How to Start a DIY Artist Residency
Willa Koerner's recipe for
First, get clear on what you can actually offer as a residency space. An extra bedroom? Access to a studio? The homepage of your organization’s website? Great. Next, list out what you’ll provide to residents beyond the space itself. Will you feed them dinner? Will you mentor them, or offer supplies? Many different kinds of offerings can present a desirable residency opportunity—you just have to carve out a program that makes your offering clear. Decide which kinds of artists/projects you’ll prioritize. Will you host any kind of visual artist, or just narrative filmmakers? Is this program specifically for artists working on climate-based projects? Or better suited for projects focused on social justice? Make any preferred mediums and themes clear in your application so that you don’t end up wasting the time of artists whose work doesn’t make sense for your residency. Simultaneously decide what kind of rubric you’ll use to select residents from your pool of applicants, keeping in mind that it’s crucial to consider diversity, equity, and inclusion in your application process. Set a timeline. When do you want to host artists in your space, and for how long will you host each resident? As you pick out dates, be sure to leave enough time to adequately promote the residency opportunity, and for artists to apply. Generally, I’d leave at least three months between when you start promoting your residency, and when you want to start hosting people. Understand the importance of developing a recognizable visual identity. Even if you’re not a designer, choosing an evocative name, making a logo (even if it’s just a font you like), and picking a few colors you’ll use consistently can help make your residency feel more exciting and formalized. When developing your branding—and when choosing a name especially—aim to be both descriptive and distinctive. Promote your residency opportunity using clear, concise language. These kinds of opportunities tend to travel well through social media and email, so make some beautiful IG assets and send out some tweets. Don’t just plunk it on social media and hope for the best, though—be direct about it. DM your artist friends and ask them to re-share your open call. Email artists in your community and invite them to apply, or reach out to curators, arts administrators, and others with wide artist networks and ask them to circulate your new offering. Be gracious in this process and use it as an opportunity to meaningfully rekindle your relevant relationships. Don’t worry if applications don’t pour in right away. Most artists end up applying on the day of the deadline. And even if you only get a handful of residents for your first go-round, that’s great! It’s good to start small with these things and treat each step as an experiment. And of course, these are just instructions for getting your residency started. Once you begin to host artists, you’ll need a whole new recipe to ensure they feel comfortable in your space, and have a positive experience. You’ll also need to find ways to balance the emotional labor of hosting people in your personal space with your need for privacy and days off. This was always hard for me, but it’s possible to make it work—just be sure to set boundaries and be realistic about what you can offer, so you don’t get burnt out. Now go forth and let the DIY residencies proliferate!