Help Desk: Residencies

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving. Help Desk is cosponsored by

I want to start applying for artists’ residencies and I don’t know where to begin. Is there a good place to find a listing of residencies, what are the best ones, and what advice could you give for putting together a stunning application?

Residencies can be an artist’s joy: time and space (and sometimes technical facilities) to make your work, a community of dedicated peers, and stimulating conversation. But beware: they can also be financially- and emotionally-draining environments where a bunch of alcoholic drama queens keep you up all night, every night, for a month, so you need to do some very careful research before you pack your bags.

There are a number of online resources for finding residency programs, from collective listings to the programs’ own sites, so begin with some basic searches. I also suggest that you start semi-local: you might have a better chance of getting in, and you’ll be able to test the waters without having to sublet your apartment and move to another state or country for a few months. Try googling “[your state] artist residency” to see what comes up—my trial search for California returned a ton of opportunities. To find international residencies you can use the same google search with the name of the city or country you’d like to go to, or you can find sites like and Residency Unlimited that list international residency programs and their deadlines.

Ellen Kooi, Nagele – wachthuis, 2011. Fuji Crystal Archive, Plexiglass, Reynobond, 31 ½ x 72 ½ inches

Which are the best residency programs? Well, that depends on what you’d like to accomplish. If you’re looking for some quiet time away from the pressures of everyday life, then you might prefer a cabin in the woods. If you’re desperate for interaction and dialogue, then you should look for something workshop-based or community oriented. If you’re hoping to crank out a large amount of work in a short amount of time, then you need to find a space that has the facilities you require to complete your project. I suggest you check out this HELP DESK column on finding the right MFA program (scroll down to the second Q&A)—my advice for pinpointing “the best” applies to your question, too. In either case, the bottom line is that you need to be honest with yourself about what’s right for you at this stage of your practice. No single residency program can fulfill every desire, so narrow your list of goals down to one or two and then investigate residency opportunities to find the best match for what you hope to achieve.

Incidentally, a good match will also make a stronger application and you have a better chance of getting in if your goals fit closely with the program’s own mission. Conversely, if you’re a studio painter applying for a residency dedicated to experimental social interaction, you have what my friend Sylvan once dubbed “a rat’s-ass chance in a gator pit” of being accepted, so don’t waste time and energy—and maybe application fees—applying to residencies that don’t correspond to your aims.

Ellen Kooi, Montallese – crossing, 2009. Fuji Crystal Archive, Plexiglass, Reynobond, 23 ½ x 50 inches

A great resource for information on applying to residency programs is Chapter 6 of Art/Work. This section of the book discusses considerations for your own practice vis-à-vis different types of residency programs, and it reviews the basic parts of an application or proposal. It also has quite a few crucial pointers for completing a successful application, such as this one:

“Many programs will tell you what they focus on when evaluating applications. Of all the directions to follow, these are the most important. They’re not as easy to spot because they’re not necessarily written in the form of direct directions but rather as ‘criteria.’ You might see something like this: ‘Artists’ Fellowships are chosen based on the single criterion of work that demonstrates a compelling vision as defined by the assembled panel’s collective opinion.’ Note the words single criterion. They’re telling you up front that there’s only one thing that matters…[t]his program will make a qualitative assessment of your work, period. You therefore need to spend the most time on that part of the application and submit the best-quality images you can.”

Another source for information is Trans Artists, a self-described “knowledge centre on cultural mobility, with a strong focus on artist-in-residence opportunities.” Check out the Artist in Residence page which describes types of programs and residency experience; and the Checklist page, which has information that will help you with your research. Good luck!