I work full time as the Residency Coordinator at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida. Seven times a year I watch a group of wide-eyed artists arrive with brainfuls of possibilities, work intensely for five weeks, and emerge at the end marveling at all they’ve achieved and reflecting upon a life-changing experience. It’s fulfilling, inspiring, and the very thing that makes my job more than a desk job. But, as an artist, it’s a tad bittersweet. Working a full-time, nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday desk job has left me with less creative energy than I imagined it would. Despite the fact that I worked far longer hours in grad school – between studio time, teaching, assistantship duties, art sales, my Etsy shop, and waitressing – I felt far more creative and was far more productive. It had flow. It was flexible. Something about my regimented week curbs that flow, and I’ve talked to enough fellow creative nine-to-fivers to know I’m not alone.
This led me to think: Why not do my own residency, for myself? This fall I attended the Alliance of Artists Communities annual conference in Providence and learned that artist communities come in an incredibly diverse range of forms, but there is one common thread: The offering of time and space. It’s that simple. So rather than gazing enviously at residencies I can’t attend for various reasons – work schedule, cost, qualifications, etc. – I realized it would be quite easy to create my own. I also realized that now, thanks to my job, I’m pretty well-versed in what it takes to create a residency and that I can help others to build their own “DIY Artist Residency.” And so, this holiday break, I’m signing up for the Jess Todd Residency – live/work space included, no travel costs to cover, low-cost meals available, no fees – a no-pressure residency with all the comforts of home.
So, how do you transform “home” into “residency”? I looked to my job and thought about all of the components that come together to create the magical residency experience:
Find the Time: This can be challenging for some, but is actually easier than you think. If you were offered the residency opportunity of a lifetime, would you be able to make the time for it? Of course! You would find a way and make it happen. The advantage of your DIY Residency is that it’s extremely flexible. I’m doing mine during a holiday break I already have from work – 11 days – but it can be any length of time, from a long weekend to a month or more depending on your schedule.
Prepare for Departure: If you were leaving home for the length of your DIY Residency, what would you need to get done? Get the everyday stuff out of the way - clean, do the laundry, pay bills – in short, clear your to-do list. Get a partner, friend or sitter to watch the kids or pets, and tell friends and family you’re on a stay-cation… that doesn’t include them. Again, imagine you finally got the residency opportunity of your dreams – it’s a time you’re allowed to be selfish!
Plan Meals: Many residencies offer meals because grocery shopping and cooking are time consuming. Cook up a freezable-meal storm and portion out dinners for the length of your residency. Get quick, easy meals for breakfast and lunch – sandwiches, canned soups, take-out – whatever you’re into. Unless you’re a rare gem who’s inspired by cooking, it’s just a distraction.
Power Off: Get the Netflix and Facebook out of your system beforehand. Put an away message on your email or online shop. Limit your work-related and social/entertainment-based use of technology as much as possible.
THE WORK & STUDIO
Plan Ahead, or Don’t: Some artists like to go into a residency with a clear idea of a body of work they’ve been wanting to get to for years, and others come completely open to experimentation and whim. It’s up to you and how you operate best, but it’s a good idea to allow for a little of both structure and freedom.
Studio Space: If you have a studio space that typically serves as your place of work (i.e., you create work to sell, for example), clear everything work-related out. The same goes if your studio doubles as a home office, laundry room, or junk storage unit – find a temporary home for distractions. If you don’t have a dedicated studio, set up a workspace – no matter the size – that is void of your everyday life. Add things that help it feel new, separate, and peaceful, such as artwork, room dividers, hanging sheets, lighting, music, etc.
Materials & Equipment: Even if you don’t have an exact plan, think about what you may be interested in working on. Find, collect, buy, borrow, or rent the materials and equipment you need and have them ready and waiting for you on the first day of your DIY Residency.
Funding: Your DIY Residency’s “stipend” can come from a variety of sources: application-based grants, sponsorship from a gallery, crowdsourcing, sales of all varieties (yard, bake, art, etc.), cashing in spare change, or your bank account, for example. But just because you don’t have a big wad of cash doesn’t mean you can’t conduct meaningful research and experimentation, or even create complete works, with free or low-cost materials.
Studio Assistance: Unless you have a studio assistant already or a reliable and talented friend open to bribery, this could be tricky. You don’t want to waste time training someone, so consider avenues for outsourcing – laser or plasma cutting, 2D or 3D printing, CNC routing, fabrication services, or handwork by local tradespeople.
Local Research: Many artists find inspiration in the physical location of a residency. Is your work influenced by place? Plan trips to local museums, libraries, or educational/cultural centers to conduct research. Depending on your practice, this may be integral to your work time or may occur ahead of time. Take time to notice your neighborhood and surroundings with fresh eyes – walk, talk, sketch, collect, and think as if you are there for the first time.
Other Research: Gather reading materials online, at a local library, or via interlibrary loan so that you have everything on hand to start research. Plan trips for site-specific research prior to the residency.
Community Outreach: Many artists find community outreach to be an important aspect of their time at a residency. Will your work go further with community connections? If so, plan any meetings or outreach programs ahead of time with local schools, organizations, artists, etc.
Fellow Resident Artists: Interaction and collaboration with fellow resident artists is a big part of artist communities. Unless you have a guest bedroom and a big studio you’re willing to share, you’ll need to get creative with this one. Challenge an artist friend or colleague to do his/her own DIY Residency concurrently. Set up meeting times throughout – in person or via Skype – to discuss your research and progress.
This concept of “time away” is something I hear about over and over and over at my job – how invaluable that simple thing is to one’s work. Rather than waiting around for the opportunity to do a residency – whether the restriction is time, money, family obligations, or the competitive nature/availability of artist communities – create your own opportunity. Award yourself the residency you’ve always wanted.
This article was originally featured on my Crafthaus blog “The MFA Guidebook for Studio Artists”