How To Land Your Artist’s Residency
Eleven Surprising Tips For Heart💚Centered Artists
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
This post was supposed to be normal.
I wanted to write you a normal article on how to land your dream artist’s residency.
But as usual in my life, something weird and eye-opening occurred instead.
It happened like this. I started by sending out questionnaires to artists I knew who’d landed life-changing art residencies in the past.
Not weird so far, right?
But as soon as I got the questionnaires back, the weird began.
Answers to question number six made my jaw fall open.
Question number six read:
“What gave you the courage to fill out the application for your artist’s residency in the first place?”
All of the artists I asked responded with strange things like:
“I wish I could advise other artists, but I never use applications to get residencies!”
Or, “You know, Thea, I usually apply for residencies and don’t get them. Now I get one by not applying because I tried this crazy, wonderful, other way …”
It turned out that none of the artists I’d asked ever applied.
None, none, none.
And the artists also didn’t do a bunch of other things that art biz gurus insist we do to land things like residencies.
So what the heck did all these artists do to win their residencies?
And how can you do the same?
This article tells all.
First, I’ll share three short, wild stories about artists I interviewed, and then I’ll bust out eleven tips for you to consider if you want to land or create your own dream artist’s (or writer’s) residency.
Now, are you ready to shred those applications and use them to make a killer papier-mache pinata?
Excellent, follow me.
3 Artists, 3 Dream Residencies, Zero Applications
How Olena Ellis landed her artist’s residency at the Beatrice Wood Center For the Arts; without coming near an application
Ceramic artist and Charmed Studio subscriber Olena Ellis landed her dream residency at The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts without an application.
What’s more, she used none of the following art biz guru-recommended stuff either:
- Olena didn’t have a mega social media presence.
- Nor did she have a vast mailing list.
- She also didn’t have a “brand strategy” or a “platform.”
- Olena didn’t have some snazzy $17,000 designer website.
- As a matter of fact, at the time, Olena didn’t even have a website!
And she still got the gig.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, art-biz gurus!
So what the heck did Olena do to land a residency that transformed her life and art practice?
Here are five things I can think of right off the bat:
Five Unconventional Steps to Landing an Artist’s Residency
- First, Olena worked diligently leading up to the residency to begin a living, breathing body of work.
- Second, Olena decided she wanted a residency somewhere she could shine by being her absolute, honest, authentic self. (Doesn’t that sound like something we all might want?)
- Third, Ellis recognized The Beatrice Wood Center as a magical, vibrant place she was in alignment with, ethically and creatively.
- Fourth, Olena then did her homework and researched what the art center might want in an artist in residence.
- And fifth, Ellis did the most critical bit. She summoned the gorgeous guts to pick up the phone and talk to the director.
Picking up the Phone is Priceless
Why did Olena call instead of emailing?
“The Beatrice Wood Center for The Arts mentioned internships on their website but had nothing there about artists in residency programs,” said Olena.
So, Olena (who lives in Alaska) just went for it. She called to ask if they would consider her for a residency. No one answered. She left a message.
The director. Kevin Wallace called her back.
Olena then told me, “Kevin and I talked a bit. Finally, he felt comfortable enough with me to set up a more extensive phone interview the next week. After that call, Kevin asked me to email him images of my work. Before long, he wrote me to tell me I got the residency!”
Olena was over the moon, and before she knew it, she was also over the Pacific Ocean in a plane flying from Alaska to California to change her life.
Moral of the story here? If you’ve done your homework, consider being brave and calling.
What do I mean by homework? When Olena picked up the phone that day, she already knew a lot about the Beatrice Wood Center. And she knew even more about Wood’s life and work.
You see, Beatrice was an art hero of Olena’s from way back.
This brings me to a big question I have for you.
The Big Kahuna Question To Ask Yourself if You Want to Land Your Dream Artist’s Residency
Who is your biggest art hero?
Whose shows do you never miss?
Have you devoured biographies of a particular artist or writer from the past?
Now, if you want to dramatically increase your odds of landing your dream residency, ask yourself:
Does your artist or writer hero have a home museum or library?
Where is it?
Do you already know someone who worked at that center, that historic site, or that park, who can give you the lay of the land?
Now on to a fun question…
Can You Imagine Yourself Creating Art at Your Dream Residency?
Imagine you at your residency (cue harp music).
What will it look like and feel like to be there?
Olena told me,” My first three days at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts were spent alone in Beato’s studio. “I say I spent three days “alone” there, but anyone who’s been in that studio can tell you, you’re never alone there. Because Beatrice Wood’s presence is all around you.”
Olena sat at Beatrice Wood’s desk; she fired her work in Wood’s kiln. And she placed a vase of sunflowers on the little altar permanently present in the studio for Beatrice. (See the above photo.)
I asked Olena why she thought Kevin Wallace chose her even though she didn’t have all the bells and whistles art biz gurus tell us we must be chosen.
Olena replied, “Only Kevin knows for sure, but I think he recognized that my intentions were genuine, that I wanted to land the residency to transform my art, not my resume. Do you know he even helped me set up my website during the residency? I think he understood I cared deeply about Beatrice Wood. Kevin knew I wanted to add to Wood’s legacy if I could, not take advantage of it.”
Olena was mentored by Kevin and other great Center staff members, and she in turn mentored others.
Residencies involve both mentorships and collaboration.
Why Apply if You Can Collaborate?
Feather artist and Charmed Studio subscriber Chris Maynard opened my mind further to the notion of application-free collaborative art residencies.
An admirer of his work invited Chris to do a five-week residency in the fertile mountains of Costa Rica on a biological reserve where bird-loving tourists were guided on beautiful hikes.
“I’ve never applied for any of my art residencies,” said Maynard. “I’ve brainstormed, collaborated, and arranged them all through existing contacts I had with artists, museum staff, naturalists, and collectors I’ve met along the way.”
In the Costa Rican residency, Maynard spent half his time getting to know the forest and half his time working with local school art programs and a local woman’s art collective.
“Interestingly, said Chris, we collaborated and decided I wouldn’t be working with the women’s art collective on how to make the art but on the business of art.”
Chris is great at business. It was a win-win.
Five weeks in Costa Rica. Sigh. Dreamy, exotic, right?
However, I learned from my interviews that as far as art residencies are concerned, small and local can be just as meaningful as big and far away.
How About a Lovely LOCAL Art Residency
Your first dream residency doesn’t have to occur in another country or even another state.
You may find a magical opportunity in your backyard.
That’s what happened to Virginia painter and Charmed Studio subscriber Barbara Powderly.
Powderly had applied for a competitive art residency at Shenandoah National Park. She, like a thousand other artists, didn’t land the coveted position and was a bit disheartened.
However, later in the year, Powderly had the bright idea to try for a residency closer to home.
Through her local networking group, she easily got the director’s email address of the Lake Anna State Park. It’s a lovely park. Powderly had been Plein air painting for years in her home county.
Barbara told the director she was looking for an artist’s residency in a park. He emailed his park’s communication director right away. They loved her work.
And together, they all created Barbara’s first artist’s residency!
You don’t need to apply.
Barbara told me, “I’ve always been a person who waited for permission and stood in line. And it never occurred to me that I could start something on my own. It’s so freeing. I encourage other artists to get creative and not apply either!”
Okay, we’ve covered a lot of ground here.
Let’s bring it all home and conclude with a summary of eleven dos and don’ts for landing your dream residency.
Eleven Dos and Don’ts To Land Your Dream Artist’s Residency
- Do some personal reflection. Journal on a few places you’d want a residency. Don’t forget to write about what you might bring to the table in return.
- Don’t worry about selecting a place that will serve your art career. Pick a place that will serve your art practice instead.
- Do research places dedicated to your art heroes.
- But only pick a place dedicated to your art hero if that place insists you leap through bureaucratic rings of fire and send in giant, snore-inducing resumes.
- If you hit a snag, please Don’t give up. Instead, pick the next hero on your list and research them.
- Don’t forget to consider tiny museums, art centers, or libraries you love. Small is beautiful too.
- If possible, Do physically visit the place and say nothing. Observe if these are the people YOU want to help and be helped by.
- Be like Olena, and DO pick up the phone when you are ready. Be your beautiful, curious, authentic self. If no one answers, leave a message.
- Yes, that’s terrifying! Yes, you may get rejected. Do it anyway. Because as a mentor of mine, Steve Chandler says, “Yes, lives in the land of No.”
- You have seen three examples today of artists who employed creativity and courage to create notable residencies. So do use your giant imagination, and you’ll be next.
- Exotic and far off is excellent, but as Nigerian poet Ben Okri wrote: Don’t neglect the gold in your own backyard.”
Final Bonus Tip: Make Your Own Artist’s Residency!
And here is a bonus tip for the road. I think it could be the most important.
You don’t have to wait to be chosen, you can choose yourself.
If you feel like a sheep milling about in a pasture full of countless other artist-sheep waiting to be singled out by some museum or writer’s workshop, why not do this?
Make your own damn artist’s residency!
No outside institution required.
Even Arty.com says: “Remember, you can always start your own thing. Collectives can pool resources to support informal residencies and there’s a wide world of opportunities beyond what you can officially apply for!”
Fly solo. Or get together a bunch of like-minded folks to rent super-inexpensive cabins or rooms someplace beautiful for 2 days or 2 weeks, whatever you can afford.
Have You Looked into a YWCA-Subsidized Week Away?
When I lived in the Midwest and didn’t have a lot of dough I took advantage of the YWCA’s affordable, rustic, weeks away in the Fall to make my own retreats. You still can go on retreat in a number of YWCA summer camps that sit on Great Lakes or in the Rockies or in the Planes, for so little money.
Just google “low cost retreats, YWCA retreats or YMCA retreats” in your area.
And let nature help you have the brightest brainstorms ever.
Many spiritually focused centers like The Self-Realization Fellowship in LA and elsewhere have affordable week-long reflection retreats you could quietly book into.
Great for writing, art-journaling, resting and contemplating.
(Check out my post on Why Go Away? 6 Ways To Use Travel to Transform Your Art Practice.)
Final thought; as far as art residencies are concerned remember the classic line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
“Badges? We ain’t got no badges!
We don’t need no badges!
I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”
Now it’s your turn.
Have you ever done an artist’s residency?
Would you like to? Where would it be?
Let me know in the comments below.
You also might like these other Charmed Studio Posts:
Why Your Art Matters, Even if You Believe It Doesn’t
Turn Your Art Website Into an Attraction Magnet (Without Social Media).
Melissa Zink and Her Magic Suitcase: A Little Story of How Creatives Can Access Their Own Brilliance
Write (or Refresh)Your Artist Statement in 30 Minutes
How To Write More Often: 1 Realization That Can Change Everything
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Thank you Denise Mcanles and Denise Cerro for your comments, there was a bit of a malfunction in comment land but it should be up and running again.
Denise McCanles says
This subject is something I’m very unfamiliar with but I love to learn new things. Always great resource for artists or any creative pursuit. This is an overused quote but I love it anyway,“Think outside the box.”
Barbara Powderly says
Thanks again for including my experience in this article, Thea! I want to emphasize that in addition to sharing our art, we have to share ourselves (the dreaded networking). I have focused my networking on building relationships, learning new things, and sharing ideas. I just met a woman who sort of created her own residency. She photographs night skies and speaks about how light pollution is harming not only the environment, but human health. How did she get people to care, you may ask. She did so by getting them to allow her to photograph their homes with the night sky behind them. Talk about buy-in! It’s turned into a local cause with the power company reinstalling environmentally friendly lights and residents improving their lighting systems. I’m inspired! I’m now hoping to extend my residency through next year so that I can do some work that aligns with some of the park’s environmental causes. I want to find a way to have my art make a difference (beyond just donating it). I hope I can find the right balance between painting what I love and using it to raise awareness for the park’s mission.
This is an inspiring comment Barbara. It is such a thought provoking idea to think about how can an artist make a difference-not just for the art center or museum or park that we have our residency at—but to the planet itself. Whoa. Big picture. Important. Heart-opening and imagination expanding.
Thanks for that contribution.
Do you have the name and the website link of the photographer you mention?
Can you leave it in a comment?
I’d like to see her work and have other artists or gallerists who may be interested be able to see it as well.
Thanks so much,
Barbara Powderly says
Glad you asked! I meant to include it. The photographer’s name is Joyce Harman. https://www.harmanyinnature.com/
Thanks Barbara, I especially love her eclipse images. I’ve had several lame attempt at photographing the moon and what a difference when someone like Harman is behind the lens.
Sylvia Larkin says
Another inspiring article, Thea! I love the idea of creating your own artist residency!
Hi Sylvia! Thanks for taking the time to visit and to leave your lovely words. I have been thinking this week that instead of waiting to be chosen we can all choose to have our entire life be one big artist’s residency. 🙂 Hope you are well.
Sharon Leah says
I have a love-hate relationship to residencies. I’d love to do one. I hate the process of applying and waiting “hopefully” for an opportunity. I’ve come to believe there is a code that has to be broken before a residency can be secured. I base this on observation of other artists I know who have managed to get more than one residency.
I’ve applied to several and I’d still like to do one, but I question whether the effort is worth it anymore. Still, I may give it another go this winter and see what happens.
Nice to hear from you and thanks for the comment. I am curious about this sentence where you said:
“I’ve come to believe there is a code that has to be broken before a residency can be secured. ”
Can you expand on this a bit for me? Tell me more. What form does the code take? And how have your friends broken it?
I think it’s like grant writing. The questions need to be answered in a more specific way to get past the gate keepers. An artist I know has scored 3 residencies. He is flying to Denmark soon for the current one. Each residency is a bigger “catch”, (more impressive). I asked him to help me fill out a form to one of the first residencies he got. No response from him. He’s cracked the code and won’t share what he knows. Obviously, his successes contribute to the more impressive ones that have followed.
Filling out the forms is like shooting a shotgun—scatter spray and hoping something hits the target.
I do think that doing the homework which would make it easier to be aligned with the sponsor is key, as well.
Hi again Sharon, Yes the homework is key. As in many endeavors, seeing things through the eyes of the residency provider is pivotal to success.
As far as residencies are concerned it’s all up to you of course. If you don’t want to try the application-free way to land a residency that I detail in this post I have a suggestion that might help.
Many, not all, artists that consistently land large grants and “prominent” artist residencies have something in common: they hire ghostwriters. More specifically they hire arts application specialists. The writing is technical and difficult (it involves being fluent in art-speak among other gifts) and such writers get paid handsomely for their efforts. And rightly so in my opinion, it’s not an enviable task.
I don’t know of anyone to refer you to on that front at the moment if you wanted to get that kind of backup.
However, If you ever want a great coach on grant writing I recommend my former editor at Professional Artist Magazine, Gigi Rosenberg. She’s amazing, and literally wrote the book on the topic.
Hope that helps.
Best of luck to you! Your art is lovely.
Kristen Dunkelberger says
Hey Thea –
Great post! I used the fly solo technique. I went to France this past summer for 3 months and it was incredible. A bonus for me was that in choosing a great cycling location as well as a beautiful painting location, I was able to do a lot of riding. Experiencing the landscape through movement is a big part of my work. And I was able to arrange a situation where I could stay for a good long while. I love these artists’ inventive solutions- and it seems like they found unique and well suited residencies. Thanks for this!
You are the perfect example of the solo flight!!! I wish I had put you in here too, darn it. You did experience a wonderful artist’s residency in France. And from my eyes I saw how your art absolutely transformed and got even more powerful from your experience over there these past few months studying the edge of the earth in watercolor as you yourself were moving along it. I hope people check out your work on your website.
Question for you: Why do you think being in another land helps our art so much?
Thanks for leaving a comment, and for contributing your insights, I truly appreciate it.
Kristen Dunkelberger says
Well, in my opinion, it’s a lot about the change of everything. The scenery, food, language (or accent). Non-scientifically, I feel like it rewires your brain and introduces new ways of problem solving. I recently listened to the Ezra Klein podcast with writer Annie Murphy Paul, which was a conversation about how we think and the evolution of the brain. I highly recommend the episode, and it highlights how visual and spatially oriented our brains are – which directly feeds into what we create. Plus, it’s fun, which is great for creativity- as you know and write about often.
Good points, yes. I like that, the brain rewires itself. Travel for artists can promote a bout of neural plasticity! Workarounds, important detours form out of necessity happen for us upstairs..you are so smart Kristen.
You know I personally am not blessed with big aha moments when I am in the other country itself…But I have had some of my best ideas on the plane rides back from them. It is in that weird time without connection to the land, with no tie to reality for a few hours, that i sometimes am blessed with a pop. My mental ears clear and I get something in a way I never have before.
And to answer my comment question first…I would want an artist’s residency at the Joseph Cornell Study Center in Washington, DC.
Oh, one thing I forgot to add. If you create your own residency with a few folks why not have some fun and give the group a great name while you’re at it.
Virginia Woolf’s and Vanessa Bell’s had the Bloomsbury Group, and Tolkien and his friends dubbed themselves The Inklings. What about you?
For a great article on artist Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) check out:https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jan/27/design-and-desires-how-vanessa-bell-put-the-bloom-in-bloomsbury