#ArtistTherapy: Residencies, are they for you?

"I need time and space to get away." I hear you. Believe me. I hear you. I live in one of the most diverse and heavily populated cities in the United States, possibly, the world. I live in a city that is expensive and always, always has something going on. It can be great to know at any point and time you can get aspirin or a soda or have a place to dance, but it can be overwhelming to have so much at your disposal and few dollars to make use of this lifestyle.

At the moment I am in the midst of applying to 12 residencies before the year is done. Three applications are due in September alone and there'll be at least another dozen I'll be applying for next year. For me residencies have been the solace I have craved to be exposed to an environment completely "other" to my life. At a residency I feel like an artist, am surrounded by other artists, sometimes I am fed, sometimes not. But what is most important is I am respected for my need to have distance, quiet, and solitude to get my work done in the amount of time I requested and had been granted.

A friend of mine did her first residency earlier this year and is now hooked. She's pounding out applications like nobody's business and it makes me smile to know that this understanding of how useful and cathartic a residency can be has spread. Yes, since 2008 residency applications have grown a lot with people losing jobs and more word of mouth spreading about these great opportunities. More residencies and fellowships are created and unfortunately others have also closed down due to funding. But there are many artists and many opportunities to get one so don't lose heart. The website ResArtis and Poets & Writers are great resources.

Thus far I've done three residencies over the course of 2 years. I am applying to a dozen because I know the odds are rough and steadily become rougher every year. I am applying to many to improve my odds but also know that should I not get any I won't be someone who sulks and sighs as though that residency was my only chance to get my writing done. It's not. It's a great morale boost and if they offer stipends and free food can be a wonderful way to save money and get your work done, but it is not the end all be all to you being productive.

So, is a residency for you?

If you're not into applications, statements, resumes, portfolio samples, application fees, and so on then perhaps not. What I tell people about the residency application process is that it's like applying to graduate school...every year. Every year around fall and spring I am hunkered down revising, revising, revising and figuring out how to make myself and my passion for writing come through in a page or less. Every year I am rewriting statements to the same residencies and hoping this time they will allow me into the fold. Understand that a rejection from a residency isn't the door closing. I've been waitlisted and gotten in. I've been waitlisted several times over. I've been accepted outright. And I have been flat out rejected as well. But when there's an option on the form for the committee/judges to see that you are still applying that reveals something about your persistence and passion and doesn't look bad at all. Persistence with anything in art is the only way you'll achieve any kind of success.

Are you able to be around other artists? People you may be living with for a long or short duration of time? That's key. You never know what group you'll get but you know that at some point you may have to actually talk to people.

Are you fine with being in the middle of nowhere with sporadic cell phone signal and if anything lackluster wifi? Can you handle no television and, if you don't have a car, being stranded and chauffeured? Can you truly enjoy the quiet and peace and get what you need from this time away?

If all these things are doable and desirable than you should be starting your applications right now. But also keep in mind that not all residency situations may be for you. Perhaps you need a separate studio/living space. Maybe you need to be able to stay a shorter period of time due to work and/or family. There could be the fact that you really are not good at cooking and need food to be provided or that you can't afford to pay a weekly fee. Look carefully at what these residencies/fellowships offer and what you may need. Sometimes it's more trial and error and it's being in an environment that you can understand what is conducive to you getting stuff done.

But again, if you don't get accepted to the first batch you apply to, don't stop applying! Learn from this application and keep applying. Keep revising those statements and portfolios and garnering references (which many places keep on file even if you are rejected initially) and publications/showings. Continue to get your name out there because you never know who may be judging and viewing your work and keeping an eye out for your name later. You don't know if you've made it by a hair or a longshot, you only know if you got in, are waitlisted, or are denied.

And if you need time and space that a residency can't readily provide than make it for yourself. Schedule time away from your life. Go to hotels or motels where you can get the distance you need. Organize retreats with writer friends to be surrounded by a community of people you know and don't have to worry about warming up to new people. Don't use the excuse of not getting a residency to not get work done. A residency is a gift, it's a perk, it's an honor. But to continue your work is your responsibility and you need to figure out how to best continue and complete it.