Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Artist Hosts and Artist Residencies—Some Thoughts

Painting on the beach on Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Wouldn't this make a fine place for a residency?

First, the proposal—just so you don't miss it, in case you don't read all the way through this post.

Would anyone reading this like to become an artist host, and host me as your artist-in-residence? 

  • What you get:  a beautifully framed painting, featuring the scenery of your location
  • What I get:  a location rich in scenery and a private place to stay (cottage or cabin would be ideal, or even a spot for a camper)

If this sounds appealing to you, let's talk!  Send a note to me at mchesleyjohnson@gmail.com.

Why am I asking this question? Read on!

I've reached a point where I can spend less time making money and more time making art.  Sure, I can work out of my own studio—I certainly have no lack of beauty to paint, and I have many projects in mind—but a different location, with space away from quotidian distractions, and possibly the companionship of other artists, would inject energy into my work.  So, recently I decided to start looking into residency programs.

By the way, I did one residency several years ago.  This was at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont.  Each year, they put aside a week exclusively for Vermont artists.  (I was living there at the time.)  I applied and got a fellowship.  The residency came at a critical time for me, as I was just getting back into painting after a long hiatus and was still working my day job.  I got my very own studio space, a large, well-lit room in a renovated church, and my very own suite in one of the many houses VSC owns in that town.  Although I was doing mostly plein air painting, I spent time in the studio, too.  This, plus shared meals in the dining hall and a studio tour at the end of the week, exposed me to many other artists.  I think I was the only outdoor painter, but we had, among others, installation artists, sculptors and potters, and painters of the non-objective.

I felt I was a seedling planted in fertile ground.  I took off in that environment, finding it very rich and rewarding.  I still keep up with some of the friends I made.  It is this experience that has prompted me to think about another residency.

Residencies come in two types.  First, the ones where several or many artists are in residence, creating a community, much like VSC.  The other is the solitary residency, where you are left alone to wrestle with your angel (or, for some, to grapple with your demon.)

As much I benefited from my time at VSC, my thought right now is to look into the solitary residencies.  Rather than an energetic milieu, I'm looking for a quiet space and time to concentrate on a project.

At the top of my list are the programs sponsored by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.  These, without a doubt, offer some spectacular scenery—as well as a free place to stay.  In most cases, the fee is minimal or non-existent, and the application is judged by local staff, who although they might not know anything about art, at least have a pretty good idea of whether the applicant might support the mission of the park.  Accommodations are rustic, good for one artist, and you provide your own food and transportation.  Maybe I'm just a hermit at heart and like my life simple, but it seems to me that an artist could really dig down into a project.

Usually, in exchange, the artist either provides a painting or two or conducts a short program for the public.  Sounds ideal, right?  Unfortunately, many of these programs have been suspended because of lack of funding or staff.

Recently, a third-party has stepped in to help the parks.  The non-profit National Parks Arts Foundation handles some of the programs that might otherwise be canceled if it weren't for it.  Terms vary by the program—there are some that cost nothing to apply to—but I saw one that charged $110.  Plus, most of the programs seem to now offer stipends (in some cases, $2000, and no doubt funded by your application fee) and allow entire families or "troupes" of artists.  And $110 is a lot for me to pay for an application fee, especially if there's a good chance I'm not going to land a spot.

This is a bit more than I want.  I prefer the old-style programs:  one artist and a rustic cabin with a view.  A stipend is nice, but not necessary.  And I'm happy to swap a painting or an afternoon's lecture for all of that.

Going down my list, next are programs run by private foundations.  VSC is one such foundation.  But these are extremely competitive.  I was lucky, because Vermont is a small state, and the pool of possible applicants isn't so great for a single week set aside for Vermont artists.  You can see the competition in the lists of alumni, which are often provided on the foundation's web site.  One's confidence shrinks while reading the resumĂ©s:  MFAs, graduates of prestigious schools, Fulbright scholars, top awards from national shows, in the collection of prominent museums, etc.  Applying almost feels like buying a lottery ticket.

The third and final option is to find an artist host.  In many ways, this is most appealing, as it would be the simplest and most gratifying.  Especially if one of my faithful readers were to be my host!

1 comment:

artistinthewild said...

Too bad there are not many patrons of the arts anymore. Anyone want to exchange art for patronage and you get a gold star for doing something nice for the arts!