How are residencies important to an artist's practice?
Residencies offer rare support for creative exploration without demands for outcome. It’s a time when artists are free to try new things, to experiment, to fail, to succeed wildly.Artists always say that they accomplished more during a residency than they thought possible, but they also talk of transformation, validation, and finding their way through difficult creative transitions. The immersion and intensity of a residency can’t help but impact your creative practice.
Describe some of the different kinds of residency opportunities available for dance and performance.
Residencies for dance and other performance-based work exist on a continuum. On the one end, there are residencies where an artist can explore work in a retreat setting that may be most conducive to research or the development of early ideas; and on the other end are those residencies that provide specific facilities and equipment, technical support, funding, production support, and presenting opportunities.
We found that there are many, many residency programs at the first end of the continuum—residency programs for artists of all disciplines, without a specific focus on dance or performance (like Ragdale in Lake Forest, IL); and there are a few dozen on the other end of the continuum that tend to be exclusively focused on performance disciplines (like the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee, FL). But there is a real gap in the middle—programs that have dance studios and/or theater facilities and can offer some production support, resources for larger collaborative teams of artists, and performance opportunities. The good news is we have identified more than 125 residency programs in the U.S. that are open to dancemakers, and there are many more around the world!
When is a good time in an artist's career to seek out a residency? Are there different kinds of residencies that support different stages of an artist's professional/creative development?
Residency programs serve artists at every career stage, and emerging, mid-career, and established artists can all benefit tremendously from residencies. In fact, residencies that bring together artists at different career stages, as well as artists of different disciplines, can be particularly inspiring. For emerging artists right out of school, residencies are often the first time they are truly self-directed, without faculty or other students to offer critique, feedback, deadlines, and guidance. Our recent report, “Mind the Gap: Artist Residencies and Dance,” loosely categorizes dance residencies into three groups—those that support the creation of new work in early, mid-, and late stages of development—as a way of identifying the level of dance-specific support that is offered. What we’ve found is that artists often limit their search to those programs that specialize in their discipline—like MANCC for dance, for example; or Kala for printmaking—when the stage of work may not require that degree of specialization.
For artists who are working in the early stages of developing a piece, they may only need the time and space to explore new ideas, to research, and to sketch out plans. There are hundreds of residencies to support that work. But if you need a theater space to rehearse work that’s closer to completion, opportunities to show work-in-progress for audience feedback, or specialized production facilities to work out the technical aspects of a piece, then there are a handful of residency programs for that. I think the main thing is to keep an open mind, both for the artist and for the residency program. As an artist, don’t assume that a program that doesn’t specialize in your discipline has nothing to offer you. And as an organization, don’t assume that you can’t support dancemakers just because you don’t have a dance floor. Sometimes working within new limitations can lead to unexpected innovations.
What makes for a compelling artist residency application?
An artist’s work samples are always the most important component. Residency programs want to see your best recent work. For time-based work, good documentation is especially critical. In addition, artists should make a compelling case for why they are interested in this particular residency at this particular time in their life. Everybody wants time and space to develop new work, but why this residency program? Why now? Maybe it’s because of the program’s location, or the facilities it offers, or access to a particular community.
Whether it’s embedded in an artist statement or a project proposal, artists should demonstrate that they’ve done their homework and found a good fit. Finding the right residency should be a little like finding the right college. It isn’t just about where your friends go or what’s the most famous; it’s a combination of location, style, resources, opportunity, and logistics.
What are some good strategies to help artists finance artist residencies?
Dancemakers and other performance-based artists are particularly challenged with respect to financing a residency because of the number of people and the production elements that are often involved in developing new work. While many organizations offer residencies at no cost, and some also provide stipends, there are almost always additional expenses incurred by artists. Many state arts councils, local arts agencies, and community foundations offer professional development grants for artists that can offset the expenses of a residency. And there are lots of private funding sources that can support artists in the development of new work.
The Foundation Center is the best resource for finding funding opportunities, and they have a separate database for grants to individuals. NYFA Source (a service of the New York Foundation for the Arts) and Chicago Artists Resource are also excellent resources for locating funding opportunities around the country. But we definitely recognize the challenges in finding enough funding to develop new work, and the Alliance is advocating to funders about the needs of dancemakers, and artists in general, so that there is greater support for artists to engage in research and development.
What is the Alliance of Artists Communities all about?
We are the national association of artist residency programs, providing these programs with a collective voice and leveraging support for the field as a whole; promoting successful practices in the field; and advocating for creative environments that support the work of today's artists. There are an estimated 500 residency programs in the U.S. and more than 1,000 worldwide, and while we are a membership organization (with more than 200 members), much of our work serves the field as a whole, including research, convenings, and advocating to funders and others for support to artists and residency programs.
We also have some services specifically for artists: an online database of residency programs, a series of public panels and workshops about residencies, and a monthly newsletter that offers application deadlines, tips for researching and applying to residencies, and stories from artists who have participated in residencies. The Alliance is also a grantmaker, with a few specific funding programs like Midwestern Voices & Visions, in partnership with The Joyce Foundation, that awards grants and residencies to artists of color from the Midwest.
This year's annual conference will be held in Chicago this fall. What is this year's theme? What can Chicago-based artists expect to learn? Who would find the most benefit from participating?
The Alliance’s annual conference brings together around 200 participants from around the world—directors of residency programs, funders, policy-makers, researchers, educators, arts leaders, and artists—to explore support for artists and the creation of new work. While there is no single theme, this year’s conference will touch on the relevance of place in art-making and artist-centered organizations: from artist-based community development to artists engaged in environmental activism; from developing successful capital campaigns to building partnerships and collaborations for shared creative space. The sessions are a mix of nuts-and-bolts workshops for administrators and topical big-picture discussions about the role of artists in society.
I think the conference would be beneficial for any artist who has a social practice, who is interested in engaging the community, and who's considering how artists fit into the larger context of creative placemaking. Certainly the conference is relevant for anyone who is working within an organization, foundation, or public agency that is interested in the intersections of artists and community-building.
Our conference website goes live in early July, and we hope at that time to be able to announce some scholarships and subsidies for local artists and arts administrators. We are really excited to hold the 20th anniversary conference in Chicago and can’t wait to show off the local arts community to our attendees!
Caitlin Strokosch is Executive Director of the Alliance of Artists Communities, an international association of artist residency programs supporting artists of all disciplines with time and space to develop new work. Caitlin joined the Alliance in 2002 and previously served as General Manager of Bella Voce, a professional choral ensemble, and as Executive Director of CUBE, a new music group, both in her hometown of Chicago. She is a frequent presenter and guest lecturer and has served as a grants panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, The Joyce Foundation, and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in music performance from Columbia College Chicago and a Master’s in musicology from Roosevelt University, where her research focused on music as a tool for building communities of resistance and social dissent. Caitlin lives in Rhode Island, and in her spare time she volunteers with Girls Rock! Rhode Island and plays in the band Me Jane.