Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
I work full time as the Residency Coordinator at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida. Seven times a year I watch a group of wide-eyed artists arrive with brainfuls of possibilities, work intensely for five weeks, and emerge at the end marveling at all they’ve achieved and reflecting upon a life-changing experience. It’s fulfilling, inspiring, and the very thing that makes my job more than a desk job. But, as an artist, it’s a tad bittersweet. Working a full-time, nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday desk job has left me with less creative energy than I imagined it would. Despite the fact that I worked far longer hours in grad school – between studio time, teaching, assistantship duties, art sales, my Etsy shop, and waitressing – I felt far more creative and was far more productive. It had flow. It was flexible. Something about my regimented week curbs that flow, and I’ve talked to enough fellow creative nine-to-fivers to know I’m not alone.
This led me to think: Why not do my own residency, for myself? This fall I attended the Alliance of Artists Communities annual conference in Providence and learned that artist communities come in an incredibly diverse range of forms, but there is one common thread: The offering of time and space. It’s that simple. So rather than gazing enviously at residencies I can’t attend for various reasons – work schedule, cost, qualifications, etc. – I realized it would be quite easy to create my own. I also realized that now, thanks to my job, I’m pretty well-versed in what it takes to create a residency and that I can help others to build their own “DIY Artist Residency.” And so, this holiday break, I’m signing up for the Jess Todd Residency – live/work space included, no travel costs to cover, low-cost meals available, no fees – a no-pressure residency with all the comforts of home.
So, how do you transform “home” into “residency”? I looked to my job and thought about all of the components that come together to create the magical residency experience:
Find the Time: This can be challenging for some, but is actually easier than you think. If you were offered the residency opportunity of a lifetime, would you be able to make the time for it? Of course! You would find a way and make it happen. The advantage of your DIY Residency is that it’s extremely flexible. I’m doing mine during a holiday break I already have from work – 11 days – but it can be any length of time, from a long weekend to a month or more depending on your schedule.
Prepare for Departure: If you were leaving home for the length of your DIY Residency, what would you need to get done? Get the everyday stuff out of the way - clean, do the laundry, pay bills – in short, clear your to-do list. Get a partner, friend or sitter to watch the kids or pets, and tell friends and family you’re on a stay-cation… that doesn’t include them. Again, imagine you finally got the residency opportunity of your dreams – it’s a time you’re allowed to be selfish!
Plan Meals: Many residencies offer meals because grocery shopping and cooking are time consuming. Cook up a freezable-meal storm and portion out dinners for the length of your residency. Get quick, easy meals for breakfast and lunch – sandwiches, canned soups, take-out – whatever you’re into. Unless you’re a rare gem who’s inspired by cooking, it’s just a distraction.
Power Off: Get the Netflix and Facebook out of your system beforehand. Put an away message on your email or online shop. Limit your work-related and social/entertainment-based use of technology as much as possible.
THE WORK & STUDIO
Plan Ahead, or Don’t: Some artists like to go into a residency with a clear idea of a body of work they’ve been wanting to get to for years, and others come completely open to experimentation and whim. It’s up to you and how you operate best, but it’s a good idea to allow for a little of both structure and freedom.
Studio Space: If you have a studio space that typically serves as your place of work (i.e., you create work to sell, for example), clear everything work-related out. The same goes if your studio doubles as a home office, laundry room, or junk storage unit – find a temporary home for distractions. If you don’t have a dedicated studio, set up a workspace – no matter the size – that is void of your everyday life. Add things that help it feel new, separate, and peaceful, such as artwork, room dividers, hanging sheets, lighting, music, etc.
Materials & Equipment: Even if you don’t have an exact plan, think about what you may be interested in working on. Find, collect, buy, borrow, or rent the materials and equipment you need and have them ready and waiting for you on the first day of your DIY Residency.
Funding: Your DIY Residency’s “stipend” can come from a variety of sources: application-based grants, sponsorship from a gallery, crowdsourcing, sales of all varieties (yard, bake, art, etc.), cashing in spare change, or your bank account, for example. But just because you don’t have a big wad of cash doesn’t mean you can’t conduct meaningful research and experimentation, or even create complete works, with free or low-cost materials.
Studio Assistance: Unless you have a studio assistant already or a reliable and talented friend open to bribery, this could be tricky. You don’t want to waste time training someone, so consider avenues for outsourcing – laser or plasma cutting, 2D or 3D printing, CNC routing, fabrication services, or handwork by local tradespeople.
Local Research: Many artists find inspiration in the physical location of a residency. Is your work influenced by place? Plan trips to local museums, libraries, or educational/cultural centers to conduct research. Depending on your practice, this may be integral to your work time or may occur ahead of time. Take time to notice your neighborhood and surroundings with fresh eyes – walk, talk, sketch, collect, and think as if you are there for the first time.
Other Research: Gather reading materials online, at a local library, or via interlibrary loan so that you have everything on hand to start research. Plan trips for site-specific research prior to the residency.
Community Outreach: Many artists find community outreach to be an important aspect of their time at a residency. Will your work go further with community connections? If so, plan any meetings or outreach programs ahead of time with local schools, organizations, artists, etc.
Fellow Resident Artists: Interaction and collaboration with fellow resident artists is a big part of artist communities. Unless you have a guest bedroom and a big studio you’re willing to share, you’ll need to get creative with this one. Challenge an artist friend or colleague to do his/her own DIY Residency concurrently. Set up meeting times throughout – in person or via Skype – to discuss your research and progress.
This concept of “time away” is something I hear about over and over and over at my job – how invaluable that simple thing is to one’s work. Rather than waiting around for the opportunity to do a residency – whether the restriction is time, money, family obligations, or the competitive nature/availability of artist communities – create your own opportunity. Award yourself the residency you’ve always wanted.
Comments and suggestions are welcomed and encouraged!
You hit the nail on the head here. I heard from many teaching artists that they habitually cut their own creative time short in order to enable others to follow their creative pursuits. Working a 7AM-10PM day job myself (at least that's how it feels most of the time), I decided a while ago to take Wednesdays off. No phone, texting, computer work, social media. I get to spend that day any which way I like, either in the studio or at a Chicago museum, sometimes I just sit around, drink one cup of coffee after another, stare at the walls and take the time to t.h.i.n.k... - yeah, I know, what a concept.
Best wishes for your residency - I look forward to seeing the results!
Brigitte, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. At the Alliance of Artists Communities conference I met so many administrators going through the exact same thing - they are passionate about helping others to receive the magical formula of "time and space," but struggle to find a minute to dedicate to themselves. I love the concept of your "residency" day every week. Giving yourself space to just think, stare, ponder is often overlooked as part of the creative process. Even people who create work for a living can get caught up in production and rarely take a breath to think, experiment and play, and it really can take the joy out of making in time. My "stop" moment is walking on the beach collecting shells. It's something to focus on but gives my mind space to wander, and wonder.
I think this is a wonderful idea. Even if you can't take 11 days residency at home, there may even be one hour a day or like Brigitte, maybe one day or one afternoon can be your "at home artist in residency. "
This may be a departure from the article, but I have long felt that the concept of "Artist in Residency" at another location was all it was toted to be. When I had small children and the primary care taker there was no way I could participate in an "Artist in Residency" at some other location. An "Artist in Residency" was a sexist, fantasy built on a concept that did not fit my reality.
The same principles apply now for different reasons. I can't leave my income producing jobs for an "Artist in Residency." It just is not a realistic decision, I'd sooner live on another planet. Thus my "Artist in Residency" might just have to be an hour a day, or a few hours on the weekened, and invite artist friends over for a critique group for a few hours. I am looking forward to it.
Harriete, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I agree that it is nearly impossible for a lot of people to do a residency, myself included due to my full time job. It is a shame because it can be such a life changing experience to have time and space to experiment, think, and create.
On the note of small children, we do a "family residency" once a year where I work, where parents of small children can come and we provide childcare 9-5 Monday to Friday. It's a great program, and there are a few other residencies out there beginning to accommodate children. Hopefully it is a trend that will continue, because it is something that particularly impacts women.
I have high hopes for my at-home residency. I love the idea of one day a week or a block of time each day, but I am the type that needs several days to be able to get into something and focus. Here's to following my own advice!
It is really good that you bring up the need for childcare, Jessica. I agree, this is an often overlooked, but extremely important part of a residency program. I think the same goes for week-long classes at Craft Centers too!
When my kids were little, I attended a week-long metal class and thankfully, my husband was super supportive and stayed home. Of course, his vacation days were numbered, he only had a ridiculous 2 weeks vacation at that time, so me being away on my own felt like an unfair indulgence, because we could then not spend his vacation days on our combined family vacation time. Had I been able to bring my kids, it would have greatly lessened that burden on my conscience.
A single-mom/fellow smith told me recently that she had been accepted "with bells and whistles" into a two week-long residency program, but when she asked if she could bring her older elementary school-aged child, they said they could not accommodate the kid and she had to decline the residency. With craft centers smarting from lack of participants, maybe there is an opportunity here to bring in a new clientele.
I believe that Touchstone (in Western PA) sometimes offers child-centered craft programs that take place at the same time as the adult programs. That seems to be a real good model to emulate. Two birds, one stone.
Yes, so true! I hadn't thought of the craft schools! Yes, I think that is a completely untapped resource that would benefit attendance numbers for the schools. They would be getting two+ people's tuition for the "price" of attracting one, and they can stay in one room. They are also fulfilling a need in the community and offering a great opportunity to people who are hungry for it. I'm sure there are plenty of K-12 art teachers looking for a summer gig to boot. It may be difficult to offer during every session, but one or two a year even would be a great start. Fabulous idea! Call them up!
That is so unfortunate about your friend. I think a lot of traditional residencies struggle to find the resources to allow for children to stay, but perhaps could find a way with some thought and adjustment. We are fortunate where I am in that we are privately funded, so we can provide childcare, food and housing without stressing about funding. However, the money we save in inviting fewer artists (about 4 instead of 10, for whom we provide travel and a stipend) pretty much offsets the cost of childcare, not to mention they eat less than the adults who would have been here in their place. We serve fewer artists during that session, and it has its challenges, but I think it's 100% worth it.
Brigitte and Jessica,
I often thought that a Artist in Residency should include a cleaning lady and babysitter. How amazing that Residency Coordinator at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida. provides child care!
P.S. Sorry about all my spelling errors in a previous comment. My keyboard started acting badly due to stuck keys. Yikes! It made my comment kind of cryptic! Thank you for figuring out my intent.
Yes, and meals! The artists who are selected to come here are very fortunate, that's for sure.