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Why should your Museum run an Artists-in-Residence programme?

Take a look through artist opportunities pages and residencies spring up in the most inspiring and surprising spaces, from a residency on a container ship to a programme at the SETI Institute.

Residencies can be lengthy or short, on-site or remote, have specific outcomes or be open-ended. There are artist-in-residence programmes for creatives from every discipline, at every career stage.

Part of the beauty of a residency is that it can be tailored perfectly to your museum.

So with all these options, where on earth do you start in designing an Artist Residency programme for your museum? And why should you?

Why your museum should host a residency?

At its simplest, an Artist Residency normally requires that the artist spends a defined period engaging with an organisation.

In return, an artist might be asked to produce an exhibition, take part in events, or contribute to a body of knowledge. Or provide any other number of outcomes for the museum.

The objectives that you set for your artist are up to you.

By working with a museum or heritage site, an artist has an excellent opportunity to explore a collection. Take a look at The National Museum of Ireland’s Artist-in-Residence: Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 project objectives to see what is possible – for example “To explore the power of the arts as a form of creative expression to interrogate and understand the past” and “To explore the power of objects to stimulate historical empathy”.

As the name suggests, a ‘resident’ artist is often invited to use a studio space within the organisation. By being on-site, the artist is perfectly placed to engage with audiences, which could be through regular open studio sessions or community workshops.

For example, The New Children’s Museum, California use their residency to ask ‘How does developing artwork in community settings change us?’ and their artists work closely with families to develop new immersive experiences or studio spaces to engage the local community.

What’s in it for the artist?

Residencies offer artists the chance to create work in a new way, in a new context.

By taking part in a programme, artists can tap into the expertise and networks at the host venue, as well as share their artwork with the host organisation’s audiences. The residency might culminate in an exhibition – or a work may be added to the museum’s collection.

Plus, some museums have specialist technical facilities For example, at The Museum of Glass resident artists can work with specialist equipment and a team of glass technicians to create works that may not be possible in their own studio.

Artist residencies may also offer differing levels of support to make the project fit with an artist’s personal circumstances and responsibilities.

Some residencies are remote, with minimal on-site time to make the opportunity accessible to artists from a wide area. Others offer accommodation at or near the host organisation, and so give a different, focussed period of work.

Many residencies are funded. At The National Gallery, “In addition to providing the Artist in Residence with a substantial fee, the award explicitly considers family caring responsibilities that an artist may have. Whoever has been chosen by the jury can be supported throughout the year-long residency, regardless of circumstance.”

So with so many factors to consider in designing a programme, how do they work in practice?

Fantastic 4

There are some great Artist-in-Residence schemes out there which illustrate how museums can create meaningful projects.  Here are 4 inspiring schemes…

  1. Elsewhere Residencies

The Elsewhere Living Museum invites 30-35 artists each year to live and work within their extraordinary site, a thrift store containing the inventory and collections amassed by owner Sylvia Gray over 58 years. Artists can use this extensive resource to create new works – which are then left with the museum and can be used, in turn, as a resource for further residencies in ‘on-going collaborative processes’. The resulting artworks include ‘Awakening Bell. Touch and Go. Body of Mind’  by  Mahedi Anjuman, which repurposes materials from the collection to create a bell, grounding touchpoints, and a collaborative sculpture made with the local community which all offer a meditation on the museum visit. Also take a look at Jasmine Best’s ‘Toe Walker’, an elegant intervention which is an ‘exercise in body awareness and personal appreciation’.

Elsewhere’s programme has different options and so is widely accessible – with different levels of funding available, variable residency lengths and even family collaborations. Visit their website and take a look at their different residency options.

  1. The McCanna House Artist-in-Residence Program at North Dakota Museum of Art

The McCanna House Residency offers artists the opportunity to live and work in the Red River Valley in North Dakota. This opportunity provides accommodation in a secluded 1920s farmhouse with access to a large barn in which to make work. Notably, here there are ‘no expectations for the artist to complete work during the residency, artists are asked to use their time wisely, and be aware of the transformative potential of time spent there. Artists will not be asked to teach classes, or give public lectures as a requirement of the residency.’ Read more.

  1. Residencies at the V&A

The V&A is committed to supporting artists, designers and makers, and their residency programme provides exceptional studios, collections and expertise. This residency is aimed at mid-career artists who are keen to engage with the public, take a look at the website for some of the extraordinary resulting projects, from artisanal perfume to glow in the dark museum collections.

  1. Digital Artist in Residence at the Museum of Oxford

The Museum of Oxford has partnered with the online platform Digital Artist Residency in this project. For this, the brief was to explore Oxford’s hidden histories. The artist was given an online space in which to develop new work and ideas, and although they were asked to visit Oxford for research trips the residency could be undertaken from anywhere in the UK. The residency concluded with an on-site exhibition. This project was undertaken by digital artist Benjamin Hall –find out about the interactive game he created here.

So what could an artist offer your organisation, and how could you support their practice? Artist residencies are a great way to get creative with your programming, and the results can be eye-opening.

About the author – Rebecca Hardy Wombell

Rebecca Hardy Wombell is a freelance writer who works with a broad range of creative organisations, including artists, galleries, museums and design-led retailers.

Her writing aims to develop and delight audiences by putting her clients’ beautiful works to well-crafted words.

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