the deal with residencies

I was thinking earlier, as Soelyst erupted today with shrieking, giggling little kids, that I haven’t actually described what goes on here, or who else is here with me. No, I am not the solitary Norma Desmond Grande Dame of the house: there are other artists (and, quite unusually and happily, their partners and kids) here as well, from all sorts of interesting places.
Koken‘s from Turkey, but splits his time between Istanbul and Berlin. Peter, Denise and Mikko collaborate: Peter and his wife and baby live in Copenhagen (he’s from Denmark, she’s from Bosnia Herzegovina), Denise and Mikko are married (she’s Swiss, he’s Finnish) with 2 little kids aged 4 and 1, and they live in Helsinki. Irina and her 3 year old daughter just got here from Moscow a few days ago; Mads (who’s Danish, but lived in Oakland for years) arrives from New York this weekend. (And Pirate, who’s arriving soon, too, is Welsh-Slovenian from Ohio.) It’s a serious international party! And I really love hearing the kids squawking and doing their kid-thing around the building. It’s a very happy thing.

For those of you who might appreciate a little primer on what “artist in residence” programs are, here’s a wee overview. (First off, hardly ANY residencies allow artists to bring their partners or children. This is one thing that makes Soelyst extra special. It’s super family-friendly, which I think is really amazing.)

One of the traditional functions of a residency is that it operates like an extended artist retreat, where you are away from all of your daily distractions, and can just focus on making art or developing ideas. Sometimes, partners and kids are considered part of this daily distraction, hence the lack of programs like Soelyst’s.

You apply competitively, with a portfolio and usually a proposal for how you’d use your time. If the residency likes your application, they invite you to come stay with them for a while. This can be anywhere from 1 week to 1 year. Most commonly, the time slot is 1 to 3 months.

What the residency will provide you with varies wildly. Some residencies will charge you to come stay with them, other residencies actually pay you to to come. Some are bare-bones, others are full-on hi-tech workshops. In general, the best-funded residencies seem to be in northern Europe, but there are still some sweet deals in the US, too. Outside of Japan and Korea, most of the Asia-Pacific residencies tend not to be able to offer much, if anything, in terms of compensation. And I know very little about South American or African ones.

3 great resource sites for perusing your artist-in-residence options:

A Dutch site: they do the best job of organizing around upcoming application deadlines, and offer other kinds of international artist opps, too.
Primarily an American site: things are well-organized by region as well as discipline.
The grand-daddy godfather of the international artist-in-residence cabal.

So how’d I get into this, you may ask?

In early 2002, I was burning out fast on being a high school art teacher, and becoming increasingly worried about how little art I was making, paradoxically, because of this. I made a dramatic decision to leave teaching after the school year ended, and to try to re-learn how to be an artist. Not really knowing what I was doing at all, I farmed out probably 10 applications to various artist-in-residence programs, and, unbelievably, actually got into a few.

The first residency I did was called the Summer SIX Program, at Skidmore College, in upstate New York, in July 2002. It was a modest and fairly specific (only high school art teachers could apply) experience, but exactly what I needed: time away, space to recuperate from school and make work for a month, somewhere quiet, new and different.
It was on a lovely college campus during summer, and exactly what I needed. Other than costs incurred getting myself there, my studio, dorm bedroom, and meal plan were all free.

A few months later, M.O.B. undertook a group residency from September to mid-November at McColl Center for Visual Art, in Charlotte, North Carolina. We’d applied for it about a year earlier, but it took awhile to coordinate our schedules to actually get there.
The kind folks at McColl paid for our flights out, gave us free accommodation and tower studio, gave us a daily meal stipend, a studio budget, and a car to use, since we lived in a townhouse a few miles from the McColl. Pimp. While sometimes it felt a little disconnected, being so far from the actual center and the other artists, it was hugely productive, and ridiculously fun. We were expected to do public outreach: open studios, some university lectures. (And, of course, Charlotte wasn’t far from Wofford College, which is when I made my historic pilgrimage, and pretty much went berserk on merchandise in the school store…)

While in NC, I learned that I had, by some small miracle, been accepted into 3 other residency programs for 2003: two I had to back out of for lack of funding, and one, which offered no travel or production funds, but a free 2 month stint in a castle on the French Riviera, all meals, accommodation and studio space included. Hellooo, Chateau de La Napoule.
Freezing cold (for the first month) and under-staffed, but insanely beautiful, retardedly inspiring, with great camaraderie and dramatic comedy among the 9 residents, and ample opportunity to explore the south of France…and, of course, many moments for stupid “here I am, working soo hard on the Cote d’Azur” gag photos.
And then that was it, until 2008! (I was decreed artist-in-residence at The Living Room, in Malate, Metro Manila, in 2006, but in my mind, that was more of an artist research trip than a formal studio residency.)

Grad school 2005-2007 was something like an extended two-year residency, though. Although I definitely chafed and struggled during my time at UC Berkeley, it was an absolutely formative experience, and utterly critical to my growth as an artist to have so much uncompromised time to just work on creating a bigger vision for my creative path. And now, a year out of my MFA program, I’m reminded how important it continues to be for me (and for many, many creatives) to have time and space to stretch out, explore, and/or rebuild one’s studio practice.

So: apply for artist-in-residencies.
Make sure and choose ones that are a good fit for your needs and dreams.
Go. You won’t regret it.

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2 Responses to “the deal with residencies”

  1. Tofu-silog Says:

    Thanks for sharing. Maybe one of these residencies will fund an artist editing a documentary on her computer. (Love the wine in hand photo. The resemblance to W. Oakland is striking.) If only many were located in places like the *Cote d’Azur.* …I’m used to working near beaches now — so that wouldn’t distract me one bit!

  2. Tofu-silog Says:

    Here’s another well-funded residency program for you artists out there to check out:

    It’s located in Japan. It includes: work space, living space, transpo, stipend, catalog, etc.

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