Articles

Surveying Arts Residencies Today: Do They Still Matter? (Part 1)

by An Xiao on April 3, 2012

Brooklyn artist Laurie Frick turned her studio residency at Yaddo into an installation entitled Walking Through Cardboard. Image courtesy Laurie Frick.

Brooklyn artist Laurie Frick turned her studio residency at Yaddo into an installation entitled "Walking Through Cardboard." (Image courtesy Laurie Frick)

LOS ANGELES — When I first moved to New York and began my career in the art world, I asked a number of successful artists for advice on my career. I had just begun showing in galleries and wanted to know their number one tip.

“Residencies. Do a residency,” they’d tell me. They pointed me to residency resources around the New York area and in other parts of the country.  Some of them looked fantastic. Some of them even provided room and board.

But I never did do a residency during my time in New York because even the least expensive, most prestigious residency was too costly. As a young artist just getting established, I needed the income of my full time job to fund my fund art practice. The opportunity cost of taking all that time off was great, especially as taking a month off or more would mean not being able to travel for vacation.

A photo of John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where William Powhida recently completed a residency.

A photo of John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where Brooklyn artist William Powhida recently completed a residency.

It wasn’t until late 2011 that I did get a chance to live and work full time for art.  I had just finished a big project and was waiting for my next project. So I moved to Manila for six weeks and began working with Green Papaya Art Projects’s residency program in the artsy district of Quezon City. My experience and timing, it turns out, were not unusual.

“Several artists I’ve met plan ahead,” said Laurie Frick, a Brooklyn-based artist who’s worked in a number of residency programs. “They plan ahead, and they quit their job before they leave with the intention of finding a new job.” Frick has also come across artists who apply for time off, or, frequently, they’ll continue doing paid work even at the residency.

“There’s a whole class of artists who are not tied to a specific place for how they do they work,” Frick added. Artists often make money doing web design, writing, waiting tables and other flexible work that can be picked up and dropped. And for some, the source of revenue doesn’t depend on their location.

Kuona Trust in Nairobi Kenya. (Image courtesy Kuona Trust)

Kuona Trust in Nairobi Kenya. (image courtesy Kuona Trust)

“I never would have been able to do [a residency] if I hadn’t quit my job and had a little bit of money saved up,” noted Claire Breukel, a fellow Hyperallergic contributor and curator now based in New York. “From the artist’s point of view, unless they pay for flight and food it’s impossible.”

Indeed, when I’ve met artists in residency programs both in the US and Asia, many have had to make significant sacrifices to get there. Which begs the question, is it worth it? Why do a residency in the first place?

A Broader Look

It helps, I think, to step back and look at the bigger picture of who’s doing residencies and what motivates them. I spoke with Caitlin Strokosch, executive director at the Alliance of Artists Communities, a leading resource and online community focused around residencies and artist communities. The group features an extensive online database of residencies, including some 500 in the US and over 1,000 across the globe.

The Alliance of Artist Communities provides a free searchable databse of over a thousand residency programs.

Screenshot of the Alliance of Artist Communities's free searchable database of over a thousand residency programs.

“I think that one of the things that’s really exciting to me about the field of residencies is that the breadth of experiences that residency programs offer now is really incredible,” Strokosch says.

She pointed to the MacDowell Colony, the oldest arts residency in the US, as one model, where artists simply have an inspiring place to work. But many residencies now also offer a number of opportunities to engage with local communities.

“All of them are grappling with the question of balance, the private and the public balance,” said Strokosch. “Overall as a field, it’s more about finding the right balance for each program, for each community and for each kind of artist that goes there.” Thus, multiple programs are available for artists, who can select the best opportunities for their needs and personal development goals.

And while the popular image of residency programs is that they expect artists to foot almost all the bills, Strokosch let me know that about two-thirds of residencies in the US don’t charge anything. Of the third that charge, almost all that she’s aware of have some kind of opportunity to help artists with costs, whether that is in the form of scholarships, subsidies or work exchange. And amongst that don’t charge, another third offer a stipend.

With a multitude of residencies out there, the Alliance of Artists Communities is growing its free web site to include more resources and tips for artists looking to join a residency, and to include all residency programs they can find.

Within this context, it’s clear that residencies continue to play a role in one’s artistic career. Even with the advent of social media and the internet, the value of face to face communication and interaction with fellow artists and visiting writers, curators and museum directors can’t be underestimated.

Up Next: In the next installment of this series, we’ll look at the value of residencies, and why artists should consider doing them at all.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebecca-Keller/769619646 Rebecca Keller

    I have done a few residencies and found the opportunity to focus, the new surroundings/change of scene, my interesting fellow residents, and the support for work-in -development invaluable. But the ability to get time away is an issue, especially since I have many family commitments as well as a busy work life (I wish more art world opps would recognize that some artists brave the difficulties and do have families…)
    My solution has been to look for ones that allow for shorter stays, that are funded and not too far from home (which keeps demands on my time and the travel costs low).

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