Artist-in-residence programs are vital for artists who want to reach their full potential. Let’s face it, being an artist is a blessing and a curse. You’re gifted with talent, which you have a passionate drive to express, but having to deal with the basic necessities of life can be a daily struggle. That struggle can force you to compromise on your artistic work to such an extent that you question whether you are, or can be, an artist at all. Because the life of an artist can be so challenging, individual art patrons, arts organisations, galleries and museums–amongst other institutions–have established artist-in-residence programs to support and nurture artists. 

Why are artist-in-residence programs important?

Here are just a few of the reasons artist-in-residence programs are so vitally important:

1. Relieving financial pressure

Earning enough money to pay for rent, groceries, utilities can be exhausting. Many artists labor in low-paying survival jobs that theoretically allow time to pursue their art, but impose financial pressures which impede their artistic process. As an artist-in-residence, your room and board are free, and some programs also offer stipends to meet the financial obligations you can’t leave behind. So, for a few weeks to maybe six months, you won’t have to worry about meeting your bills, and can direct that mental and emotional energy into your art.

2. Allowing time

The most precious resource artists lack is the time they can devote exclusively to creating art. If you are working forty hours or more per week just to survive, your art becomes your second job. Add in chores, errands and sundry obligations, and suddenly you need a shoehorn to fit in a handful of hours during the week. Each time you return to your art, you have to “pick up the thread” of where you left off, only to have your momentum interrupted when time expires. Artist-in-residence programs clear your schedule so you can immerse yourself in your art. You’re no longer in a tight race against the clock. You can relax into your process and go deeper than you have before.

3. Eliminating distractions

No matter what medium we’re talking about, art requires focus. When you’re constantly bombarded with phone calls, visitors, noisy neighbours, and the incessant stream of media blather, how can you concentrate? It often takes a titanic exercise of the will to screen out the world around us, and that effort can be exhausting. A residency takes you far from the madding crowd and allows you to unplug. For the length of your residence, it’s only you and the art.

4. Expanding your horizon

Anyone can fall into a rut. We play out each day in the same place and the same routine until life itself seems stale. Traveling to a place you’ve never been and engaging with people from totally different walks of life can add perspective that feeds your creativity. Artists need to constantly challenge themselves in ways that are uplifting and reaffirming. New places, new friends and new experiences are potentially life-changing. 

Woman weaving with colourful threads

5. Emotional support

An artist’s life can be lonely. Many of us have close friends and family who do not understand the artistic process or the challenges of the artistic life. So, it’s easy to feel isolated even among loved ones. Even those of us who work in collaborative arts have long periods of “down time,” when we’re working on our own craft in isolation. Many artist residencies provide a supportive community atmosphere where artists can be around other artists or patrons who appreciate their struggles and contributions. 

6. Spiritual renewal

Many artists live a bohemian lifestyle in low-rent inner city neighbourhoods, where living conditions are harsh. Though it’s entirely admirable and edifying to sacrifice for one’s art, the sacrifice can be draining. And unfortunately, when our spirit empties, we dry up creatively. Artist residencies can be the perfect antidote for your deflated spirit. Many residencies are set in beautiful, bucolic settings where you can commune with nature. Daily walks in the woods or along that beach, gazing at wondrous vistas, restore the human spirit almost magically. 

7. Career guidance

If you are like most artists, you know more about your craft than you do about how to make a living at it. Successful residencies receive funding from the same networks of charitable resources that provide career opportunities for individual artists. Residencies that are known for selecting and nurturing promising talent make great resume points. When you are accepted into a reputable program, you can expect to receive helpful guidance on the appropriate next steps for your career.

8. Mentorship

Some artistic residencies pair their associate artists with mentors. This is a unique opportunity to work individually with an established artist in your field. Mentors not only help artists develop their craft, but offer guidance on career issues. Mentoring relationships often last beyond the brief tenure of the residency. A mentor who takes a keen interest in your talent and character can be a resource well into the future. 

9. Connecting with an audience

Artist-in-residence programs often provide opportunities to present your work to an audience for constructive feedback. The chance to take risks and learn in a supportive environment is invaluable and rarely available in the professional world.

Photo of person painting

How to find artist-in-residence programs

It is a well-known fact that artists usually struggle to find spaces where they can create and where their art can be appreciated. The lucky ones find patrons who purchase their art and commission their services. Many pursue positions in academia, where they can teach while pursuing their own artistic development. Many more labour in obscurity or give up. That shouldn’t happen to you.

Artist-in-residence programs provide the support emerging artists need to reach their full potential. For all the reasons cited above, artists should consider applying to an appropriate residency. There are plenty of online databases–such as Transartists or Rivet–that provide information on artist-in-residence opportunities worldwide.

For those artists looking for something more flexible, an interesting option would be to use Artshare. We are an online platform connecting artists needing time and space with hosts who support arts and culture. There are two main categories to choose from: work-exchange and self-funded. Click on this link to learn more about how Artshare works.

Support arts and culture

Finally, it’s worth noting that art patronage is terribly important. While we’d all like to have a Rembrandt or Picasso hanging in our parlour, we have a duty to support living artists who reflect our time and prepare the next generation of artists.

Today, throughout the world, artists of all stripes are struggling to bring beauty and truth into this world. Artist-in-residence programs therefore perform an invaluable service, not the least of which is to give patrons the opportunity to support the arts in a very personal way. 

If you would like to learn more about artist-in-residence programs read our article “A Guide to Artist Residencies“.


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