What is an Artist Residency?
Artist residencies are an important part of the arts ecosystem. They give artists across disciplines the time and space away from their regular life to concentrate deeply on your work and to collaborate with one another. Especially for artists who are juggling other jobs, caregiving, and other responsibilities, it’s hard to find time for your work. You need the mental and physical space to create, and residencies are one of the tools that you can use to give yourself that space.
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You might know that art residencies are important for artists, but not exactly know what they are or why they matter. That’s why we’re giving you an introduction here.
What is an Artist Residency?
The stereotypical image of an artist residency is a pastoral scene where artists can work in seclusion, away from the distractions of everyday life. But, in reality, artist residencies run the gamut of size, location, focus, and amenities.
An artist residency is a time-limited experience designed to give artists a dedicated time and space to make your work.
Some are located in pastoral idylls, but others are city-based. Residencies might only admit a very small group at a time, or have space to support a large cohort. They might be focused on a specific discipline or be open to artists working across media. Some residencies are for a few weeks, others last for much longer. Some are designed to help artists work in solitude and others are meant to encourage collaboration between artists whose paths wouldn’t ordinarily cross.
Here are a few examples of residencies:
The MacDowell residency is maybe the most famous artist residency in the United States. In rural New Hampshire, it accepts around 300 artists annually working in a variety of media. MacDowell encourages everyone from architects to writers to composers to apply. Notable alumni include James Baldwin and Leonard Bernstein.
The Atlantic Center for the Arts’s residency program near Daytona Beach arranges for the attendees to work with different master artists over the course of several weeks, rather than spend time doing self-directed work. A cohort of eight artists follows the syllabus set out by the artist, including lectures and workshops. Unlike other residencies, the Atlantic Center for the Arts is structured like a workshop and a master class.
Shandaken: Governors Island takes place on Governors Island, a short ferry ride away from lower Manhattan. Every year, they give five New York-based artists free studio space for a full year on the island. Unlike other residencies, artists can’t live at the residency. They accept cultural practitioners of all kinds, provided that they can work with the office-like studio space that the residency provides. This residency doesn’t allow artists to actually live at the locations, but instead provides studio access to them in a competitive real estate environment.
Ark Project is a global, peripatetic residency project that comes to a new city every year. It is explicitly international and collaborative. Small groups of artists work together with no clear goal in mind. Instead, the intent is to provide an experimental space for contact, synergy, intervention, research or inspiration. Unlike other residencies that are focused on individual goals or creation, Ark Project has a more nebulous and collective aim. The 2020 residency is located in Brooklyn, NY.
Benefits of Artist Residencies
Sure, you might know that artists attend residencies. But why? What makes them important or valuable for artists?
Time and space to focus on your art
The most obvious reason that residencies are important is that they give you dedicated time and space to work without outside distractions, or at least with fewer distractions. With a number of weeks or maybe even months to devote to your craft, you can likely get a lot accomplished.
During a residency, the everyday concerns of your life (grocery shopping, catching up with friends, your day job) are going to be gone. That leaves your schedule and your brain with enough space to think deeply and to create freely.
Like a meditation retreat, residencies remove distractions from your life temporarily.
Most of us are trying to squeeze in a few hours in our studio as often as we can, but it’s a real challenge to find time to make art in the midst of our other responsibilities and interests.
Professional development for artists
Especially for early-career artists, residencies can help you professionalize yourself.
Attending a residency can be a way of demonstrating that you are serious about your work. It shows dedication to take weeks or months out of your regular life to focus deeply on your creative practice. It can help you appear more professional to others, and also to yourself. In order to apply for and attend a residency, you need to think about and write about your art in a way that takes it seriously.
Attending a residency can also work as a vetting system as you apply for other opportunities. If someone looking at your CV to potentially give you a grant, write about you, or accept you into an MFA program sees the name of a residency that they recognize, they might take you more seriously. If the review board for a notable residency thought that you were talented enough to be accepted, someone else might give you a closer look. It’s part of a larger problem with the art world that this kind of name recognition and vetting helps artists, but it’s important to know how these things work in order to best position yourself within the system as it currently stands.
Building a bigger creative network
Attending a residency can build your network because you’ll be living and working with peer artists. You might find a mentor or a collaborator. You might find inspiration from an artist working in a very different medium. These connections are good for you professionally and can help give you new inspiration.
Working with other artists in a concentrated, collaborative environment can push your work in new directions or force you to consider things you hadn’t thought of before. It can help you find resonance between your work and your peers.
The networking opportunities at a residency aren’t just limited to the people you meet at that residency. Residencies can help you tap into the networks of your fellow residents. Through working together, living together, and talking together, another attendee might realize that you should meet someone in their network and help you make that connection.
Residencies can also connect you to other alumni. In the same way that going to the same university might give you access to an alumni network, attending a residency might do the same. They might have listservs with job and grant opportunities, and might be able to give you a useful foot in the door for a job or an introduction.
The Cost of Artist Residencies
While artist residencies can be very beneficial to your career, they aren’t without flaws. Because artist residencies generally require artists to leave their regular lives temporarily, they are designed for people who have the financial and social privilege to be able to take a long vacation. This means that residencies can be attended primarily by people with the disposable income to take weeks or months off work (or not work to begin with) and who aren’t responsible for caring for family members or other people in their community. Residencies can feel like a summer camp for the privileged few.
Some residencies cost money to attend and require artists to furnish money for room and board. Some provide stipends for materials and travel whereas others require artists to pay out of pocket. The better-funded residencies offer financial support for artists or cover costs completely. It all depends on the individual residency and their capacity.
Before you apply to artist residencies yourself, you’ll need to think about the cost.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.