Undertaking Residencies

What is an Artist Residency?
The term ‘artist residency’ covers a broad spectrum of activity and opportunity for artists. There is no set format for a residency and it can take many forms and be based in a broad range of organisations. Residencies can last from as little as two weeks to as long as a year. Some are literally ‘residential’, offering artists both a living and working environment while others are less full-time, based around a studio space or simply a structure for engagement between the artist and host organisation. What all residencies have in common, however, is an invitation for an artist to engage with a particular environment and for them to undertake some element of their practice in this context. This invitation more often than not has a particular time frame placed upon it and a clear objective on behalf of the inviting organisation.

Who Offers Artist Residencies?
Many of the more renowned residency programmes are linked into galleries and museums, where a studio programme is run as part of a wider artistic programme. Examples of these are the Irish Museum of Modern Art , Kunstwerke and Smart Project Space in Amsterdam. These programmes usually offer a working and living space connected to the gallery and are generally offered by invitation or in partnership with a cultural agency. A few, such as IMMA, select from an open application process.

There are many organisations that are dedicated to providing artists’ residencies. Internationally these include Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, IASPIS in Stockholm, International Studio and Curatorial Programme, New York and Location One in New York, the latter being the current location for the Arts Council and  Irish American Cultural Institute residency previously held at P.S.1 New York. In Ireland Cill Rialaig, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and the Balilnglen Foundation are all organisations dedicated to artists’ residencies. Many of the international residency opportunities are again offered by invitation, often in partnership with cultural organisations, and occasionally by selection from open applications. The creative potential of international exchange between artists is at the core of these organisations and participating artists are deliberately selected from a wide range of countries. Organisations such as Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, ISCP and IASPIS provide participants with a well-structured programme of talks, seminars and promotion through organised studio visits with curators and critics.

A number of organisations were established to provide access for artists to a very specific context or environment. There are many examples of residencies offering artists access to remote and dramatic landscapes, Cill Rialaig’s position in a renovated famine village is one of the most notable examples of this. Similarly, Cove Park in Scotland invites artists to spend time in a nature reserve living in the log cabins originally used in the BBC’s series ‘Castaway’. For both organisations the remoteness and isolation available to artists provides the focus for the residency. Other organisations invite artists to engage with a conceptual rather than physical environment.  For example Grizedale Arts’ residencies invite artists to participate in Grizedale’s particular curatorial focus of context specific projects staged in the public realm. They state clearly on their website that they are interested in artists ‘who present new ways of thinking’ and while the Lake District provides a unique environment for the residencies this is treated as one of many possible subjects for artists to address within Grizedale’s conceptual framework rather than a focus.

Resource organisations such as the National Sculpture Factory in Cork and the DAS (Digital Art Studios) in Belfast offer medium-specific residencies which are focused around a particular approach to art making with technical support offered for artists to improve their skills.

Increasingly residencies happen outside the art world and are often used by the host organisation as an effective structure through which to introduce artists into their environment to provide an alternative view on their day-to-day operations. ‘Non art world’ residencies most usually take place in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, libraries and universities. This type of residency may include a working space but they are more likely to be structured around a series of organised workshops, defined projects or talks that ensure engagement between the artist and the constituency of the hosting organisation.

What Do Residencies Offer – Conceptually?
Most residencies have at their core a chance for artists expand their practice in some way. Increasingly organisations are moving away from a requirement for artists to complete a body of work for exhibition or presentation at the end of the residency, focusing instead on the research and development of work. IMMA’s studio programme is an example of this and from the beginning a clear policy behind the programme has been the support of ‘the working process rather than the finished product’.

Studio based residencies, whether in rural or urban environments, provide artists with time and space to concentrate on work and develop new ideas. More remote residencies combine this concentration on practice with the opportunity to be in an extreme environment that will directly inspire work.

Many of the larger international residency programmes are based in cities with vibrant and active art scenes. Consequently they combine an opportunity to spend time in the studio focusing on new work with a chance for artists to position themselves in a new art scene. A key element of these residencies is the networking opportunities, such as studio visits by critics and curators established by the host organisation which is emphasised, as central to the residency programme. The mix of artists included in international residency programmes also offers the opportunity for more informal, less structured networking opportunities between artists. Connections between artists established during residency programmes can be an extremely effective way for artists to place their work in an ongoing international dialogue.

Residency programmes offered by organisations such as Banff in Canada deliberately try to set up a creative environment where artists are encouraged to challenge and develop their thinking. Support is offered for artists to try new technologies and a multi-disciplinary environment encourages artists to approach their work from new positions. Similarly, residencies established in universities (for example those offered by the Ruskin Lab in Oxford and Kettle’s Yard Gallery in Cambridge) allow artists access to specialist research that can directly influence their practice.

Grizedale Arts offers artists the opportunity to work closely with the Grizedale curators and support is given to make new work that may not be possible in other arts organisations. The Grizedale curators offer their expertise in fundraising as a resource for artists and help them secure funding for ambitious projects that may come out of research time spent in Grizedale. A deliberately flexible approach is taken in terms of time and some Grizedale residencies can last for several years as projects develop.

This artist-focused approach is also taken at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre where the artists dictate the terms of their residencies based on what is most beneficial to their practice at the time.

What Do Residencies Offer – Practically?
Most residencies would aim to offer artists enough support to allow them to take a break from their working commitments and concentrate fully on their work for a period of time. This support can range from the provision of a studio space to a more complete package of living space and a small stipend. Those programmes offering higher levels of support may ask the artist to guarantee a certain time commitment to the residency programme to ensure that the residency provides an effective break from exhibition and other working commitments.

Some organisations are in a position to provide access to a gallery space where artists can show their work. IMMA does not exhibit work made in the artists’ studios as part of the main exhibition programme but it does provide access to the ‘Process Room’, a gallery in the main building where the studio artists can stage small project type exhibitions of work in progress. The possibility of an exhibition is usually very clearly stated in the terms of a residency programme and is rarely something that can be negotiated as an exception to the normal procedures.

Resource organisations such as the National Sculpture Factory, provide practical support for artists to develop their work technically and access to specialist facilities.

The amount of administrative support provided can vary depending on the organisation but at a minimum most would offer Internet access and limited use of the office facilities. Those organisations dedicated to artists residencies would provide the most structured and accessible administrative support.

Fees, other than stipends are unusual as most support provided is in kind rather than financial (studio living space, practical support). However residencies that place requirements upon artists other than developing their practice (for example residencies in non art world organisations) should normally provide a fee in the place of some of the other support outlined above.

What Might be Asked of You?
These can vary from a basic requirement of a certain time commitment on behalf of the artist to participation in public talks and workshops. Residencies that position artists in non art world organisations such as schools or hospitals would normally have a higher level of requirements placed upon the artists to ensure that their presence is noticed and of benefit to the constituency of the host organisation. Requirements placed upon artists should be clearly outlined by the host organisation at the start of the residency but if it is at all unclear it is important that the artist ensures there is a clear understanding of what may be expected before undertaking the residency. This is particularly important in a non art world organisation where unrealistic expectations can be placed upon the artist.

Possible Gains and Benefits
These can vary widely and really depend on the reason the artist has undertaken the residency in the first place. The most straightforward and perhaps the most important is a clear development in an artist’s practice. This is not always as clear cut as a completed body of new work – many artists find the residency period goes very quickly and after a period of adjustment never quite find the time to make work but on return to their normal working environment are very inspired to make new work.

Wider gains and benefits can be an introduction to new international networks with other artists and curators. These connections are an invaluable means through which an artist can maintain an international profile for their work after returning to their home environment.

For many artists undertaking residencies in large cities, the chance to see a wide range of internationally significant art work at first hand is extremely beneficial and can have a direct impact on their practice.

Possible Drawbacks
Residencies can be very rigid and demand a total immersion in a new environment for a certain amount of time. For some artists this isolation from their normal working environment can be difficult for practical, personal and conceptual reasons. As artists’ become more established in their careers other commitments (whether teaching, family or exhibition) make it harder and harder to dedicate a significant length of time to being in a new environment and residencies are no longer a useful means of support.

Expectations on behalf of both the artist and the host organisation can be too high and lead to disappointment. Residency programmes linked into galleries and museums can feel very removed from the day-to-day running of the organisation and artists hoping for access into the gallery’s networks and level of operations can feel over-looked and secondary to the gallery’s main focus. Similarly, artists’ dropped into a non-art world environment such as a university can find it hard to establish the right connections to fully utilise the opportunities the residency offers. Without the right support an artist can be left on their own trying to make inroads into what can be a very closed environment.

On the other side host organisations can have an unrealistic perspective of the support that they are offering artists and what this can mean to an artist’s practice. Sometimes the provision of a working space or access to a unique environment is not as beneficial as envisaged without additional conceptual and practical support such as engagement with the work, introduction to new networks or access to office facilities. Artists can be left feeling lonely and disconnected from basic day-to-day requirements such as Internet access. Non art world organisations inviting artists to interact with them can easily have an unrealistic expectation of the impact that an artist can have, and again a lack of understanding of the ways in which artists work can mean that the lack of necessary support reduces the ways in which the artist can effectively navigate the organisation and make their presence felt.

Undertaking residencies can be an extremely useful way for an artist to create time to focus on their practice, find inspiration for new work and connect with international networks. However, it is essential that the context of the residency is fully understood before embarking on what can be a major commitment – the environment, support offered, requirements and likely outcomes all need to be carefully considered. A residency should not be undertaken unless the artist is confident that the context being offered is one that will be of benefit to their practice both conceptually and practically, and ultimately be one that they enjoy and find rewarding.

By Sarah Glennie
Sarah Glennie has been working as a curator both in Ireland and internationally for over 10 years. She moved to Ireland in 1995 to work at the Irish Museum of Modern Art where she curated a number of projects including solo exhibitions by Olafur Eliasson and Shirin Neshat and the major public art project GHOST SHIP by Dorothy Cross. In 2001, she moved to The Henry Moore Foundation Contemporary Projects where her curated projects included Paul McCarthy at Tate Modern, and Stopover: Graham Gussin, Hilary Lloyd and Richard Woods at the Venice Biennale 2003. In 2004, she co-curated Romantic Detachment, a Grizedale Arts project at P.S.1/MoMA and in 2005 curated a major new commission by Tacita Dean for Cork Capital of Culture 2005. She was the Commissioner of Ireland’s participation at the 51st Venice Biennale 2005 for which she curated an exhibition of the largest number of artists to represent Ireland at Venice to date: Stephen Brandes, Mark Garry, Ronan McCrea, Isabel Nolan, Sarah Pierce and Walker and Walker. She is currently Artistic Director of the Model Arts and Niland Gallery, Sligo.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this. You can review our Privacy Policy under the menu above: About VAI > VAI Privacy Statement