Neal Rantoul on artists-in-residencies.

What is that? A “residency” as an artist? Where are they, how do you find out about them and how do you apply for one?

Artists-in-residencies are all over the world and come in numerous flavors, from out right grants where all expenses are paid and living conditions are first class to much more modest situations that involve teaching or that don’t provide any reimburse-ment for expenses.  But one thing that all have in common is that they are set up to be places where you can make your work in relative peace.

The best place to find out about residencies is currently at Artist Res (http://www.resartis.org), which provides a list of over 400 residencies worldwide.

The site can also be helpful in getting to the application, knowing its deadline and so on.

My personal experience with residencies goes back now over thirty years. They have been invaluable in my career in helping fund projects, giving me a place to live while photographing somewhere, and supporting my efforts as an artist.  Let me list a few examples. My first was in Highlands, North Carolina in the 80’s over an extended spring break in March from where I taught in Boston. It was at the Appalachian Environmental Art Center. The residency was for photographers only. I was its only resident, the place was closed and no one was there the whole time.  Its director was away but had left me a note and the keys to get in. I had a whole house to myself, cooked my own meals, used the extensive darkrooms to develop my film and print my work. I photographed daily, sometimes driving some distance to explore and make pictures. It was a lonely time but very productive.

I have been three times to the Hambidge Art Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia to be a resident. If a residency is awarded, you are given your own studio building for the duration of your stay, are fed several dinners a week prepared by a chef and are left alone to work. There are seven residencies in each group and Hambidge accepts authors, sculptors, painters, filmmakers, composers, potters, as well as photographers in its make up. For the Hambidge residence you pay a modest amount each week to off set the costs somewhat. By the way, once you have been someplace, many residencies regard you as “alumni” and returning is easy and encouraged.

In 2001 on a fall semester sabbatical from teaching I had a one-month residence at Lightwork in Syracuse, NY right after 9/11. Lightwork is all about photography and most residencies there are one or two people working at a time. You are given a fully equipped apartment, a stipend, and have full access to all of Lightwork’s extensive darkroom and digital facilities, including the highly qualified staff, to help you make your work. Lightwork requests a print or two as a donation to their permanent collection at the end of your stay. They also publish your work in their publication “Contact Sheet”. This is clearly one of the premier residencies.

My most recent residency extends my experiences internationally to Iceland. This past July I was awarded a one-month stay at the Baer Art Center in Hofsos, Iceland.

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This one provides all expenses and all meals except your transportation to get there and home again. Beautiful studios, wonderful food and the most amazing location in which to make art I have ever seen. This one is truly wonderful.

Lest you think I write an application and assume to be granted, there are several I have applied to numerous times where I have not been successful. I don’t have a clue why not. Except that artists need to come to terms with rejection, as do all of us. Ever talk to really successful people about this topic? Bet you they will all cite far more failure in life than success. It is how we deal with failure that counts.

What does it take to be awarded a residency? All the ones I have experience with want a CV, some samples of your work and usually three people to recommend you.

While it helps to have a strong track record of previous shows and accomplish-ments, some residencies will make an effort to award younger lesser known artists as a way to bring new ideas and new approaches to the mix of artists accepted.  Very often the residence wants to bring a group of artists together that when interacting, form a dynamic or at least is sympathetic. If this works, sometimes people will collaborate on projects, or, for example, a composer might write something to go along with a visual artist’s piece and so on.

What does the residence want in return for giving you their time and space? Most often, nothing. This is difficult for most outside this system to understand. Some will have an “Open House” at the end of the residency, where the local community is invited in to see what the residents have done. Often the artists will decide among themselves to have “studio viewings”, usually after dinner each evening where residents will meet at a studio to see work in progress or perhaps a slide show of an artist’s work. Some residencies will state that they want a piece made while there for their permanent collection, although this is in no way universal. But this is a system put in place primarily by individual non-profits as a way to support artists and the arts in general. Practically, this how much art and creative output is made.

Before I finish, there are a few more points that need be made. One is that the interaction between residents is often as important as the work made while there.

This can be tremendously rewarding, to be looking at work while it’s being made, discussing theory or influences over a meal or a glass of wine, citing examples or showing others’ work and so on. Another is that this is an affirming process, to be awarded a residence means that someone or some group deemed your work worthy and awarded your past accomplishments with the time and space to make new work. This raises the bar on you and the other residents to be active, to make work, to produce new work from new ideas while in residence. People don’t screw off much while on one of these. The time away from the day-to-day pressures and deadlines of family and friends, day jobs and commitments is too precious to squander. A residence is time away from this and therefore it is cherished and valued. So many of us squeeze art into our lives, make it when there is time, or can’t fully commit due to the need to work. But a residency is the affirmation that you are an artist and have been awarded the time, place and freedom to make your work. This can throw people at first, long days and nights with no pressure, no requirement to do anything, no one making you feel guilty for being in your studio or work place. Imagine this dream coming true for a month or so. What would you do?

I encourage you to apply to a residency. But be careful, there is no general rule that these are all going to be good experiences. Try to get to speak to or email someone who’s already been where you are applying. Look carefully at where it is. As photographers this becomes even more important for us as we are often reliant upon our location to make our work.

Note: The Baer Art Center in Iceland is not having residencies in 2014 but will start up again in 2015.

The facts:
Neal Rantoul is a career artist/photographer/teacher with over forty years of experience of teaching photography and exhibiting his work. He is a professor emeritus fromNortheastern University, where he retired in 2012. He now devotes his full time to making pictures and working to increase awareness of his work to a national and international audience. He lives in Cambridge, MA and his site is: www.nealrantoul.com

Photo: © Neal Rantoul. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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