Redefining the Residency | Alliance of Artists Communities Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon

Photo by Erica Thomas, The ARTIST IN RESIDENCE sign is lit whenever someone at the house is doing creative work.


The first standout theme from the AAC conference that I will discuss is Redefining the Residency, a topic that can be applied to any arts discipline and one that I, too, have worked to redefine in the past. The session, “Self-Declared: Practice and Politics of DIY Artist Residencies in Portland,” presented five local artists discussing the ways in which they have reconstituted the parameters of an “artist residency” for reasons political, pragmatic, and artistic. Such alternative opportunities are especially important for artists who work in community engagement, experimentally, and/or with no intent of measurable outcome, for whom traditional residencies are not often a fit for their practice.

Erica Thomas defined her declaration to become an artist-in-residence in her own life, resisting existing patriarchal structures and including in her practice her roles as wife, mother, and coworker, merging life with art. (Erica lists her marriage on her CV as an ongoing collaboration, 2012 to present.) Her audience for her work fluctuates from one to hundreds or thousands, but her practice is constant and exists in every aspect of her life. Erica pointed out that while her practice works in opposition to what typically defines institutional support – and that though, by definition, she must remain autonomous – her practice would benefit from funding, performance space, and conversations with a collaborative audience.

Taryn Tomasello shared her experience creating a renegade residency on Ross Island, an island in the Willamette River (which bisects the city of Portland) that is part city-owned forested riparian zone, part quarry, part toxic land fill. Taryn, with her husband and children in tow, camped without permission on the island and completed ephemeral projects she documented in photos and video. She investigated ideas of displacement and ownership of land, while allowing her work to exist in communication with her ongoing residency in motherhood. Taryn brought in other artists to join her on the island, and a catalog and several exhibitions have resulted from the residency.

Emily Fitzgerald began a self-declared residency at the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland after frequent visits with her grandmother revealed to her a community in need. Her practice is based around artistic research and storytelling, working with the residents to use photography and writing to learn about each other. The collective developed a printed book, performed readings in various locations, and created an installation that made the Center’s public space more humanizing. In another project, Emily grouped high school students with the Center’s residents and had them write about the role of dependency in their lives and ask each other questions about their respective generation and life experience. This led to individually responsive work in the form of writing and drawing. Often, these social energies are not considered “art” in the context of the institution. The self-declared residency allows for them to be.

Katy Asher and Ariana Jacob put a name to their project – the Resident Residency – in which they gathered fellow artists to create work in their own communities. Often, residencies bring in artists to an unfamiliar neighborhood to have impact there, but Katy and Ariana envisioned a residency where artists create impact in their own neighborhoods without having to leave home. Each artist developed a “residency” within his or her respective Neighborhood Association, groups already doing social practice-esque projects throughout Portland. The Neighborhood Associations provided a platform and a source of funding for projects such as community gatherings and project catalogs. However, the artists found it challenging to create subversive work inside the parameters of the Association’s vision, and struggled to reach underserved or peripheral members of each neighborhood.

All of the speakers expressed frustration with finding funding for their projects after they had occurred, rather than before, when the funder holds stake in the outcome. They are hoping to spread the word about the value of self-declared residencies to their communities, funders, and art institutions. (A representative from United Arts Funds shared that her organization is one to reach out to for such funding.)

For me, what resonated is that you do not have to wait for an institution such as a university, gallery, museum, funder, etc. to grant you lines on your resumé or venues for your work to develop or be shown. You can create your own opportunities and they are just as valid, and just as resumé-worthy. Too often we wait for acceptance or permission to do what can be done on our own.

My charge is this: Think, declare, and do for yourself as an artist, and soon the institutions will catch up with you.


I would be remiss not to plug my December 2015 Crafthaus article “DIY Residency: In Residence at Home”.

Also check out the other conference topics I covered: Community Engagement & Social Practice and Diversity Versus Inclusion.

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Replies to This Discussion

Linda's opinion mirror my own."I am so very much on board with this concept. I have considered applying for residencies, but the fact that I need my own tools and equipment to pursue my intended projects eliminates most residency studio spaces. Plus disrupting family life altogether."

After investing a lifetime in my tools and materials, along with my local community, and taking care of my house, there is not way that I can leave for more than a few days.

I was away for just a few days last week and still catching up to all the neglected tasks.

Brilliant idea!

I am super serious about the idea that the "call for an artist residency where the services come to you to free up your time to work."  
I very much appreciate the comment from 2 Roses.  "The real issue is institutional support systems that are out of step with the real-world needs of the constituencies they purport to serve."

The only way that I can consider an "Artist in Residency" is some other "artist at home model." Even though I no longer have small children at home, my responsibilities are even greater in other areas. Leaving home for more than a few days takes me weeks to recover.

Plus the usual "Artist in residency" programs do not have the specialized equipment or materials that I use.  "Artist in Residence" is a concept adapted from painting... (I presume) but metal and tools don't travel like paint brushes and paint.

I have now returned from the ACC Conference and my travels.

Is it time yet to apply for a grant "Artist in Residence at home in my studio?

Where do I apply?

Love the idea of an Artist in Residency that comes to the artist. 

A long time ago, an "artist in Residency" in Maine said I could bring my children (2-3 years at the time.) That offer (meant in generosity) but was clueless, I mean totally out to lunch CLUELESS!!!  They obviously didn't have a 2 and 3 year I had to pay for their airfare.  And asking my husband to come has always been out of the question. He doesn't travel with Harriete as a support system for her career when he needs to provide income by actually working everyday.

Time to raise a ruckus about these misogynist, hierarchical uninformed  "Artist in Residency" that are not equal opportunity. 

I agree the 221st century equal opportunity "Artist-in-residency" includes a secretary that can compose and write perfect in English, a cleaning lady, gardener, handyman , and cook.  No pink umbrellas or fancy drinks needed. I want to keep my head clear for making a fantastic fantasy into a reality. 


I am adding to the brainstorm.

Most "Artist in Residencies" include a public visibility component. The monkey in a cage aspect. Well if I get the "Artist in Residency" of the 21st century, I am willing to invite the public to my studio (for specific hours per week) and promote the sponsor of the Artist in Residence.  

Harriete, in my experience, the two things artists desire more than all else are visibility and validation. Characterizing a residency as a "monkey in a cage" seems a bit ungrateful and probably overlooks the fact that the institutions that are granting residencies have their own agendas for doing so. 

You have pointed out in the past that artist's relationships with the institutions they typically engage with, i.e., galleries, museums, etc. often fail to acknowledge and leverage the business partnerships that they really are. Such is true of residencies as well. 

There is a pervasive notion in the arts of virtuous patronage, that money and support should be given freely without expectation of return or benefit. I see this thinking on both the institutional and individual level. I have rarely seen this work out well for anyone, but I have seen lots of misunderstandings, resentments, unemployment and failed programs over the years. 

Clearly, institutions and programs need to change and become more fluid to better support their constituencies.  Just as clearly, artists need to change as well. I would characterize the fundamental shift in thinking for both parties as moving away from "what can you do for me" toward "what can I do for you". 

My apologies for the "monkey in a cage" terminology. It seems cavalier. I was thinking of the so called "Artist in Residencies" that are supposed to be visible to tour groups etc. Surely, there are "Artist in Residencies that are motivated to provide an opportunity for artists/makers to develop a body of work with a concentrated and focused period of time.

Other "artist in Residence" are more like a visiting artist situation in an academic context such as a college/university. That is more for the benefit of the students to glean words of wisdom or exposure to a career artist.

The original discussion circled around the idea of an artist/maker invited to another location  as an "Artist in Residence" with the idea it would further their career.  At this point it is time to consider new definitions of an "artist in Residence." 

No apology needed Harriete. You were expressing a commonly held sentiment. Getting it on the table allowed that perspective to become part of the discussion. At its core, it is the idea that a residency carries with it certain expectations and demands placed on the artist. It is not free support (money) with "no strings attached." Nor should anyone expect it to be.  Institutions supporting artists have agenda's too. Finding the best alignment of interests makes for a great experience for both parties. 

Jessica's descriptions of alternative residencies is both intriguing and exciting because they are all demonstrations of real change as to what "residency" means. Within this context, I'm not sure the word "residency" is even appropriate anymore.   

I think there is a lot of value in giving artists time and space with no expectation, and that is what we do where I work - artists come for 5 weeks with travel, housing, meals provided, generous stipend, and we ask for nothing from them - no donated work, no public time. It's completely private, and if someone is out at the pool all day, we don't care and don't ask them why they're not working. Some people need that mental break to move forward and they always leave here saying they accomplished so much more than they thought they would. At the end we host an open studio IF the artists collectively want to (many people like to share and interact with the community, others don't) and even then participation is optional. I've heard from many of them this is a rare model. HOWEVER, as mentioned above, most residencies have to answer to the public and major donors because that is how they fund the residency. We are rare and fortunate in that we are funded from a private foundation. 

Opportunities for a true no-pressure residency are few and far between (not to mention the additional restrictions of family, etc. noted above), so my question is, why wait for the opportunity? If you have a home studio (or even just a table!), the only thing missing is funding (which many residencies do not even provide). So, really, the "DIY Residency" could just be a grant from an institution to make work at home. Perhaps there are parameters like reporting what you've done (even if it isn't concrete), or hosting an open studio at home, but it's really quite simple. The difficult part is finding an institution willing to fund it. But I think with a really smart grant proposal it could happen.

I love the idea of the DIY Residency at home. If the DIY Residency program provided a stipend that could be spent for an all purpose "intern" it might be a great help to the artist.  

I think an institutional sponsor could provide a year of Stipend for an all purpose "intern" that is both studio assistant, and life assistant, the intern may learn a lot as well. 

I personally and professionally can not leave my responsibilities behind and walk away for a Artist-In-Residency, but it would be a fabulous to have studio help, and all purpose, girl/guy Friday that could speed me through the more mundane tasks of the day, like the entire afternoon devoted to my website, and doing my payroll taxes.

I think the Artist-in Residence sponsor could receive visibility:

  • through social networking,
  • where the artist resides,
  • on the artist's website with documentation,
  • when the artists shows the body of work developed they could provide an acknowledgement and visibility for the sponsor at that time as well.  


i read your post from last year with your diy residency and this thread.  i too come from a family, with one child still at home, the home needs, pets, etc.  i travel a lot to earn a living, but have wanted to find a short-term residency, as that is all my life could support. 

your post has inspired me to think outside the box.  i have been formulating a plan for 2018 (sadly 2017 is already booked!) and i feel empowered with new ideas and thoughts.  thank you for all the time you have taken to post.


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