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Behind the Scenes: How to Make the Most of an Artist Residency

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 13, 2006 12:00AM

When artists trade Chicago’s energy for a few weeks of peace and quiet in nature, are their careers better off? Or are residencies just cleverly disguised vacations? Not surprisingly, the panel of six artists and administrators representing four institutions at last week’s “Residencies and Other R&R” panel at the Chicago Cultural Center believe they’re serious stuff. Each panelist appreciated the type of focus that comes when you’re not distracted by cell phones, the dishes languishing in the sink, or other sources of drama.

But the decision to leave the industrial landscape behind should never be taken lightly. They repeatedly implored the audience to realistically assess what you want to get out of this excursion before submitting your slides. Typically you’ll need to start with a well-conceived application. Lucky for you, it’s easier than ever to do the research and find your place… or to realize that your home studio’s just fine, thank you.

Know Your Residencies

oxbow_1212.jpgA long-standing partnership with the School of the Art Institute helps Ox-Bow recruits a steady stable of young and professional Midwestern artists for seasonal residencies, temporary stays, and classes for credit. Each summer, young artists descend upon the pristine Saugatuck, Michigan campus for 11 weeks of classes in six studio areas, kind of like a big artsy summer camp. Mentoring and critique sessions and flexible studio time help the kids grow as artists. Adults admitted to the Professional Artist in Residence program enjoy 2-5 weeks in solitude, now at a subsidized cost. We’re told that fall is the ideal time to visit since nature in full splendor.

The Kohler Arts Center’s Arts/Industry program grants access to a Kohler Company factory in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to four artists at a time for a few months at a time. A unique learning experience to say the least, residents need not have prior factory experience, only the talent and desire to work in pottery, foundry or related media.

ragdale_1212.gifSince 1897, the Ragdale Foundation has been an accessible retreat for Chicagoland creative folk. The historic, tranquil campus in exurban Lake Forest (about 30 miles north via I94) houses 12 artists at a time for two to eight week residencies. They have dinner together but their schedule is otherwise up to them.

Three Walls is a very urban residency in the West Loop, a few blocks from the blue line CTA, affording opportunities and a temporary home to emerging artists not otherwise anchored to their own studio or collective. Only a select few get to bunk down in this studio with adjoining living space, typically hosting one artist at a time.

Getting In

All four institutions are quite competitive. Three Walls sifts through hundreds of applications to fill five slots, and the others are turning plenty of hopefuls down each year. So complete the application carefully and submit your best work. In general, you need to have a strong vision and an idea of what you hope to accomplish once on campus. And you need to be talented, there’s no getting around that.

Be sure to get everything in on time. Kohler’s next deadline is April 1, Three Walls’ is May 1, and Ragdale’s is May 15 January 15.

Know Your Neighbors

As much as you’ll enjoy the quality time with those lucid voices inside your head, your residency offers you the chance to interact with artists in other disciplines from a variety of backgrounds. During dinner at the out-of-town residencies, residents may bond with their temporary families and, occasionally, flesh out their ideas. The artists on the panel enjoyed this time and advise future residents to be good neighbors and remain open to learning from everyone.

Give Back

Residencies don’t exist in a bubble, although it might sometimes feel that way. Artists are typically asked to give back by contributing to public programs or educate aspiring artists. Ox Bow artists are asked to give one lecture and donate their work to a Friday night auction. Alumni typically donate their work to help the organization raise funds. Through workshops, school visits, readings and other public programming, Ragdale artists serve more than 7,000 community members annually. Kohler artist work is on display at the Kohler Arts Center (featuring some of the country’s most beautiful bathrooms), which engages dozens of community partners to create original work. Three Walls does not explicitly require artists to give back, but a resident will typically release the license of one of their images to the gallery for promotional purposes.

Related Links:
The Alliance of Artists Communities
More on Saugatuck, Michigan
City of Lake Forest, IL
Kohler, WI

Images via Ox-Bow and Ragdale