Relocation is the superpower of the residency. Simply put, by inserting artists into a different environment, a residency lifts them out of their ordinary routines and obligations, conferring new perspectives as a result, and potentially fostering new creative works.
It’s the common theme, yet residencies vary enormously from each other. They can last anything from weeks to years, in settings from the Pacific coast of Mexico (Casa Wabi) to the academic hotbed of Cambridge, Massachusetts (Broad Institute). They can be founded by philanthropists, artists, foundations, commercial galleries, corporations and governments (the French Ministry of Culture funds the French Academy in Rome, for example). Some install artists by invitation, others have open application processes. Some are fully funded, others only partially so.
Many have specific themes or objectives: the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio residency in Italy, for example, explores issues of gender equality, while the Solid-ID art residency hosted in multiple locations in Indonesia focuses on peacebuilding. Meanwhile London’s Delfina Foundation’s theme for autumn 2022 is the politics of food.
From the artist’s point of view, research is key to finding the right fit in terms of application criteria, duration, location, funding, goals, expectations and ethos.
Useful research resources include resartis.org, which vets and aggregates information about 550 partners in 75 countries, and theartling.com which has helpful lists of European, US and Asian residencies. For identifying younger, grassroots opportunities, word of mouth and social media are as important as ever.
A concise and well-presented application that sticks to the criteria is a must. The sheer volume of applications each year makes it impossible to sift through badly organised or piecemeal information. The fully-funded artist residency at Gasworks in London, which hosts up to 16 international artists a year for three months each, receives up to 250 applications for a single slot, so artists must tailor their applications. Copy and paste will not cut it.
Selection is based on a balance of fixed requirements (artistic discipline, nationality or project meeting a theme) and variables (quality of past work, references and availability).
Mexico City-based Dutch-Monegasque artist Adeline de Monseignat has attended eight residencies over the past decade. She says residencies take an artist “outside their comfort zone”. Arriving at a new residency, Monseignat warns, can be overwhelming: the weight of expectation, how to begin making, the feeling you are being observed.
Zambian artist Banji Chona, who attended Villa Lena Foundation’s residency in Italy in 2021, described the importance of a slower pace (“disconnection from daily humdrum”) and the connections formed with other residents (“learning about my project through the eyes of other people”). A growing number of residencies are bringing in museum curators, journalists, gallerists, local communities and collectors, seeing their role not only as places of inspiration but also learning, social enterprise and professional development.
There are cautionary tales, however, and both artists and residencies have a responsibility to clearly communicate their needs and expectations to keep everything on track. Particularly in isolated locations, artists can feel stranded and frustrated by sudden loss of independence, or simply that their needs are not being well met.
Several artists interviewed for this article also voiced frustration that parents (particularly mothers) are limited in their residency options because frequently children are not accommodated or no help is offered with childcare. There is a handful of exceptions, though. Nes Artist Residency, for example, one of the largest in Iceland, can accommodate companions and children.
A residency is often born of the desire to breathe new life into a property. Take 91.530 Le Marais, an invitation-only French residency founded by the contemporary art world veteran Victoire de Pourtalès and her husband Benjamin Eymère, the chief executive of the media group behind fashion magazine L’Officiel, in the grounds of their Château du Marais, 45km outside Paris. The idea was to have a creative “laboratory”, where art, science and agriculture meet. Last year, the musician and artist Agoria, sound designer Nicolas Becker and biophysicist Nicolas Desprat explored the Le Marais ecosystem with Phytocene, a sonar translation of the bacteriological activity of the hemp field at the site.
Some artists launch their own residencies, in an effort to give back. In Nigeria, the artist Yinka Shonibare will this year launch residencies in Lagos and on a farm near the rural town of Ijebu, under the umbrella of GAS (Guest Artists Space Foundation). The two inaugural call-outs are, first, in partnership with the University of the Arts London and Art for the Environment (AER) and, second, a residential fellowship award for Nigerian and West African creatives.
GAS director and curator Temitayo Ogunbiyi says the goal is “to create a platform for knowledge exchange and critical discourse that could connect the fast-growing art and agriculture sectors in Lagos and Ijebu and across the continent with international collaborators.” Applications for 2022 are now closed, but some places will be fully funded, by a combination of private and non-profit organisations and GAS, overseen by the Yinka Shonibare Foundation. Residents will be asked to engage with the local communities, through public lectures, workshops, performances, exhibitions or other creative interventions.
The US painter Kehinde Wiley also founded an African residency, Black Rock, in 2019 in Dakar, Senegal. Wiley himself has a residence and studio on site, and international artists can apply for residencies lasting up to three months. There is no explicit theme, but Wiley has said that Black Rock “stands as the direct answer to my desire to have an uncontested relationship with Africa, the filling in of a large void that I share with many African-Americans.”
In Tuscany, Villa Lena Foundation’s mission is to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. It welcomes up to 40 residents (including musicians, writers, visual artists, dancers and filmmakers) a year for between two weeks and two months. “The art world is self-referential, we wanted to open it up,” says Villa Lena’s founder Lena Evstafieva. Groups of up to 10 at a time are put together carefully and mix with hotel guests. Accommodation and studio space are free, while meals are subsidised. Flights and all materials are the responsibility of the artists.
A prime example of a legacy residency is the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. It was set up in 1989 by celebrated minimalist Donald Judd, and has hosted more than 150 artists from 15 countries since its inauguration.
Another is the Atelier Calder in Saché, France, where sculptor Alexander Calder built a studio and house in the 1960s. After the artist’s death in 1976, his heirs set up the Atelier Calder to offer an invitation-only residency for a single artist, in relative seclusion. It is more solitary than most, but offers a chance to occupy Calder’s almost completely unaltered live/work space. “Artists today are required to do an enormous amount of administrative work to manage their careers,” says Alexander Rower, the Calder Foundation’s president. “Finding the time to think and make work can be quite difficult. Residencies like Atelier Calder provide much needed respite from all of that noise.”
A new wave of hybrid projects is addressing the need for affordable studios, artist support and social commitment. Last month In Paris, the“artist incubator” Poush moved to a new 13,000 sq. m home in a vast industrial complex in Aubervilliers, which will host around 200 artists. Poush is not a residency per se (no accommodation is provided, and the artists pay a modest rent), but it has many of the hallmarks: an influential community of curators, taste-makers, collectors and press, plus administrative, legal, social and tax assistance. It is a one-stop professional and creative support hub.
Poush’s founders, Hervé Digne and Laure Colliex, saw a unique opportunity to partner with major property developers in Paris, beginning first in the former Fiducial building in Clichy, where a two-year term has just ended. It is, Digne says, mutually beneficial: artists badly need studios (there is a dearth of affordable spaces in Paris) and developers are under pressure to do something with empty buildings awaiting planning. Supporting the arts also offers good publicity for the developer and the development.
Thanks for Nothing, a Parisian association founded to help the art world to make positive societal impact, is currently finalising plans to develop a hugely ambitious site in the city. It opens in 2025 and will integrate refugee and commercial residential housing, an artist residency, exhibition space and an NGO incubator all in one.
This May, Tracey Emin will open applications for 40 subsidised studios in her home town of Margate. Emin describes the project as “a non-profit place of learning” and the low-rent studios, open 24 hours a day and available on a three-year contract, will be subsided by sales of her own work. “There will be lectures, tutorials, film nights and seminar groups by notable people in the art world, including myself,” she says. “It will be a platform for [the artists’] work to be seen. There will be a limited number of free studios especially for talented people who are in special circumstances.” Emin will be the constant resident artist—and a mentor. Her motivation? “I really love art, but I don’t necessarily need to hang it on my walls, I just need to know it’s being created.”
Meanwhile Sabel Gavaldon, the curator of London’s Gasworks, says its residency takes on nine UK-based artists (who live off-site and rent Arts Council-subsidised studios on long-term leases) alongside four three-month international resident artists, who are fully funded and live together in shared accommodation. Artists are put under as little pressure as possible, Gavaldon says, and given administrative support. Each of the international residencies costs around £8,500, including travel, 11 weeks’ accommodation, visa processing, living expenses, London transport and art materials.
There are often clear connections between exposure while on a residency and subsequent opportunities for artists. The New Zealand artist Christina Pataialii credits her inclusion in this year’s New Museum Triennial in New York to a meeting with the curators when she was on residency at Gasworks in 2019.
Ibrahim Mahama, from Ghana, was at Gasworks in 2013. His case is even more telling: after his residency, the curator Okwui Enwezor included him in the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale. Since then, he has been included in Documenta 14 and is now represented by White Cube. His blooming career has in turn allowed him to open an artist-run space, the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art, in his hometown of Tamale.
Residencies can foster friendships, learning and networking, but, crucially, they can also be a much needed site of cross-border connection. As Gavaldon puts it: “In a time of closing borders and with nationalism on the rise, international residencies promote important cultural exchange and understanding.”
• Katy Wellesley Wesley was director of the Villa Lena Foundation 2016-17