Help Desk

Help Desk: Your Dynamic & Productive Residency

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here: All submissions become the property of Daily Serving. Help Desk is co-sponsored by KQED Arts.

Help Desk Leader

I spent last year applying to residency programs in the U.S. and finally got one. How do I maximize my time there? Obviously I’ll be working hard, but is there anything else I should know or do before I go?

Congratulations! A residency can be a great place to get a lot of work done, experiment in a new setting, meet like-minded people, or even have a creative breakthrough. However, it’s not easy to take time off work and travel to a place where everything is new (and sometimes overwhelming) and still get a lot of artwork made. To answer your question, I turned to artist Christine Wong Yap, who has worked in residence at Montalvo Arts Center and the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, among others. Here’s what she had to say:

Anne Neukamp. Curl, 2013; oil, tempera, and acrylic on canvas, 240 x 190 cm

Anne Neukamp. Curl, 2013; oil, tempera, and acrylic on canvas; 240 x 190 cm.

“Be prepared. I’m a planner. I like to find out as much as I can in advance about the residency before I go. I like to know what kinds of tools and equipment they have, and what I’ll need to ship. If the residency is in a remote area, or your residency is only a short duration, ship your tools and materials in advance (if the staff don’t mind receiving your packages for you). This can be expensive and stressful, so having particular projects in mind before arriving helps. Remember, the more remote the residency, the longer it’ll take to receive your packages. You might also consider non-art creature comforts. For example, for me, physical activity makes me less grouchy and more energetic, so a yoga mat and sneakers are must-haves.”

“Be flexible. Residencies are great for experimentation. Explore. Recharge. Be open. Anticipate that other residents may have different agendas, working hours, habits, etc. You will probably be pushed out of your comfort zone, for better and for worse. Contribute positively to the residency community with a good attitude, gratitude, and forbearance. Remember that lots of other applicants wish they had the opportunity you do.”

Anne Neukamp. Swerve, 2013; oil, tempera, and acrylic on canvas, 240 x 190 cm

Anne Neukamp. Swerve, 2013; oil, tempera, and acrylic on canvas; 240 x 190 cm.

“Communicate. Talk to the staff, ask questions, and express your needs. They’re usually very interested in accommodating artists and receiving feedback. However, understand that staff have other responsibilities outside and your needs may not be a priority.”

“Engage. If there are other artists in residence, participate in events—you’ll never know what kind of creative collaborations might evolve. Initiate reciprocal studio visits or organize slide slams. If the residency is in a city, let the residency organizers know if you’re interested in connecting with the local community, possibly by presenting your work, having an open studio, being a guest critic, leading art workshops, or attending local art events. I find that the sooner you can do this, the richer your connections and experiences can be.”

“Clear your schedule. If you are able, I recommend letting your employers, coworkers, and clients know that you’ll be offline and unavailable during your residency. The residency program can provide the space, but in this connected age, you have to maintain boundaries to focus your attention in the present.”

“Stay connected. For me, one of the hardest parts of residencies is being away from loved ones. The seclusion can feel like isolation. Communicating with your partner and family about the import of the residency is the first step. Having a strategy for minimizing homesickness is a second step. If the residency is long—over a month—a visit can make a huge difference. Many residencies have policies on partner visits, or how long residents can be absent for travel. At the least, having the technology and a rough schedule to talk or video chat are highly recommended.”

Anne Neukamp. Untitled, 2011; oil and tempera on canvas, 220 x 170 cm

Anne Neukamp. Untitled, 2011; oil and tempera on canvas; 220 x 170 cm.

Of course, there’s no way to be 100% prepared for every situation that arises when you are traveling (let alone traveling for work), but if you can think ahead a bit, it might save you some hassle that would potentially distract you from working. To Christine’s great list, I would add a few pragmatic items:

Pack a few extra clothes. If you’re traveling to an extreme climate, take one article of clothing for the opposite climate; for example, when traveling to the mountains, take one light T-shirt or dress in case there’s a heat wave (or a warm sweater in case of a cold snap). I speak from experience here, having spent a week in Banff, Canada, sweating to death inside sweatshirts and insulated boots during a week of unseasonably warm 80-degree weather. Also, remember to pack one nicer set of togs for dinner at a restaurant or the residency’s Open Studios day.

Do a little research on the location. Next time you are are idly surfing the internet, look at a map of the city you’re traveling to. Where is the post office? Where are the closest grocery and hardware stores? Is there a coffee shop nearby? Orienting yourself in advance can save you some time so that you can hit the ground running.

Get in touch with a previous resident. Chances are decent that a friend of a friend (or maybe someone from your alma mater) attended the same residency. It can often be helpful to send a brief email asking if there’s anything you should know in advance—you never know what you might learn about the general tenor, or the day-to-day realities, of the residency program!

Happy residency, safe travels, and good luck!