Museum Residencies Offer Opportunities for Artists

  • 2015-12-15
  • Huffington Post

Nowadays, museums seem to do everything but give visitors a room for the night: They provide food, plan vacations, organize parties, offer concerts and opportunities for shopping, help single people find a date and teach classes. They also exhibit one thing or another, and a growing number of them have established artist-in-residency programs that allow artists to display their work (finished and in-progress) to, and interact with, the public. The result is a win-win situation for all concerned, as both artists and museums benefit from their joint efforts.

At the Coral Springs Museum of Art in Florida, which created an artist-in-residence program in 2000, for instance, artists receive a stipend of $9,000 for their one-to three-month residencies, free materials, a studio in the museum, room and board (staying either with staff or patrons of the museum) and a separate payment for the purchase of the artwork they create on site. "What they create becomes part of the permanent collection," said Barbara O'Keefe, director of the museum. "We're a small museum, and we have no budget for acquisitions. We found that it is less expensive to have an artist-in-residence program than to raise and maintain an acquisitions budget." She added that sources of financial support -- both individuals and public and private agencies -- are more willing to provide money for a program that involves both an activity and acquisitions than just one or the other.

For the artists involved, the end result of their residencies is not just one more line on their resumes, but "a lot of coverage in the local papers" (Hollywood, Florida textile artist Barbara W. Watler), "a lot of calls from people interested in commissioning a piece" (South Lake Tahoe, California mosaic artist Patricia Campau) and the actual purchase of a work by a museum patron -- "I was told to bring other, completed pieces with me to the residency" (Gray, Maine sculptor Roy Patterson). Justine Cooper, an artist living in Brooklyn, New York who has completed residencies at both the Bellevue Art Museum in Seattle and the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, the experience has been helpful when applying to funding sources for other projects:

"It gives me a proven track record or receiving money and doing something with it."

There is no one type of museum artist-in-residence program. In many institutions, the artist-in-residence program is run out of the museum's education department with a very specific mandate to develop and complete projects with school-age children, and there may be no studio or materials for the artists or opportunities for them to exhibit their own work. "They're brought in to be a presence in the community, more as a creative catalyst than as a maker of art," said Kelly Armor, educator coordinator at the Erie Art Museum in Pennsylvania, which brings in artists as short-term (three days to two weeks) residents in conjunction with exhibitions the institution is staging of their work. "They are here to be teachers, reflecting not a particular technique but now they think about art and articulate that." Artists do not apply to be residents but are selected by recommendation of other artists, critics, curators and whoever else has the ear of museum staff.