NET TLC Ensemble Exchange Lab

In response to NET members’ requests for more art-focused, hands-on opportunities to connect, learn, and share together, NET hosted our first Ensemble Exchange Lab this summer (July 1-7, 2019) in Ely, Minnesota to support collaborative knowledge-sharing and field cross-pollination.

Offered in partnership with NET member Tofte Lake Center (TLC), the Lab gathered an intimate group of NET-member-affiliated, ensemble-minded artists from around the country for practice-centered exchange and creative exploration in a retreat setting.


NET TLC Ensemble Exchange Lab week:
July 1-7, 2019 (arrive Monday 7/1, depart Sunday 7/7)


Tailored to the particular needs and interests of the accepted participants (and to be co-designed in collaboration with them), the week-long NET TLC Ensemble Exchange Lab balanced group activity, peer skill-sharing, technique and methodology exchanges, facilitated conversation, dramaturgical feedback, professional development coaching, and self-directed personal work and retreat time.

Specifically, the experience included:

  • Space and time to connect, co-create, and reflect in community and in nature with a small group of like-minded ensemble artists and practitioners.
  • Opportunities to work and play with ensemble-based peers: share information, techniques, tools, inspiration, ideas, and approaches to ensemble practice and collaborative creation; discuss the unique rewards and challenges of artmaking and working in ensemble; and explore, question, and imagine together.
  • Meeting design, facilitation, and dramaturgical feedback (tailored to participants’ needs) from TLC founder and dramaturg Liz Engelman and NET Board member Todd London.
  • Professional development guidance in organizational development, financial management, fundraising, or other requested areas with NET Executive Director Alisha Tonsic (tailored to participants’ needs).
  • Access to venues for creative explorations with the group and on your own: library, dance/yoga studio, art studios, workspaces, and numerous outdoor locations. 
  • Shared lodging in one of three artist-in-residence cabins.
    • Cabins have full kitchens, private bathrooms/showers, 1-2 bedrooms/sleeping areas (each with 1-2 beds), and lake views.
    • Applicants are asked to indicate their preferences for shared or private sleeping arrangements (see “Costs” below).
    • Bedding, towels, and all cooking/serving items (pots, pans, utensils, plates, glasses, etc.) are provided.
  • Kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, and a sauna for exploring and enjoying the lake.
  • A group welcome dinner and send-off dinner on the first and last nights of the residency, as well as other shared meals throughout the week. Shared potluck dinners, picnics, and happy hour meet-ups at the dock were also coordinated with participants throughout the week as desired; participants were responsible for other meals on their own (each cabin has a full working kitchen).
  • Free time to explore the TLC property and the nearby small town of Ely...or to simply relax on the dock taking in the landscape and the loons.

Above two photos:
 Smith & Shapiro Dance Company in residence at Tofte Lake Center; photos by V. Paul Virtucio


Tofte Lake Center is set amidst 12 acres of forested land on the shore of Tofte Lake, a dedicated trout lake surrounded by the Superior National Forest in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. It is located near Ely, MN, approximately 4.5 hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary, Tofte Lake Center is a non-profit organization (and NET member!) that provides residencies for artists who crave dedicated time to work on their projects, for creative individuals who seek individual growth through guided workshops or retreats, for organizations that want to make time to re/focus on their goals or mission, and for leaders to gather to exchange ideas with colleagues in their field. Through its artist-in-residence weeks, curated group projects, and guided retreats and workshops, TLC strives to create an environment where self and group expression can be extensively and intensively explored.

For more information about Tofte Lake and traveling to/from the area, visit the TLC website.


Through significant support provided by NET and TLC (subsidizing roughly ⅔ of the week’s actual cost), we offered this pilot Ensemble Exchange Lab exclusively to NET members at a highly reduced rate.

Registration fees are per person, and include 6 nights lodging, 2 meals, creative/studio space, facilitated group activity, and peer skill-sharing, with dramaturgical feedback and professional development guidance tailored to attendees’ needs.

  • $450 per person, shared bedroom (shared w/ 1 roommate)
  • $600 per person, private single bedroom

Travel costs are the responsibility of the participant. NET can work with accepted participants to help arrange one shared transportation shuttle between TLC and the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport for Monday July 1 arrival and Sunday, July 7 departure, if needed.


Applications for Summer 2019 are closed.  Please see the NET website for future offerings.

NET members in all membership categories (ensemble, affiliate, individual, student) are encouraged to apply. Ensemble and affiliate organizations may apply to send 1-4 representatives.

A note on accessibility:  Tofte Lake Center is located in a wilderness setting that includes some natural barriers. Unpaved roads and pathways on the grounds sometimes follow uneven terrain, and ease of access varies by building/facility (ranging from fully-accessible ramp entrances, to rocky stairs). If you have accessibility questions, mobility concerns, or other accommodation requests that you would like to discuss prior to submitting an application, please reach out to us at You’ll also be able to indicate any particular needs on the application form, so we can connect with you about ways to support your participation.

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