Artist Residencies: What, How and Why

by John Lei

Residencies and the Art Ecosystem

In recent years, artist residencies have become increasingly important to the art ecosystem. They are energetic meeting points for a wide diversity of ideas, methods, and identities. It is also true that they provide the necessary structure for the art world to function in a dynamic way. Artist residencies promote critical thinking, international mobility, interdisciplinary knowledge production, and site-specific research. Most of all, artist residencies are the crucial space and time for artists and academics to further develop their career. Residencies allow experimentation, learning and growth in a different cultural environment.

In fact, in many ways, artist residencies have become necessary for a successful professional career in the arts. Many museums, galleries and universities around the world encourage emerging and established artists, and even academics, to participate in artist residencies abroad for the purpose of engaging with new ideas and developing new connections. Some of these institutions even consider artist residencies as a requirement for art students to graduate or for professors to become tenured, and in some instances international galleries also have it as a prerequisite to represent artists or include them in their exhibition programs.

Diversity in Models

The world of artist residencies is extremely diverse, with many different kinds of models, sizes, viewpoints and locations, all of them adapting and responding to their local context. From rural to urban, and everything in between, many types of artist residencies exist, connecting many kinds of artists, to a wide range of networks, including institutions and communities. Biennials, museums, universities, research centers, community-based projects, galleries, urban centers and even airports, shopping malls and businesses of various kinds, all can be connected to artists residencies, not only in their own country but worldwide. You can practically find an artist residency in every country, welcoming artists into their spaces, allowing them a point of entry into their unique culture, while also supporting many local communities. Artist residencies have become a resourceful global network, and in some way or another they are all interconnected, making the wide world more accessible. 

Choosing an Artist Residency

When choosing an artist residency, you have to consider not only your own personal motivation, whether artistic or in terms of location, but also your values and their correlation to the mission of the residency that more appeals to you. Throughout the ’90s, artist residencies were mostly Eurocentric. Many were seen as retreats, communes, or luxurious getaways limiting these opportunities to highly successful artists. In recent years new models of residencies —frequently ran by artist themselves— have proven to be more resilient. They are committed to their local realities, and responding more effectively to global challenges.

Game changers

In many ways, ‘Gen Z’ has been a game changer. When our generation began to travel, new expectations slowly began to transform the world. We are more racially and ethnically diverse than ‘Gen X’ or ‘Millennials’. Having different values but also, we also have inherited a much more complicated world. We have had to rethink our identity evolving from the “me” to the “we”. We think of community with inclusivity, thus the need to build a better world. In short, we self-identify as social justice warriors and awareness has become both a need and trend everywhere we go. The world of artists residencies has also been impacted and necessary conversations are happening. Discussions about climate change, colonialism and antiracism are now present in residencies.

As we know, in the last few years many museums have recognized their role in colonialism, accepting some responsibility, and having to honor the land they occupy and its original indigenous inhabitants, also facing questions about their own collections and the restitution of culturally significant objects to their original countries. In the last decade, many artist residencies have actively participated in these conversations, also engaging their artists-in-residence, and many more have recently joined. When choosing an artist residency, I highly recommend finding organizations, whether small or large, that actively promote these kinds of conversations, rather than contributing to the problems we know the world has. If you are looking for suggestions, here are a few residencies that are definitely worth applying for: 10 of the Best International Art Residencies Around the World

Published by Subverting Mobility

Navigating Artist Residencies. Subverting Mobility is a source to understand the experience of artist in the ecosystem of artist residencies.

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