Editor’s Note: As we segue from reflections on CIVA’s biennial conference toward thoughts of House & Home, the theme of the upcoming SEEN Journal, we’re kicking off with a post inspired by a conversation between artists Leslie Iwai and Allison Luce on the topic of Artist Residencies – an artist’s version of home away from home. (Click on the link to find out about residencies on offer within the CIVA community.)
CIVA: How has your faith informed your artist residency experience? Can you elaborate on any experiences that have been eye-opening in this regard?
Leslie: When going to a residency, I’m aware that being in a new location and situation makes me vulnerable in many ways. As an artist I deal with the onslaught of anxiety-ridden thoughts, and I have to remember to bring those anxieties to God and move forward in faith to be able to undertake the work I am eager to do. I’ve found that my faith has grown during my residency experience because I am confronted with the rawness of my vocation. The questions I sometimes lose track of in the day-to-day rise up within me: “Why am I making art anyway?” “What does this mean?” “Am I good enough?” “I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do next . . .” This causes my heart to call out to God in a more real way. I can’t hide from those questions at a residency, and that’s when I count on the love of God to carry me through. At one month-long residency I attended, I remember really wanting to go to church, but I didn’t know where. I desperately needed to connect with other Christians and then connected with one of the community’s housekeepers and drove 45 minutes to join her for church. I remember the distinct thought of feeling at home there and realized that our common faith created a “home” for me when I was feeling very lonely and vulnerable at my artist residency.
Allison: Artist residencies are an excellent opportunity to grow in your faith. Similar to starting college, you leave your family and friends behind for a new artistic endeavor. In many situations, you might be the only artist of faith, which provides an occasion for sharing. In some instances, there is limited access to technology which can heighten the sense of isolation of being away from family and friends. Likewise, situations that try one’s patience—like being without a car and needing to balance groceries in a bike basket—can build one’s faith and sense of humor.
CIVA: What has been your experience in your interaction with other artists that may also be in residency at the same time and place?
Leslie: A few of my residencies have had writers and musicians as well as visual artists. I love this because of the way different disciplines “speak” to each other. I also find it to be refreshing to meet other visual artists and see the similarities as well as crazy differences in our artistic practices.
Allison: Overall, positive. I have met many fantastic artists. With social media, I am now able to stay in contact in a way that wasn’t possible ten years ago. I go on artist residencies in order to meet other artists and to hear about their artwork and studio practices. Living and working in community allows you to get to know people on a different level than at art opening, etc. This opportunity for in-depth discussion and sharing has been beneficial to my studio practice. Learning how other artists maintain a vibrant studio practice and exhibition schedule has been important to my artistic development.
CIVA: What are some examples of ongoing personal or professional relationships that have formed during your art residencies?
Leslie: In my experience, residency programs are usually proud of their alumni and endeavor to stay connected. I have had inquiries for other projects associated with one residency in particular and have continued to contribute to their community. I also have enjoyed ongoing friendships with other artists that have been in residency with me.
Allison: Thanks to my involvement in residency programs, I’ve been invited to exhibit in alumni exhibitions, be on panel discussions and have my artwork published in magazines. It is the gift that keeps on giving. The physical residency is just the beginning of the professional development; the alumni network can be the most influential part of the program.
CIVA: What’s it like coming home?
Leslie: When I come home, it’s always a reality check when I realize that life has gone on without me, and I’m facing a backlog of chores and correspondence that I need to attend to. Often, I have had a really full, creative time away, but my family or roommate has had to do extra work in my absence. I find it really important to take time to listen to what their experience has been while I have been away. Artist residencies for the artist can be very intense and hard work. But from the perspective of your support system they may feel like you have had it easy for the past several weeks and they have been “holding down the fort.” Recognizing this is often the case, I do my best to affirm and honor the sacrifices made by family and friends which enable me to live out my vocation as an artist.
Allison: Always very difficult. While you have been away, your family and friends have made up for your absence. When you come back invigorated and motivated, it is helpful to be cognizant of the sacrifices your family has made while you are gone. In the best circumstances, re-entry can be non-eventful; in the worst circumstances, re-entry can be totally deflating. Coming home to the same circumstances can quickly burst the bubble of the liminal state created during the residency.
CIVA: What kind of preparations have you had to make at home and professionally to attend an artist residency?
Leslie: This is one of the most under-discussed parts of artist residencies! Residencies are wonderful, supportive, and are a huge benefit; however, they often cannot fully fund your life while you are away. If you have a side-job, you may have to obtain a leave of absence months in advance. I have usually ramped up my workshop and other work schedule to obtain more income so I can pay my bills in my absence. Even with stipends and other support, only a very elite few can fully fund a person for a long-term residency. I also my make material arrangements, such as figuring out what I must bring for my time at the residency. Some residencies cover shipping costs, but many do not. If I am driving, I can bring more material, but that’s often not the case. I also try to make extra time to spend with family and friends, if I will be gone for a longer time period. Some artists with pets will have to arrange for pet care. I don’t have children to care for, but I imagine that could be a whole other blog post! However, I have seen more family- friendly artist residencies pop up recently, and that is a good thing.
Allison: It takes a village to attend an artist residency! It is not possible without the support of friends and family. Getting accepted to a program is just the beginning of the process. Preparations need to be made for the financing, the travel logistics and live/work accommodations. Job and exhibition schedules need to be arranged accordingly. When I went to Denmark and Germany for three months at a time, my husband and parents took care of everything at home. A friend of mine subbed for me during the semester at the college where I was teaching. I couldn’t have gone without their enthusiasm and support.
CIVA: What inspired you to apply for a residency?
Leslie: I looked ahead in my schedule and realized that I had a need for one in my art practice. Having that set-aside time for work and reflection is deeply necessary in an artist’s life. I count on God to work out details of timing and whether I get accepted to the residency (not ever a guarantee!). Over the years I have fretted less about this, recognizing that if the time and place are right, it will happen. Sometimes artists get invited to join an art residency, which is exciting, but it requires a similar amount of work – submitting photos of your work, writing an artist statement and bio, and often a loose idea of what sort of artistic work you will be undertaking.
Allison: I wanted to take my career to the next level. This meant broadening my network and having the chance to meet new artists, gallerists, collectors, etc. I heard about The International Ceramic Research Center Denmark from a college friend of mine. Based on her description and experiences, I knew it would be a solid match for my skill set, and I was thrilled to be accepted.
CIVA: What advice would you give to artists applying for a residency?
Leslie: Definitely search around for residencies that fit your goals and needs. With that in mind, think about what you would want to achieve during the residency (i.e., Do you want to kick off a project? Will you need time to wind down and refuel afterward? What resources do you have available, in terms of family, finances, and schedule? As my life has changed over the years, the answers have changed. For instance, my life before marriage would support a longer-term residency; now, I consider my spouse, our relationship, and the financial picture. Residencies can vary dramatically in terms of cost. I can only consider residencies that come with some sort of stipend, travel reimbursement, and/or a supply budget. Often, other income is on hold while I am at a residency and this can be a stressor if the hosting organization does not provide for this. On the flip side, most residencies offer some sort of stipend to offset costs, but I have often saved up money and worked extra to secure a financial cushion.
Allison: Research! Does this residency make sense financially? Is it a match for your work schedule? Can you get your work there and back logistically? It is important to analyze the situation and make sure you are setting yourself up for success. Ask for recommendations. Speak to other artists that have been in the program. Call the office and speak to the staff. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you embark on an artistic adventure. It is important to tailor your application to the specific residency program. Each application will be unique and call for a special proposal. Residency applications can be time consuming and expensive so make sure the program would be a good fit even before you apply.
CIVA: What has been the biggest benefit to your career?
Leslie: The main benefit has been the uninterrupted time and space to pursue a project or to consider my next steps and have time to explore. Often in everyday life there are so many things drawing my attention away from my artistic practice that the respite of a residency is truly a godsend.
Allison: From a practical standpoint, professional development has been the biggest benefit—broadening your network is critical to a successful career in the arts. Additionally, I feel the career advice imparted by more established artists has been extremely beneficial. I often think back to their advice when facing challenging circumstances. The friends I have made on artist residencies are friends for life. I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to meet so many generous and talented artists over the course of my travels.
CIVA: Have you had any negative experiences on artist residencies?
Leslie: The majority of my art residency experiences have been extremely positive. I would frame any negativity as opportunity to grow artistically, personally, and spiritually. Some of my experiences have been solo artist-in- residencies, and those can get lonely; at other times, I’ve been with other artists, writers, or musicians and that can be both inspiring and challenging with all of our varied interpersonal dynamics. However, being in a residency that supports people seriously pursuing creativity lends itself to artists being able to get the care and space needed to be in a good place.
Allison: Yes! One of my most frightening experiences was actually being locked IN the house on a residency in Europe. Residencies provide plenty of opportunity for solitude, which can translate into loneliness. The most challenging residency I attended was a three-month residency in Europe where I was the only resident artist. Coupled with the language barrier, I felt like I was in art jail, solitary confinement. Now I only apply to residencies where there are going to be other artists in the program. When choosing a residency, it is good to understand your strengths and weaknesses to find the best match. Trust your instincts.
CIVA: Would you consider going on another artist residency?
Leslie: I would consider going again! For that to happen, several factors weigh in . . . timing, resources, support and, of course, being offered the opportunity in the first place! For me, residencies have come at distinct points of change in my artistic development. Sometimes I knew those points were coming, and some I only realized as I went through the experience.
Allison: Always! Without a shadow of a doubt, I would always go on another artist residency. The chance to network with other creatives is invaluable to a healthy, lifelong career in the arts. Every residency is a chance to grow as an artist and an individual.
Leslie Iwai is an installation artist and sculptor whose studies in mathematics, chemistry, and architecture inform her interactive and material-rich body of work. She lives in Middleton, Wisconsin.
Allison Luce is a studio artist and guest faculty instructor in Charlotte, NC. She has shown her art in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. She has been an artist-in-residence in Denmark, Germany, Canada, and the U.S. and is the recipient of many grants and awards for her art.