In thinking about starting an artist residency, I'm reviewing the experiences I've personally had at two residencies: Cill Rialaig in southwestern Ireland and the Centre Pompadour in northern France. I also took an Intro to Hospitality course at Mesa College last semester, and the professor allowed me to write most of my papers on artist residencies and similar "resorts." I learned A LOT.
What needs to be considered when planning a residency? First is to make sure it is financially viable. Every residency has to have funding, whether it is for-profit or non-profit. The rent/mortgage must be paid. Employees, insurance, infrastructure, taxes, PR... artists may not want to think about these things, but residencies are a type of hotel, and hotels don't run themselves for free.
Each residency is unique in the way time and space are configured. How and where do residents meet each other and the hosts? How do artists interact with the physical space, the land, the weather, the surrounding area? What will make the Desert Dairy unique from other residencies, especially the existing residency in Joshua Tree?
In coming posts I'll think about these questions. For the next year we'll be scheduling mini-residencies and workshops, asking artists and others to come and use the space to help us figure out how to best serve our guests, and about how to heal the land. We will ask for time and a bit of labor in exchange for using our property. Are you interested in helping out, when the weather cools off a bit? Let us know.
I'm at a residency in Northern France called the Centre Pompadour Laboratory of Neo Feminism. My main goal is to paint a series of work for a show in November at Blue Azul Gallery in San Diego, but I'm also doing research on residencies, getting ideas for the Desert Dairy. I will eventually write about both this French residency and my Irish residency last year in detail, but first I want to think about residencies in general.
When I was an undergrad in the 1980s, and a grad student 15 years later, the topic of residencies rarely came up. I thought they were only for famous or successful artists, and that they were difficult to get, both of which were probably true at the time. Now, every good academic art program promotes residencies, and there are hundreds all over the world. A young woman here in France, who just finished her undergrad, told me her professors constantly pushed the ambitious students to apply. Read any bios of artists with galleries lately? They are stacked with residency awards. It's both fantastic and a racket. And a business.
I've been asking fellow residents about expectations, and about the reality, of this suddenly widespread rite of passage. Some, like me, arrive with a specific plan, materials and vision of a project, either new or continuing. Then it's just a matter of spending time making the work. Other artists come to a residency to experience the specific place (the architecture, the natural setting, the vibe, the fellow artists, even the weather...) and then they make work based on reactions and inspiration. In my opinion this is the riskier option, but that's perhaps because it's not a natural way for me to make art.
The biggest anticipation when preparing for a residency is that you'll have time to yourself. This is also the biggest shock. Most artists are so busy with their lives/jobs/responsibilities, that carving out large amounts of time to think about, and make, work seems an unimaginable luxury. We crave what we don't have. Personally, I almost never have a continuous time block of more than two hours in a day to paint. So we all can't wait for the hours/days/weeks in front of us with only our work.
Then comes the reality. It's not a vacation. Although you may do a bit of tourism, you basically stay in one place and work. All that time is scary. After a few days, when the excitement of the new place wears off, you begin to be a bit afraid that you've committed too much time--you can feel guilt, or boredom, or even drudgery in your work. Then a routine forms and you get used to it. Some days are great, and you work for 12 hours feeling fantastic. Or you work a bit and then have inspiring conversations with the other artists. Or you take long walks and solve the problems you're grappling with. Other days are not so good. You feel blocked. You paint/sculpt/write/compose/work badly. You fail. You take naps.
In the end, some artists accomplish completed projects, or at least gain new focus or energy. Some come away with nothing concrete, but hope the residency will affect future work. I supposed some simply have another line on their resume, or connections in other cities/countries. Our networks expand, but more importantly, our artwork becomes bigger. We understand the world a bit better.
What do you think? What have you experienced? What would you like an artist residency to be?
In a few days I'm flying to Sweden for a week, where I've co-curated a large group exhibition in Stockholm, and will participate in a pop-up in Linkoping. After that I'm headed to a two week residency in Northern France at the Centre Pompadour.
Goals for the residency... The planner in me is organized to create a body of work based on nests of French birds for an exhibition I've got in the fall called "Empty Nest" (both an environmental statement, because the birds are disappearing, and a comment on the wrap-up of the active motherhood phase of my life). I'm excited to meet other women artists and feminists (this is a residency for Neo-Feminists!). Lastly I'm anxious to experience another residency to gather practical and business information: How do they organize the residency? How do they make it financially viable? How do they interact with their residents?
I want to be quiet. I want to take long walks and do long sessions in which I just paint and listen to music. This semester has exhausted me--I've taught way too much in too many places, driving hours every day. I've barely had time to paint, even though I had several big exhibitions. I've sold a series of work, but also been disappointed in two big shows of nudes where I had no major sales. Which means I really can't make large scale nudes any more. I've got to face facts--making big work that has no potential of selling is a luxury I can't afford.
Will try to post from Europe. xox-a
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.