There are a few different types of artist residencies that exist out there. One is the classic where artists go out to a natural type area so that they can “get away from it all” and concentrate on their work. Those places are nice, I’ve been to a few of them, but personally I spend most of my time enjoying walking around rather than sitting in a studio trying to make stuff. There are also artist residencies that have a built-in exhibition at the end, making it more difficult to just wander around and space out while you are there. Another approach to the residency idea is where the artist is paired with an organization like a school, hospital, or senior center and makes work that is responsive to that place and the people there. That last one is the model I find most interesting.
In a way I have used that approach of a residency and made it a big part of my practice since I was a student. As an emerging artist I realized that if I made work that was about the context that it was being shown in that local people would feel more engaged and invested in what I was doing. Initially that meant making work that was specific to my own school, neighborhood, and local businesses and other organizations (one of my first projects of that nature was at a bakery and was all about the bakers and what they made, but took the form of an exhibition displayed in the area where customers sat to eat baked goods and drink coffee). As other opportunities occurred (and probably the opportunities were based on the fact that my practice was site-specific) I would spend time in the place where the work was going to be shown (for instance in a suburb of the Bay Area where a collaborator and I were commissioned to make a show for a regional art center we spent a month hanging out in the town and produced all of the work in response to what we encountered there) and then create projects (exhibitions, video projections, poster series, public art projects, events etc.) that were based on direct connections to the people I met, the histories I learned about, and the everyday dynamics that I encountered. I liked the process of discovery and participatory inclusion and the commissioning organizations (schools, public art agencies, art centers, etc all with available funding) were happy that work was being made about their own specific locations and with the people who lived and worked there, often times developing local audiences who ordinarily never came to see more traditional art work.
In my teaching I have also employed this type of residency structure as part of student assignments. For instance something I have done over the years at various times and in various ways is to ask students to research and connect with a department or entity on a given campus that is outside of the art program. That process alone achieves various positive effects from encouraging wandering around observing to interacting with people and disciplines outside of a student’s often normally siloed experience. Once a location of interest has been identified I ask the student to then attempt to become an artist-in-residence for that place. As can be imagined that is a bit of a stretch for both the student and the non-art department or organization and success doesn’t always happen, but there are many cases where interesting collaborations do take place as well. I’ve had students work with Black Studies, the Women’s Resource Center, the campus radio station, the campus newspaper, geology, systems science, conflict resolution, the campus community garden, and various food carts, etc. Sometimes the relationships are short lived, but others have continued on after the academic term has ended and many resulted in positive interactions for both the students and the residency sites and collaborators.
In general this kind of residency model can be used by artists within a wide set of contexts—neighborhoods, parks, businesses, libraries, schools, non-profits, city agencies, etc. etc. It is not necessary for there to be any formal artist-in-residence program in place in advance. Instead, the artist can locate places that are of interest, research and connect with them, and then if a residency relationship seems possible suggest that idea. Many non-art organizations are thrilled that an artist would want to work with them, and sometimes not only make that possible but will find ways to provide resources and even at times funding as well. There are many advantages for an artist to work in this way—a specific context and set of people are identified to work with, and actual outcomes are available for the realization of work. In the status quo approach to art making artists typically work in isolation and have only doubtful hopes that what they produce will ever find an audience. In my opinion, the residency approach gives much greater agency and satisfaction to the artist, who working in that model is able to experience real connections to the public and make contributions to society that go beyond the standard studio/gallery model.