Can’t Catch A Break? Consider an Artist Residency.

There are a lot of clichés about the hard-scrabble life of the working musician. We scrape pennies, balance feasts with famine, burn the midnight oil. We are, after all, starving artists … aren’t we? Sometimes, we may feel so afflicted by the stereotype of creative careers going hand in hand with frustration, unpredictability and lack of support that we forget to challenge the very premise: Must it be so?

It turns out, it mustn’t – and not just for those lucky enough to secure tenure or generous contracts. Freelancers, too, can access stable, supportive environments with relative ease, for the working artist has an option that the average nine-to-fiver does not: the residency.

Every year I meet talented artists who are either unaware of the abundance of these havens or who think that they exist solely for the benefit of the already famous, while nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, the gold standards of the residency experience – The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, for instance – represent just the tip of the iceberg. For another, those applying for residencies should never rule out competitive options, including MacDowell and Yaddo, because most retreats welcome artists from all stages of their careers. 

And who wouldn’t want to live rent-free for a month – hey, make that a year? Have groceries covered? Travel? While the levels of financial support vary from place to place (and yes, one must factor in the opportunity cost of leaving one’s base), there have been more than a few artists who’ve turned the residency getaway into a full-time venture. They’ve forgone permanent addresses in favor of a series of converted barns in New England, villas in Mexico or studio spaces in the Netherlands – all while meeting potential collaborators and expanding creative horizons. (Just remember to rack up those airline miles.) 

Now, I can imagine what many instrumentalists and vocalists are thinking: Aren’t residencies just for composers? My answer to that is twofold: First, of course not! Second, those with such preconceptions need to rethink their roles as musicians. Your calling is to be your own artist. So plan a show, a conceptual album, develop a new performance technique. Or team up with a composer to submit a joint application. In short, consider a residency. And to kickstart that search, here are a few of the more compelling, best-bang-for-your-buck options out there.


wormfarm

Wormfarm Institute

Reedsburg, Wisconsin

Open to:
All disciplines
Duration:
One to five months
What’s included:
Wormfarm provides a private bedroom, individual studio space and food from their gardens in exchange for 15 hours of work on the farm per week.
Worth noting:
This Wisconsin “cultureshed” is ideal for outdoorsy types who may have been debating between a residency and WWOOFing. As executive director Donna Neuwirth puts it, “A residency at Wormfarm is not a retreat, but an engagement in the life of a working farm. It’s a space to reconnect with the land and discover new ideas that arise when we tune into natural rhythms. Resident artists spend the morning in the garden and the rest of the day as the muse inspires.” In short, “artists at Wormfarm get dirty, eat well and make art.”

Timucuan Preserve

Arts in the Parks AIR Programs

United States

Open to:
All disciplines
Duration:
Varies, typically two to four weeks
What’s provided:
Did you know you can become an artist-in-residence at your local park? From Alaska’s Denali all the way down to Florida’s Everglades, national parks sponsor a variety of programs that typically supply artists with housing while they work on their next projects. 
Worth noting:
Arts in the Parks programs are especially suited for those who take inspiration from nature or even incorporate environmental themes into their work. And park programs love for artists to engage with visitors as well as their surroundings: You’ll be expected to share work with the public or, as with the Denali Music Festival, return for performances of completed works.

YellowBarn

YellowBarn  

Putney, Vermont

Open to:
Musicians
Duration:
Varies, typically one to two weeks
What’s provided:
YellowBarn is the answer to residency programs that seem overly focused on composers. Here, performing musicians enjoy the time to develop new repertoire and, if they choose, to receive mentorship. They’re provided with housing within the local community, meal stipends and the opportunity for public performances.
Worth noting:
As the first residency developed exclusively for professional musicians, YellowBarn is an indispensable resource. Performers – encompassing ensembles, collaborative partnerships and solo artists – from all stages of their careers are welcome to apply, but the time, space and support provided is particularly valuable to those transitioning into the professional world.

Banff

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Open to:
All disciplines, with specific programs for musicians
Duration:
Varies
What’s provided:
Given its history as an institution for continued education, Banff’s offerings tend to be more structured than your typical residency. But with programs ranging from audio engineer practicums to choral conducting workshops, that’s great news for musicians who want to hone a particular skill or work collaboratively. 
Worth noting:
This is the only program listed here that charges what essentially amounts to tuition – but applicants should note, too, the opportunity for financial aid. Once secured, know that the Centre’s location in Banff National Park along the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies provides an unsurpassed experience among towering mountains, glacier lakes and subalpine flora. If that’s not enough inspiration for you, check out a show or strike up a friendship with the artist next door – there’s always something going on here.

Headlands

Headlands Center for the Arts

Sausalito, California

Open to:
All disciplines
Duration:
Four to 10 weeks
What’s provided:
Headlands provides studio space, a private bedroom, chef-prepared meals, A/V equipment and stipends for travel and living expenses. It’s also one of the few residencies to cover airfare. 
Worth noting:
San Francisco is just a Golden Gate Bridge drive away, but on the Marin Headlands, all you’ll encounter are windswept grasses, an abundance of wildlife – and a community of artists like yourself. As executive director sharon maidenberg explains, “By having musicians here alongside artists working in the visual, film/media and literary arts, we aim to foster collaboration, experimentation and exchange across practices.” Moreover, you’ll be able to work at your own pace: “Because we place such a high value on the creative process and experimentation, we don’t have any production requirements for the artists who participate in the program. Each artist is entrusted to use their time and resources here in the way that best works to lead them to the next creative breakthrough.”

Avatar

Méduse: Avatar  

Québec City, Québec, Canada

Open to:
Musicians and audio artists
Duration:
One to three months
What’s provided:
Musicians and sound artists enjoy access to state-of-the-art facilities, housing and a production allowance as part of a residency with Méduse, an arts collective that acts as a research and production hub in Québec City. 
Worth noting:
Méduse houses multiple discipline-specific nonprofits, with Avatar as the organization that heads audio and electronic projects like radio productions, sound sculptures, the invention of new musical instruments and more. Artists in residence can take advantage of their recording studio, editing booths and electronic equipment, as well as the vibrant atmosphere of Québec.

It’s worth stressing that this list should be thought of as a jumping-off point. You could spend a residency simply cataloguing the amount and diversity of residencies out there. For a deeper dive, be sure to make use of the resources found at artistcommunities.org, resartists.org and artsparkr.com.

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Elizabeth Nonemaker

Elizabeth Nonemaker is a composer and arts journalist. She co-launched the arts publication Ampersand, and has worked for Children’s Radio Foundation and KPCC’s “The Frame.” …more 

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