The role and benefits of an artist residency

Brief history of artist residencies

The origin of artist residencies goes back to the late 19th century, when communities desired creative people to settle within their populations. The United Kingdom and United States favoured the romantic patronage of artists being hosted in the studios of art benefactors. Simultaneously in Europe, artists pursued their careers by forming artist colonies in order to work collaboratively and develop artistic ideas in a group setting.

The seclusive model of the artist residency began in the 1960s for creative minds that valued time and space away from the bourgeois. At the same time, another approach emerged, featuring artists making work rooted in social and political action. Throughout the next two decades, many residencies elaborated on this concept from an activist perspective.

Globalization expanded residencies worldwide into the 1990s. They offered greater hospitality for residents and created alternative centres of knowledge and exchange. Diversity increased, and residential art centres stimulated local contemporary art scenes.

From 2000 onwards, artists have benefited from increased mobility, thanks to more convenient ways of travel and more efficient forms of communication (internet & social media). These factors have helped residencies to play a crucial role in the contemporary art world and become an indispensable component of many artist’s careers.

Today, artist residencies require applicants to go through a more competitive application process that demands a rising standard of quality. Governments, trusts, and other funding bodies have linked with many residencies to support artist participation. From this established residency model, new forms have begun to emerge. Different forms of hospitality, such as nomadic projects, collaborations, and interdisciplinary workshops, are spreading around the globe, and artist-run centres often connect with each other from different cities or countries to organise artist exchanges. Another development has been more interest in issues of content, informing many thematic residencies. Instead of thinking how a residency should function, the question now is, what can a residency be?

The ongoing covid-19 pandemic asks institutions and artists to again re-think approaches to hosting and participating in residencies. Virtual residencies gain importance for artist experimentation and creates space to re-evaluate the creative process. They also enable involved parties to maintain visibility in the public eye, by offering access to content through various digital platforms.

What is an artist residency?

Artist residencies were established to facilitate artists, researchers, curators, and other creatives, providing a break from their usual surroundings and obligations. They enable residents to have time and space for reflection, focusing on their research, developing new ideas, experimentation, and to produce new art works. Furthermore, they can give an individual the opportunity to expand his/her practice within another environment. By meeting fellow artists, learning new skills, and spending time in a fascinating new location, residencies broaden cultural awareness, ignite multi-layered exchange, and let participants become immersed into another setting.

There is a wide spectrum of different types of residencies. While some are part of larger institutions, smaller operations exist solely to facilitate artist exchange programs. Some are connected to museums, galleries, studio spaces, artist-run-centres, theatres, schools and universities, festivals, and even governmental offices. They are found in urban settings, rural and remote locations, national parks and online frameworks. They can be seasonal, ongoing, or part of a special event. Some are faculty-led and follow themed topics. Many residencies include trips, group critiques, and guest lecturers. Or, they can be community-involved; giving presentations, workshops, or collaborating with local citizens. Most artist residencies accommodate both alone time and critical but informal discourse with fellow residents.

The role and benefits of an artist residency for the resident

Education & learning

Artist residencies are a place for education and learning, where both artists and members of the public may gain specific techniques and skills. There can also be skill-sharing, where fellow artists can share expertise. Residencies can be the perfect time to improve organisational and managerial skills. Resident artists learn and grow from critical feedback during sessions with curators or other arts professionals and obtaining knowledge through new research is a common feature of many artist residencies. Artists also get exposed to emerging international trends in their art form and can enrich their practice by learning about the other cultures in which they may be working.


Another part of artist residencies can be the production of some kind of work. This could be an individual project, for example, a body of work in response to an issue or within a theme, or producing new pieces for an exhibition, performance or a commission. Normally, there will be a faculty in place to support artists with technical needs like tools and studio space.


At the core of the residency experience for many artists is the ability to step away from the usual day-to-day routines and have a respite to devote time and energy to their creative practice. This often means being situated in a new place or culture and can offer fresh inspiration to creatively explore new ideas.


For many participants, the potential for collaboration between artists-in-residence is appealing and can lead to new relationships being formed and peer networks expanded. Resident artists can meet local creatives, fellow residents, curators, scientists, or researchers, building their audience in the process. There may also be opportunities for groups to develop a new project in collaboration.


There are many stipends available directly from residency programs to cover expenses such as living cost and materials, as well as production cost and renting equipment or hiring contract employees. This financial support will often attract additional funding from outside organisations like national, regional, or city art councils. 

The role and benefits of an artist residency for the host


For the organisers of a residency program, hosting artists from all over the world raises the profile of their city or region, and places it within the art world sphere. Resident artists may initiate projects that have a positive impact for the local community.

Artist development & opportunities

Many residency hosts provide professional development and networking opportunities for both visiting artists and the host community. These activities propagate connections between other artists and exchange opportunities with other arts organisations, bringing in outside curators or exhibitions with a partner arts venue. Different residencies may promote a particular art form or practice, encouraging experimentation or interdisciplinary collaboration. They also might target specific groups, like early-career artists, or those with a particular background. More generally, residencies aim to foster shared ideas and new methods of creating interactions between the host community and the artists.

Types of artist residencies

Research-based residencies

Artists develop ideas with access to specialist materials, expertise or knowledge, often tied closely to the place of research and with the people they are working with. Research residencies are more about developing ideas than producing a specific outcome. However, artist-researchers may discover solutions or new approaches to the issues arising in their work.

Thematic residencies

A thematic residency offers a structured program where artists, curators, and other arts professionals come together to create work and discuss pertinent themes.

Production-based residencies

A production-based residency provides an opportunity for artists to work on and realise a particular project/artwork. Often supported by a curatorial and technical team and with the intention to be finalised and exhibited afterwards.

Interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial residencies

The purpose of an interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial residency is for creatives working with a variety of media, in different disciplines and fields of the arts. Both artists and the residency hosts tend to explore the possibilities found in collaboration with partners across other sectors outside the arts world.

Virtual residencies

A virtual residency offers artists the use of a platform and a period to work on a project and/or present their work. One intention is to decentralise the art discourse, which can give the artists’ work online exposure to a wider international audience. It is an experimental approach to working and focused on the process rather than oriented around the completion of a specific project.

Why do Virtual Residencies?

There are many advantages of doing a virtual residency, even outside of the current crisis and social-distancing measures.

For artists

A major consideration for participating in a virtual residency is immobility, trouble travelling or leaving home for an extended time, whether because of finances, family commitments, visa issues, etc.

This works on both sides. The public audience can experience and get involved in an artist’s work, project or creative process from wherever they are, regardless of physical or geographical limitations.  

Generally speaking, a virtual residency stimulates institutional support and visibility for an artist’s work and practice. There is not such a large financial commitment that goes along with doing a residency program in a virtual setting, as the need for accommodation, meals, travel expenses and more is removed. Increased accessibility means a more inclusive art world where the virtual format acts as a platform for open exchange, and a broader, global audience can join the conversation.


For organizers

Art programs, institutions, and alternative platforms gain good exposure from virtually produced residencies. It allows for a greater diversity in the organisers’ output, bringing together different voices and perspectives than would normally be possible in a more traditional residency. Running a virtual residency can be a more sustainable form, as it requires fewer resources and doesn’t cost as much, which means it is easier to support more artists. Of course, the idea is not new. For example, ‘Instagram takeovers’ is a familiar phrase to most people today, but residencies in a virtual space are becoming more prevalent and more formalised.


Virtual residencies may have limitations like not being able to experience a new environment in-person, or experience a new culture in the same way, but new forms of exchange through virtual platforms open interesting new channels where anything is possible.

A virtual residency could help to develop a wider reach for artists’ work, spark new ideas, and even provide funding.




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