Artist Residencies and Travel

The 2013 TransCultural Exchange Conference took place in Boston. Held biennially, the conference focuses on international opportunities for artists in all disciplines. Dan Blask from the ArtSake blog spoke on a panel called “How to Make It All Happen: Travel, Produce Art, and Fund your Dreams,” moderated by Mira Bartok.

One of the primary topics of the “How to Make It All Happen” discussion was artist residencies. Artist residencies offer artists a place to reside and work for a given period of time, allowing for crucial, dedicated focus on art-making. The length of residencies can vary; The MacDowell Colony offers space for up to eight weeks, while the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown offers residency fellowships of seven months. Many cover or provide meals. The idea is to provide artists space and time, apart from other distractions, to devote to artistic projects.

Lots of interesting ideas came up during the “How to Make It All Happen” panel, and here are a few of them, as you consider the notion of travel and residencies as an artist.

Know Thyself
One of the key ideas was raised by Mira Bartok, who moderated the TCE panel. Mira is an award-winning writer, artist, and creator of Mira’s List, which shares funding, award, and residency opportunities for artists. During the panel, she advised that when considering artist residencies and other opportunities, you should first consider who you are and what are your specific needs. Knowing that will help you know what to look for in a residency, and to be on the lookout for opportunities specific to who you are.

For instance, if you can’t take a month off of work or away from your kids, the Millay Colony, in addition to more standard residencies, offers a program that has some of the benefits of the residency experience without the full time commitment. Also, your gender, identity, or ethnicity could play a role: at the Vermont Studio Center, for example, there are residency fellowships specific to African American poets, cancer survivors, and artists over 35 with financial need (to name a few).

Some opportunities, such as a UCross Foundation residency, will be appropriate for artists of all experience levels, whereas others, such as the Lighton International Artists’ Exchange Program founded by sculptor Linda Lighton (who was also on the “How to Make It All Happen” panel) are specific to mid-career or established artists. (By the way, if you’re not sure whether you’re “emerging” or “mid-career,” here’s a helpful blog post discussing the difference.)

Now Find the Right One
Okay, so you know who you are and what you need; now you have to do your homework to find the right residencies to apply for. Mira’s List is a great place to start (though she’s no longer updating the site, it’s still a superbly useful resource). Peruse the categories along the side and click the ones that might apply to your situation (i.e. “Asian Artists” or “Emerging Writers” or “Residencies”). She also has a great FAQs page about residencies.

TransCultural Exchange has a blog, which regularly shares residencies, grants, jobs, and other opportunities for artists, with an emphasis (naturally) on international artist opportunities. You might find it helpful to use an RSS reader to aggregate the blogs you want to follow; (Feedly and Digg Reader are some examples.)

Other sites to search for opportunities: the Alliance of Artists Communities, Res Artis, and Trans Artists.

It can be very challenging to find after-the-fact funding, i.e. you’ve been accepted to the residency/travel opportunity but now need to fund it. Some ideas: check all of the above mentioned Web sites to see if there is a “funding” section; ask the residency institution how artists generally find funding support; investigate embassies from countries where the residency is located to see if they can offer any help; or reach out to your community of fellow artists to see if and how any of them have dealt with a similar challenge. But best of all is to consider funding at the outset and allow it to inform which residencies to apply to.

It may be that, during your self reflection, you’ve discovered that what you need is not so much an artist residency, but rather a chance to travel and do research for a creative project. Another of the “How to Make It All Happen” panelists was Dorothy Bocian, Rhode Island School of Design’s Grants, Residencies, and Fulbright Program Adviser, who encouraged that artists look into Fulbright Programs, the US government’s international exchange program. Dorothy pointed out that many artists think Fulbright Grants are only for students or professionals affiliated with a college or university. While there are Fulbright programs of these kinds, she also pointed to the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, which artists can apply to to travel abroad to lecture and/or conduct research for up to a year.

One panelist who was scheduled to take part but who was, unfortunately, not able to attend was Sarah Tanguy, curator for the U.S. Department of State’s ART in Embassies Program. The Fall 2013 government shutdown prevented her from traveling to Boston. But artists interested in participating in exhibitions at embassies throughout the world can submit work to their artist registry for consideration.

Generosity and Trust
Another implicit theme of the “How to Make It All Happen” panel was generosity. Sarah Berry, Program Manager at The Art Connection, was also on the panel, and she shared details about her program, in which artists donate work to be placed in social service settings that otherwise wouldn’t have access to art. She pointed out that such experiences can have a profound impact on artists and the way they see themselves and their work, even when the career impact is not as immediately apparent. Indeed, throughout the panel there was a sense that artists can benefit from trust: trust that efforts to apply for grants and residencies, efforts to explore innovative ways of sharing their work and working generously as artists, will benefit in the long run. A residency application that is not successful could still yield a connection between the artist and, say, a curator on the jury who reaches out later on. Helping your fellow artists find and achieve residency, funding, and other opportunities can foster a connectivity and community that can only benefit you in your own efforts.

The subtitle to the panel was “Travel, Produce Art, and Fund your Dreams.” Art and dreams are the key words here; all of the other topics – traveling, funding, residencies, research – are in service to making art and to realizing your dreams as an artist. It’s good to remember that. Not just because it helps keep perspective amidst the work of researching and applying for opportunities – because it is work, real and hard work. But also because having a clarity of vision about what is most important to you as an artist will make you a more compelling candidate for residencies, grants, opportunities, or other pathways to achieving your dreams.

Further research: read Mira Bartok’s Primer on Grants and Residencies on ArtSake.

Image: Jay Rogers (Crafts Fellow ’13), CITY OF PERPETUAL REFLECTION (2012), Cherry, maple and mirror, 11″h x 35″w x 23″d.

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