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8 Artist in Residence Programs to Jumpstart Your Career

There’s nothing like an artist in residence (or artist residency) to focus on your art for an intense period of time. Artist residencies are application-based opportunities that take you away from your daily grind and obligations, from several weeks to six months or more, providing a supportive environment for reflection, creative discovery, exposure and mentorship. They can also help get you out of your comfort zone by helping you learn a new art form, connecting with a community of artists or switch up your normal routine to experience a welcomed change.

Goals of Artist-in-Residence Programs

Many residencies and are located in places that provide beautiful scenery and extensive support to inspire participants. While the main goal of a program is to create new work, it’s also an excellent opportunity to forge new relationships with peers and visiting artists. Often times, you’ll be invited to attend social events with other artists and guests, share your work for constructive feedback or be part of artist’s panel open to the public. Now matter where you’re at in your career or artistic development, a residency can provide artists just starting out with teaching positions and work-study opportunities, catapult an emerging artist into the next stage of their career and offer seclusion for a busy established artist to create a new body of work.

The cost of attending an artist in residence program varies greatly. Some programs fully cover the cost to attend (including lodging and meals). Many will have some type of scholarship or financial aid, and others have a considerable paid tuition. The extent of the funding and what is expected from the artist in return varies. Make sure you research what costs are covered and what are not, like supplies and transportation.

Of course, not all artist in residence programs are created equal. Some focus on a particular medium like fine art, performing or literary arts, while others may focus on a certain demographic, like emerging, well-established artists, or artists of color. Residency programs can be highly competitive due to their allure, but there are some with fairly high acceptance rates. Because applying for and participating in residencies are important to further your career, you may find yourself swamped by all the available choices.

There are scores of wonderful programs to choose from, but to help you along, we’ve rounded out our top picks.

1. MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire 

The MacDowell Colony residency is one of the most competitive and prestigious programs. Lasting anywhere from five to eight weeks, this residency takes place in an idyllic rural setting. As the first artist’s colony established in the United States, MacDowell offers cozy cabin studios spread across its acreage and has spurred many careers. Just 250 artists are accepted into the program each year, which is fully paid for.

To ensure conditions are conducive to the creative process, there is absolutely no phone or internet access, so there’s nothing to distract you from producing your best creative work. Artists are also encouraged to collaborate with each other and a free lunch is offered daily. Applications for the fall, spring and summer are filled on a rolling basis and applications should include work samples and references.

2. National Park Service Residencies, various locations throughout the United States

national part artist art residency
Artist in Residence programs across the National Park System.

The United States National Park service offers over 42 artist in residence programs throughout the country, which vary in length based on the location. The Arts in the Parks program offers three distinct residency options: artists can either work as ‘volunteers-in-parks’ which requires them to present a program or demonstration designed for the public; take on a ‘partnership’ which requires the assistance of a non-profit to offer resources for the artist; or as ‘paid staff,’ in which an artist is hired as a seasonal employee for the purpose of creating a public artwork. These residences offer a wonderful opportunity for exposure as your work will be displayed in a place that thousands of travelers visit every year.

The application process varies from park to park, so you’ll have to review each option once you settle on a location. Visual artist Jym Davis said of his experience, “Artists are seeking the same things that most park visitors want. We want to step outside of our little bubble and experience something transformative. Artists translate that awe-inspired feeling into creative expression, and hopefully, that work has some value for the greater public.”

3. Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

The Studio Museum in Harlem Artist in Residence program is reserved exclusively for artists who are of African or Latino descent and has been attended by artists David Hammonds, Alison Saar and Standford Biggers. The eleven-month long residency begins in September and is only offered to three artists each year, making it a highly coveted residency for minority artists. Also worth mentioning is that the Studio Museum in Harlem Artist in Residence program offers participants a $20,000 fellowship, plus free studio space and a $1,000 supplies stipend, though you will have to secure your own housing.

Once the residency is completed, your work will be presented in the museum. Applications usually become available in March, and it’s important to note that artists are required to spend a minimum of 20 hours per week in the studio.

4. Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine

The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture is one of the most prominent artist in residence programs in the country. Founded in 1946, The Skowhegan School offers participating artists the chance to be critiqued and tutored by six established artists, along with lectures and programs by an array of other visiting artists. Held in rural Maine, the nine-week residency program is highly competitive, reserved for emerging artists, and only allows participants to attend once in their lifetime.

While tuition to Skowhegan is $6,000, the program has been known to offer full and partial scholarships to artists in need who qualify for the program. To apply, you’ll need to submit your portfolio, be at least 21 years of age, and have a working knowledge of English.

artist in residence
Residencies like Oxbow are fully funded so artists can focus solely on their work.

5. Ox-Bow Residency, Michigan

Another highly coveted artist in residence program is the Ox-Bow residency, which is held on 115 acres of Michigan countryside. The Ox-bow AIR program is offered to artists and writers at various stages in their career. Over a century old, the Ox-Bow program got its name as a painting school but has since expanded to include various other mediums. Though the Ox-Bow Artist in Residence program offers summer and fall programs, the fall program tends to be its most coveted.

Admitting up to 30 artists, Ox-Bow Artists in Residence can elect either a two-, three- or six-week residency, and have studio access not available to their summer counterparts. The program is entirely funded for participating artists, and include room and board, three daily meals, and various opportunities to share your work with other artists in the program.

6. Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, New York City

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the country’s most selective artist residency program is part of one of New York’s most iconic art institutions. The Whitney’s Independent Study Program offers individual programs in studio art, curatorial studies and critical studies, for which just 15 artists are selected each year. What’s great about the Whitney program is that it provides a framework of study for emerging curators and art critics as well as artists. The benefits of this program? Renown guest artists provide talks and critique your work, and develop an amazing network, and your work is featured in their annual show.

7. American Academy in Rome Fellowship, Rome, Italy 

With free room and board for up to two years in one of the most magical cities in the world, it’s no wonder artists clamor to attend the American Academy in Rome’s Artist in Residence program. Frequented by artists like painter and sculptor Ana Mendieta and visual artist Sarah Oppenheimer, the Rome Prize fellowship is not exactly easy to get into. Nine juries convene to deliberate entries from January through March and finalists are expected to come to the Academy office in New York for interviews. The winners are approved by the Academy’s Board of Trustees and announced in mid-April.

8. Recology

This Bay Area residency is a bit unusual compared to most, as it requires artists to literally work with garbage. The Recology residency in San Francisco sets artists up with studio space near the San Francisco Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center. The goal is to inspire participating artists to conserve natural resources and make something beautiful out of waste. After the residency, artists participate in a two-day exhibition and contribute a work to its permanent collection. Six residences are awarded per year, and artists can determine their length of stay with the program’s advisors.

Have you participated in an artist in residence program? What advice do you have for artists looking to participate in one? We want to hear about it in the comments!

About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.

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