Summer to autumn is a key period for residency applications, and quite opportunely correlates with what, for many, marks the completion of art school.
Residencies are an attractive prospect for fresh art graduates losing the foothold of an institution. I recall during the final months of my degree that obtaining one was seen as a kind of Holy Grail, particularly for those who made less commercially viable artwork. In addition to regaining a studio and building towards the first exhibition, post-degree show, a residency feels like a validation of your work, where an outside body can see worth and places faith in what you do. It is the first step in beginning your professional practice, not too permanent to be overly daunting, and when experiencing the first few drifting months of the post-graduation sink there is often plenty of time to apply for as many as possible.
A scattergun approach can soon follow – once starting out it is very easy to disregard practical considerations in terms of the needs of your practice and approach whatever opportunity is available. What is worse than wasting time on such residencies is wasting money on them too.
Part of my position as a co-director of a studio group involves compiling monthly opportunity mail-outs for the studio members. As a result I spend a long time sifting through several residency listings and finding genuine opportunities amongst pay-to-practice setups. Such “rental residencies” are actually short-term studio lets with massively hiked fees that offer the resident no real support, and are becoming increasingly common.
I took a small sample of ResArtis, an unmonitored art residency listing site where one must be a member to post opportunities. Out of the first 50 listings under “upcoming deadlines”, 15 did not require the successful applicant to pay fees, and 3 offered a fee reduction. 32 required the applicant to pay for their studio. Prices were around €170-250 per week (one memorable opportunity was €18000 for 3 months, VAT exclusive), some offering extras like accommodation or simply just a studio.
Stepping aside from personal opinions of what a residency could be or should be defined as, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this format if people are willing to pay what’s proposed. Such an approach could be of benefit to both the artist and the studio, allowing for increased fluidity of artists in a group, whilst some artists would not actually benefit from leasing a studio themselves in the long-term. In addition many studio groups are not-for-profit and lack funds, perhaps unable to afford to offer a free space and need to raise funds.
Yet this approach presents two prominent issues. The first being that, just as increased fluidity could be a benefit, it can be to a studio’s detriment. It is a system that greatly limits the scope of artists that can reside in a studio, and shifts emphasis on applicants from suitability and strength of practice to the ability to pay the residency fees. In addition it limits the length of time any artist can stay, not allowing for the artist to contribute to the local art scene in depth or develop their practice within that location for any amount of time. This in turn impacts the type of artists that can apply for such space, where work with a large physical presence, or length of process, are impinged. From my experience this type of residency in fact seems to be less common in non-profit studio spaces, perhaps more inclined to finding alternative funding for such schemes than other profit-based ventures. Many spaces seem to operate only with these paid-for residencies, with no long-term studios available.
Secondly these types of opportunities are often not forthcoming as to their nature. For many of the opportunities in my small survey the payment of studio rent was not mentioned in the initial posting – it often required some digging to find the payment rates within their websites. Some were vague in this too, mentioning fellowships that are in fact external funding bodies to be approached to help with fees.
Whilst applying for a residency that is not as it seems is a waste of time for an artist, it can in some instances also be to the detriment of the locale. If studio space is reserved for those who can pay a premium to be there in the short-term, less space is available for local artists, and there is less long-term career investment in the area. According to Alliance of Artists Communities 60% of residencies are in rural areas and small towns. A small and idyllic town may become a retreat at best, stymieing the opportunity for anything more.
As each residency is a part of a wide spectrum there are not many general guides available, let alone on this particular issue. Here The Guardian has collated some advice, and Artquest provide a guide for working in select countries what to expect. Ultimately embarking on such an “opportunity” is a personal choice – but I would encourage and expect no artist to be out-of-pocket to do his or her work.