GLOBAL. What do Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and Gregory MacGuire’s Wicked have in common? On a whim, you might answer that they are all masterpieces, which subsequently received great acclaim from critics and general public alike. Yet if you dig a little farther back into history, you will notice that all of these works were created in an artist residency.
Artist residencies, also known as artist communities, colonies or even retreats, allow travelers to experience a new destination in a creative and intellectual way. Timothy Westbook, a former artist-in-residence at The Pfister Hotel, says “this program is the gateway to the soul of Milwaukee. At the hotel, each employee will introduce you their secret hide out, their favorite beer, their studio, their family. You learn the city from the inside out.”
With room, board and in some cases food, provided, artist residencies allow you to delve fully into the creative process. Usually, a long-term commitment is preferred or even required. Westbook, who has completed a quarter of his year-long residency, says “I might not be a [Milwaukee] cheese connoisseur yet but when I talk about the folks from Milwaukee I say ‘Us’ and the folks at the Pfister are ‘We’.” It is through an artist residency that he transcends the tourist experience, and instead partakes in a deeper involvement with fellow artists, staff and locals.
From the old to the new world
Rural and isolated artist residencies originated in Europe, and at the end of the 19th century, began developing in the United States, too. In the 1970s, urban residencies emerged, shifting the focus from privacy to community engagement. In the late 1980s and 90s, financial resources, especially government funding, became more limited, and newer residencies evolved around the sciences, environmental art, and social justice. The traditional infrastructure has varied over time, but generally speaking, artists continue to both live and work at residencies.
Spoilt for choice
From warehouses and working ranches to museums and factors to hotels, churches and even sailboats, there are now over 1,500 residencies worldwide in all kinds of artistic disciplines. Here are some factors to consider when narrowing down your choices:
- Discipline: Options can range from writing a book to perfecting your nature photography to glassblowing sculptures.
- Equipment: Will you require specific tools? Will you or the residency provide them?
- Length of stay: Check minimum or maximum lengths of stay at your chosen residency.
- Cost: While some residencies charge fees, others provide free room and board, or even a stipend for additional expenses.
- Engagement with other artists and/or the public: At some residencies, artists work in solitude, while others offer or even require collaborations, either with other artists or the local community.
- Geography: Consider rural versus urban locations. Some residencies offer reimbursement for travel costs. Moreover, residencies like the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts are exclusively for New York State artists.
- Goals: Above all, think about what you want to achieve at the residency, and tailor your choices accordingly.
Artistcommunities.org has prepared a handy overview for choosing the right residency, as well as an in-depth resource list of funding. Res Artis lists programs for all disciplines and writers in particular can also consult the Shaw Guides. In addition, check out individual residency programs’ websites, blog, and contact the director and/or past participants. Many residencies offer tours and open houses, too.
Pay close attention to deadlines, and in general, expect to submit the following: a work plan (also called a proposal), resume, letter(s) of recommendation, and samples of your work in the chosen discipline. (Writers in particular should read Grant Faulkner’s “Applying to a Writers Residency: An Expert Breakdown of the Requirements”). Some residencies charge application fees.
A day on the job
The day-to-day routine will also vary from residence to residence. Back in 2011, painter Shelby Keefe applied to the artist residency program at The Pfister Hotel “because it attracts guests from all over the world.” She recalls painting about four days per week for six hours or more. “On the weekends, I also gave tours of the hotel’s Victorian-style art collection—the largest of its kind of any hotel in the world,” she says.
As with any other study abroad experience, there can be challenges, too. Visual artist Katie Rivers, a former artist-in-residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute, remembers that, “My first perceived challenge when I arrived at the Institute was the lack of privacy in the studio area. I am used to working solo and was concerned about being exposed.” Time would tell, however, that this would work to her advantage. “I was able to receive valuable feedback from my peers, a group of amazing artists.” She was able to observe and learn from her peers, making “lifelong friends [with] some of [her] fellow residents and the staff at SFAI.” “We continue to interact and follow one another’s careers,” she says.
All in all, the residency program proved to be a meaningful travel experience for Rivers, giving her a chance to immerse herself fully in the Santa Fe art scene. “SFAI [is] close to all of the museums and galleries,” she says. “I was able to easily become acquainted with the city and had an easy access to all of the amenities. Two bikes are kept on the property and public transportation is available. Great city,” she concludes.