Get Thee to an Artist Residency! Advice from an “Expert”

I’m an artist residency whore. My friends know this and I am not ashamed. I hope to continue my whoring ways until the day I die, that’s how fond of the residency experience I am.

Residencies come in all shapes and sizes. Some limit whom they accept (Hedgebrook is for women writers, for example) but most welcome all artists, at all stages of their careers, and several are open to academics and scientists as well. Some are more like vacation spots and require that you pay to attend, others politely suggest you make a nominal contribution, many are a free ride and some may  grant you a travel or hardship stipend. Some residencies are designed so that you’re roughing it in the great outdoors and some pamper you to no end. Most are somewhere in between.

At some places you have to cook and shop for yourself, at others you have a master chef making every meal for you and staff serving it to you. And again, some places are somewhere in between. I’m writing this at Playa Summer Lake Artist Residency, where they cook one dinner a week for the residents and offer an often filling snack-meal at 5pm Tuesday through Friday, and the rest of the meals you make yourself. However, Playa maintains an impressively stocked pantry that invites pillaging by hungry artists. It’s full of organic goodies, local produce, some healthy already prepared food, and fresh eggs laid by their own chickens. (I had some of these for lunch the other day and boy were they delicious.) You don’t have to leave the compound to shop for food.

“David,” I can hear you saying, “food, I get it. Give me another good reason to apply to one of these places?”

Jeez, you’re impatient! Okay, here are ten reasons.

You need to focus on your work.
My studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 2009

These places offer distractionless time. It’s not like my life is ordinarily that complicated, but even so, it is full of mundane stuff that causes stress and sucks up time I’d rather use making stuff. At a residency, you just need to think about whatever project you’re working on. Sometimes you have to think about what to make for dinner, but that’s not so bad.

You need to get off the Internet.

Most residencies have limited Internet access, and though this sometimes seems inconvenient while you’re there, it’s a godsend. Honestly, there’s no reason for me to be on the Internet for more than an hour a day. But at home, I squander a lot of time online doing who knows what.

You need to stop watching cable/Hulu/YouTube/Netflix streaming, etc.

Take a break from all that visual and aural stimulation. I find I read more at these places. I will also just sit in a chair and think, something I rarely seem to do in my real life. Curiously, at this residency, I’m not listening to much music.

You need to meet some interesting and exciting people.

If you like having artists as friends, then go, go, go. Oh sure, there will probably be someone there you’d like to punch in the head, and sometimes there are pissing contests, but mostly the people are generous, accepting, and supportive.

My studio at the MacDowell Colony, 2010.
You need to get into nature.

Most residencies are nestled in a spectacular natural setting. Do your thing, have some lunch, go for hike, go back to doing your thing. Sounds like a great day, right? I find I fall into a circadian rhythm at these places, going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier. This morning I watched the sunrise. At one point I was becoming impatient: it was pretty and all, but I was ready for the big guy to come up from behind the mountain. “Come on, already!” I thought. And then I laughed at how absurd that was. I can’t rush the sun, I relearned. I think when we’re in our hyperhectic real lives, we forget how to laugh at our absurdities. Being in nature has a way of putting us in place.

You need some new stimulating reading, viewing, listening material.

Sitting around with your fellow residents, discussions will arise that reference books, films, paintings, music, etc., that are unfamiliar to you. You will come away with a nice list of art to explore.

You need to be in a safe place where you can do something out of your comfort zone.

Before I went to a residency, I never played guitar for anyone. Encouraged by my people, I took part in a music salon night, and there’s been no turning back. Here at Playa, I may write a poem. I’m also growing a beard. (Actually, it’s more like I’m not shaving.)

You need to shake your groove thing.

Big art studios + night time = dance parties. Though this is also largely dependent on the group you’re with, should they occur be prepared to work it on out doing the twist, the funky chicken, the robot and whatever else your body tells you to do.

You need some romance in your life.

I’ve heard this happens sometimes.

You need to add a line on your CV.

Some residencies look better on your resume than others, and I’m not sure how impressive even those look, but it doesn’t hurt when you’re applying for grants or other residencies.

You need to step up your table tennis game.

Ping pong is a staple at artist residencies. I find after a game or ten I’m re-focused and ready to go back to work.

And what if you’re not an artist? Well then make some stuff and apply. What are you waiting for?

Questions? Comments?

Some places to find out about artist residencies:



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4 Replies to “Get Thee to an Artist Residency! Advice from an “Expert””

  1. When a place offers you a residency, it means they believe in you and your work. What you are trying to say/make/play/create is valid to total strangers. And, they are willing to invite you to their wonderful place to do it!

  2. Great article David! Funny and informative at the same time. Have you considered offering it for publication? Maybe something like Poets and Writer’s magazine. It gives an interesting and entertaining perspective of an artist residency.

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