Saturday, March 31, 2018

In Residence: The Quest for My Ideal Art Residencies

By Heidi F. Beal

Over the past couple of years, I've been ramping up my interest in art residencies. Teasing through the vast number of different offerings has forced me to follow wise advice Ruth Hiller gave during a presentation at the International Encaustic Conference in 2015: “Be clear about your residency goals.” This goal might be to have a strong resume line, or better studio space for a specific project, or a respite from the daily grind, or inspiration in an artist-friendly place. Perhaps all of the above.

Heidi Beal in front of the historic Klingel House, location of the art residency at the Gettysburg National Military Park. She found it "while gallivanting the Pennsylvania countryside in October of 2017, with some help from a park ranger"

What does my ideal residency look like?
I have a long list of residency desires, but I certainly don’t expect to find them all in one experience. These are my goals:
. The residency combines into one experience my interest in travel to remote places, rest, introspection, and a strong focus on my art practice
. It is located in a peaceful, inspiring, and non-distracting location
. It springs my work forward, giving me energy that lasts long after the residency is over
. There’s access to studio resources or expertise that I don’t have at my home studio. (i.e. larger space, access to technical equipment or expertise)
. The residency builds relationships (before, during, or after) with people who can help me propel my career forward
. When I’m at home, cooking and food planning drains my creative energy, so an ideal residency would be one where I would have nutritious meals prepared for me
. A prestigious resume line item would be nice but not required
. Ideally my husband would join me and have mental space to work on his writing

I've applied to a few but haven’t been accepted yet, probably because on a cosmic level, the timing wasn’t right. I was passed up after being in a three-way tie for last year's residency at Loggerhead Island in The Dry Tortugas—you know the one where you and your partner are on a remote island all by yourselves? It took place in September of last year at the exact time that Hurricane Irma hit, and the folks who did get it had to be evacuated.

Pamela Winegard reflected on the breadth of ideal offerings at the Vermont Studio Center, a venue where she has has spent time more than once. “If you want to work 24/7, you can pursue that; if you need to rest and reflect, that time is available to you; and if you need other creatives to explore new ideas, that is there as well. I was able to use all of these in my month-long residencies to let go of my outside obligations and responsibilities and just focus on me and my creative expression.”

Researching the residency
I’ve been making a point of visiting some of these residencies to see if they are a right fit. This has given me an enormous amount of information I would never have gotten from online or printed information. What I’ve found is that the residency announcements do not tell and show the whole picture. Before investing the time and money in applying, do a deep dive and make sure the residency is in line with your checklist of goals.

Although the locations may seem romantic in the pictures, don’t assume anything about what is provided and not provided. Talking to alumni/ae is helpful, but their goals and perspectives may be different.

Paula Roland recounts this story about her 2008 residency in Auvillar, France, part of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts' program: “I was told that they would have lots of beeswax for me, so not to worry. When I arrived I was handed what looked like a half pound. Yikes, for a month! Eventually the director found a beekeeper. Imagine my surprise when he turned up with about 50 pounds. I kept half. It was a gorgeous yellow (from pollen) that I mixed with resin and used with locally sourced pigments and encaustic paint that I had brought with me.” 

Paula Roland, left, with a local beekeeper during her 2008 residency in Auvillar, France, part of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts' program. 

There may even be situations where studio space is non-existent, such as Leslie Sobel’s Arctic residency. If you plan to work on site, this would be an issue. If lodging is provided, it may be on a busy street or in a distracting tourist location. It helps to think of an art residency as a form of travel. When traveling you need to be flexible, prepared, and open to whatever experience it brings (although who’s prepared for a hurricane?). On the flip side, make sure your basic lodging needs will work for you.

The venue's perspective
Let’s look at this issue of assumptions and artists’ needs from a venue’s perspective. People from each organization are reviewing a deluge of applications, presumably making decisions based solely on what is provided in the applications. They do this not really knowing the personalities of the artists they are inviting to their venues for extended stays. [When a phone referral is required, one of the questions may be, “How does the applicant get along in a group situation?”—ed.]

Here’s what John Cargill of the National Parks Arts Foundation said when I suggested that studio space and lodging details would be helpful in their residency announcements: “Studio space is usually arranged after an artist is accepted and has included it in their proposal requests. We have even had an RV delivered upon request just to be a studio.”

As for specifics or location and amenities, he said, “When we did post all of that information to the public (including photos), it caused more questions and demands than were necessary. We have had everything from someone demanding we have an air quality test done, to demanding all the heads on the nails in a bedroom be brass, to threatening to not come because a salad spinner wasn't provided, to wanting an avalanche airbag for their non-service pet (pets not allowed at that residency anyway).

“I don't know if we are missing any more great artists than we have or want, or who want us. The truth is, we offer the best but we aren't going to put more impressive bravado on it than necessary for great inspiration and excellence in art. We are interested in artists who want to work with us and we do all we can for them.”

The financial side of art residencies
There are lots of credible art residencies out there. Many offer generous stipends, while an equal or greater number require that you pay to attend. Most offer a good deal for your money—including materials, meals, programmed events, even scheduled visits by curators or critics.

Winston Lee Mascarenhas has attended several residencies. “Some of the most prestigious artist in residency programs are pay for play with some grants available for a small percentage,” he says.

One of the residency programs on my wish list is the Vermont Studio Center. Regarding fees, their website says, “We are very grateful to those residents who opt to pay for their residency in full, as it allows us to offer need-based financial aid to other talented artists and writers who would be unable to attend without assistance.” So, if you can pay, your fees contribute not only to your own art practice but to the arts community at large. Winston adds, “The great benefit from all good residencies, regardless of financial considerations, is the networking, and the interaction with artists and writers that you would never have otherwise.  It all informs your growth and work as an artist.”

Fees I’ve paid have ranged from $35 to $110. These fees can add up. To a credible art organization, the financial sting is lessened if you consider it a tax-deductible contribution or a business expense. But application fees are just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of travel and taking a chunk of time out of your life. 

Some artists apply for grant funding. Pamela Winegard was able to obtain financial assistance and fellowships to attend her residency but says, “What I did have to pay for was worth it.”

Others may 
teach workshops in conjunction with their residency to help with funding. 

Relatedly, an artist-in-residence program at a school or university, which could last for a few days or as long as a semester, typically comes with a salary and studio space. In the Fall of 2016, Kim Bernard was the artist in residence at the University of New England in Maine. Throughout the semester, she collaborated with faculty members, incorporating art into the topics being studied. Kim’s high degree of community involvement and time commitment is typical of an artist in residence, which is different from an artist residency.

Above: Kim Bernard with Amy Deveau's chemistry class during an indigo dying project. Says Kim: “We hung the dyed fabrics on a line to dry, then created an art installation in the main stairwell of the Harold Alfond Center for Health Sciences.”

At right: the indigo installation

One of the ways my husband and I are making our travel and art residencies a reality is by downsizing to one camper van and renting out our house while we’re away. Strategic planning has been key. Ruth Hiller’s advice about keeping our goals in clear focus has been invaluable.

I’m also realizing I may be able to have a rich art residency by simply renting my own farmhouse, warehouse, or old retail space for a few months, separate from any organization. Going through residency organizations may not be aligned with my goals. Some applications have unneeded hoops to jump through and rack up application fees with no guarantee of return.
Over to you
What are your art residency goals? How have you funded your art residency? What unusual experiences have you had? Please share in the Comments section below.

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More Info
According to the Alliance of Artists Communities, there are an estimated 500 artists’ communities in the United States and more than 1500 worldwide, which provide residencies to 30,000 artists a year (10,000 in the U.S.) .Visit their website for much more information.

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