Raymond Plank
Raymond Plank


Plank died in 2018. Carrying his legacy forward, Deborah Koehler, executive director of the Raymond Plank Philanthropy Fund, directed a gift from the Plank Fund to support Ucross residencies and student scholarships at Yale School of Music (YSM) and Yale School of Drama (YSD). “It was my honor to continue Raymond’s commitment to Yale, Ucross, the arts, and nature conservancy by establishing these endowed programs that will forge additional long-term bonds between two of his loves: Yale and Ucross,” notes Koehler.


Creating Opportunity

The road to success in the creative professions is steep. As artists devote hours to their craft, they may find themselves having to work in unrelated fields or take on odd jobs to help make ends meet. For those with educational loans, the demands of paying down debt can become an obstacle to the full-time practice of their discipline.

Students of YSD and YSM can graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. As they leave Yale, they enter highly competitive and often unstable job markets where compensation varies greatly. The Plank scholarships counteract these challenges by providing students with the resources to immerse themselves in their education and pursue fulfilling work after graduation. This support further ensures that both schools can continue attracting and nurturing promising young artists and leaders from around the world, regardless of financial need.

“Providing access to the school for the most talented and diverse theater makers is our highest priority,” notes James Bundy ’95MFA, dean of Yale School of Drama. “The Raymond Plank Scholarship represents an extraordinary investment in lowering financial barriers to training. We are honored to be the recipient of this visionary gift, and also to inaugurate the Raymond Plank Residency, which offers YSD students and faculty time to develop their creative work at Ucross, one of the nation’s premier artist retreats.”

Robert Blocker, Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music, Yale University, joins Bundy in gratitude: “The commitment of the Plank estate to artists assures us that their voices will not be silenced, and we at the School of Music are profoundly grateful to be the beneficiaries of Mr. Plank’s ideals. The opportunities created by this gift will assist our talented students in the discovery of their distinctive musical voices that will speak to humanity through music.” 

This story was first published in the winter 2020 issue of ELI magazine.

Photos courtesy of UCross website.