How To Find, Land, and Make the Most of an Artist Residency

Katie Carey | January 29, 2020 (Updated April 21, 2021)

Advance your art career with an artist residency

When you’re working to make it as an artist, residencies allow you the space and opportunity to create and pursue your art career goals. Residencies provide you with the time, support, and continued education to develop your art practice. 

There is a wide range of residencies out there, and no two artist residencies are the same. 

Residencies can be fully funded or require payment from the artist to participate. They range in support, prestige, facilities, and location. 

That means in order to find a residency that is worthwhile and will be beneficial to your career, you need a plan of action to make sure that you are applying for the right opportunities.

Plus, when you find that perfect match, you will want to ensure you are a competitive applicant.

Read on to hear our seven tips for choosing the right residency, being a strong applicant, and then making the most of your residency opportunities.

Research the past participants and residency

You likely have a mental short-list of artists that inspire you and your work. Artists that you admire in their craft and career. Approach researching residencies as you would research a crush. Google the artist’s background and see where they went early in their career (or whatever stage you are currently at). 

Check out their CV for residencies they attended and look at the residency’s alumni page. You can learn a lot about what you will gain and who the residency is looking for from researching who also attended the residency. 

A residency is as much about your time away and studio work as it is about the connections you will make there. Make sure that the community the residency fosters is one that you will push you to grow creatively and professionally. 

This is a group of people that will form important contacts for you as your career progresses.


Write down your practical needs to live & work 

With so many different opportunities out there, hone in on exactly what you need and want from an opportunity to help you find the right ones.

Ask yourself a few practical questions to get going: 

  • Are you able to travel for a residency? 
  • What is your time availability? 
  • Do you need funding?
  • What type of funding do you need? 
  • What will I need to pay for while away?
  • Can I work remotely or part-time while at the residency?
  • Will I save up enough to cover my time away?
  • Will the living situation be conducive to my work?

After addressing these practical questions, get into the nitty-gritty. What is it that you want out of a residency opportunity and what type of residency structure would be best for you? 

Some artists use residencies for the community component, being able to be surrounded by other working creatives. Outside of art school, your next and most valuable critique might be from your fellow residents or from a visiting curator/art professional connected to your residency. If you crave continued education, collaboration, or support from a residency make sure to apply to opportunities that build this social element into their structure.

Other artists use residencies for a creative retreat and value the alone time and creative focus that separation from daily life allows. If you are seeking an experience of isolation look for residencies that create natural environments for introspection and focus like residencies within national parks on an offseason with fewer people.


Don’t go into debt for an opportunity

In both the application process and during your residency, make informed financial decisions and advocate for yourself in a way that won’t leave you stressed about money.

Many residency applications require a fee. If this is a financial burden for you, you can ask for a fee waiver. Granting institutions and residencies understand that artists are working hard to support themselves and many provide this service—you just have to ask! If you are in a situation where a fee waiver would help you, reach out. This is why these opportunities are created in the first place. You have nothing to lose and might even benefit from having more direct contact with the people running the residency you’re applying to. 

When you’re looking at different opportunities to apply to keep your finances in mind. 

Create your own cost-benefit analysis of each prospective opportunity. Take into consideration expenses like food, housing, transportation, materials, and weigh these costs with what an opportunity will provide you (both materially and in terms of opportunity).

While some residencies and opportunities provide stipends and support, others don’t. A general rule of thumb for artists applying to opportunities is to not pay more than your current cost of living to take part in an opportunity. If it does, think creatively about how you can lower your other costs during that time. Can you sublet your apartment? Can you line up enough residencies back-to-back to travel and get rid of your lease for a period of time?

Artist residencies can help you put your name on the map, but make sure that you’re not risking your financial security by taking on opportunities that cost you more than they are worth. 

Understand your strengths within the scope of the residency

Know yourself. Know the opportunities. Follow up with residencies. Apply, reapply, and then apply again.

Think of applying to opportunities like high school students consider applying to colleges. Apply for opportunities that are a “fit,” “reach,” and “safety.”

Understand your background and skill set. Be able to see where you would fit into different residency qualifications. Are you an emerging artist, an early career artist, established, mid-career? 

Apply to different levels of opportunity and then know to reapply in the future (and save your application fees for ones you know you aren’t ready for quite yet). 

Don’t burn out on spending all your time and energy applying to “reach opportunities' ' either, make sure that your efforts are balanced between big-ticket-harder-to-get residencies and more attainable opportunities.

Read the qualifications for the residency and make sure that you are a match before taking the time to apply. 


Stand out with your application 

Residency programs will often receive hundreds or thousands of applications for a few spots, especially those that offer funding.

Make sure that your application stands out by first reading through what is required of you. You don’t want to be automatically disqualified for something that is in your control like the number of images or image file size. 

There are three aspects to an application that you will want to hit: high-quality photographs of your work, engaging and clear writing, and making deadlines. 

Photographs of your work are almost as important as the physical work itself since that is all that jurors have to judge you on. After you create a work, make sure you photograph it with professional lighting on a clean, white background. Need more tips on how to photograph your work? Get them here

Compelling and concise writing will give the application panel a way to get to know your vision and goals as an artist. This will be where you can explain what you want to accomplish at the residency and what you plan to do with your time there. Don’t overcomplicate things with too much jargon. Explain your project as you would to a close friend. Then, re-read your answers and have someone else read over your application and give their feedback about both clarity and punctuation.

Hitting the deadlines and filling out a complete application will automatically put you in the top half of the pile. You might be surprised at how many applications are sent in with incomplete information on an artwork, incomplete forms, or past the deadline.

Be prepared for applications by organizing your artwork images and information in something like Artwork Archive, an artwork inventory management system that helps artists catalog and manage their artwork. Plus, keep track of different deadlines in Artwork Archive’s calendar and set reminders so that you never miss an important date. 

When you apply to a residency, don’t be afraid to reach out. Asking more questions shows that you are invested in an opportunity and genuinely interested. 

In an interview, be prepared. Make sure you know the program and ask thoughtful questions to your interviewer. Research previous program alumni. Mentioning artists that you respect who have done a residency in an interview shows that you were thoughtful in your application process. 

Be professional and personable. Reach out when you are not selected to learn how you can continue to improve your applications in the future. 


Say “yes” while you are there

Now that you’ve landed an opportunity, make the most out of it.

Residencies provide a unique opportunity for you to go outside your normal day to day life and engage in a completely new experience. Whether your residency is on the other side of the world or in your backyard, get excited about it and treat it as a completely new experience.

A hot tip: say “yes” when you are there. 

Have you ever noticed that when you are outside of your comfort zone, like when traveling, or in a different country, you are more likely to try new things or take on experiences that you wouldn’t normally in your day-to-day? Embrace this idea of your residency as something new, exciting, and different by saying yes to all parts of your residency.

Optional workshop? Say yes. Curator visit? Yes. Community exhibition? Yes, please. 

Saying yes allows you to make the most out of your experience and ensures that your art-making is an active process. Saying yes will connect you to other residents, creatives, and to your residency’s larger community.

Remember that you are dedicating this time and space for your art, double down on this dedication by fully engaging in the process and embracing the opportunities that open up with your residency. 


Stay connected after the residency

In the same vein of being a “yes” (wo)man, use your residency experience to build and sustain connections.

Being involved in residencies connects you to a hyper-specific community of creative people with similar experiences and goals. The people you work with in a residency might be future collaborators for projects and exhibits. 


You might revisit the place you spent a residency and re-engage and partner with local groups for future projects. 

Just because you are leaving doesn’t mean that you will be finished interacting with the people, place, and ideas that were meaningful to you during your residency.

Make sure to stay in touch with the admin of the residency as well as the artists. The artworld is small, you never know where the people you interact with will end up and how you both might mutually benefit from staying in contact. In the future, if you have questions about different residencies or opportunities, the admin from a previous residency are knowledgeable people to bounce ideas off. 

Looking for the perfect residency for 2020? Check out the Complete Guide to Artist Residencies and Grants.


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