Friday, November 20, 2009

Artist Residencies - What You Should Know

While I am waiting for photographs from Madeline DeFree's 90th Birthday Celebration at Elliott Bay Book Company, I thought I would post my 10 Tips on Applying to Artist Colonies. I gave this talk as part of a panel at the Panama Hotel in Seattle, last week. The hotel is a historic building in the International District and really deserves a post of its own. Later. In the years since I started writing, it seems I have traveled to over ten different residencies, retreats, and foundations in search of a quiet space to write and to meet other artists.

Here are a few things I've learned about the application process.

1. Be a dreamer and a realist. Which artist residency would you most like to visit? Apply. But don't pack your bags quite yet. An analogous process might be applying to colleges. Aim high, medium, and outside the box.

2.Create cohesion in your application. You need a narrative line to be remembered. It is not true what many residencies state about "send your best work." Send a writing sample that allows for easy identification in terns of content or style. You might be "the Spanish fire survivor" or "the sonneteer."

3. Timing Matters. If you apply during the fall and winter months, you will have a much higher chance of being accepted to the residency of your choice. Residencies receive the brunt of their applications for the summer months. Apply in winter and your chances of acceptance will sky rocket!

4. Keep It Organized. Start a computer file of which residencies you are considering and a list of application dates. Many residencies have two deadlines a year when you can apply - some, like Hedgebrook, just one.  A place on your computer that has your applications, work sample, and deadline dates will allow you to track what works and what needs tweaking.

5. Keep It Fun. Remember the license plate game from childhood? Why not try for residencies in states you've never been? My residency at the Ucross Foundation was my first time meeting cowboys and seeing tumbleweed. New landscapes = new writing.

6. Talk, talk, talk. Seek out people who are former residents. Ask lots of questions. For example: Is there an evacuation plan in case of fire? (I was at a residency in Spain that burned in the wildfires while I was there). Once you've been accepted, most residencies are happy to put you in touch with former residents.

7. And a Zillion Internet Resources at your fingertips. I've mentioned Mira's List here already.. The organization of artist residencies has a book and an internet site. You may have to pay a little for using the site with ease; I am a fan of the physical book, myself.

8. All residencies are not created equal. Do you work better with others or in total isolation. Will you flourish in the country or the city? Is a separate space to write in necessary (sometimes only the visual artists get studios - best to check)? How flexible are you with what you eat? Are you able to deal with community living? How about the daily practice of an off-key saxophonist? Know thyself! A good article on this subject is at Artist Communities.

9. Don't get discouraged. Juried panels tend to change every year or two. This means that prior rejection has little to do with what next season's judges will choose. Many writers apply one, two, or three times to the same residency.

10. More questions? Feel free to leave a comment here and I will do my best to respond!


  1. Very helpful post, Susan! I finally updated my blogroll to include your new blog!

  2. Thanks so much, Jeannine! I really feel like the new kid at school who hasn't made any friends yet except the two girls that show her how to get home! I hope you're well.

  3. Very helpful post, Susan. I haven't been to a residency since Hedgebrook (back in spring of 1999!), but would like to do one sometime in the next year or two to focus on new poems. You've given me tips that I wouldn't have considered otherwise. Thanks.

  4. Asphodel - so glad to know I've been helpful to you. That's one of the key reasons I began this blog -- which is now one week old!

  5. great tips/ advice. i linked to the post on my blog.

    i get emails from folks asking me about yaddo or macdowell once or twice a month and i'm always happy to answer their questions.

    i'm thinking of applying to ucross. i've heard good things about it. what was your favorite thing(s) about ucross?

  6. Hi Eduardo,
    Well, I had never been to a place that had tumbleweeds - and the sky was enormous! As far as the place itself. Four of us slept in a converted train depot. I loved that. Gorgeous renovation. Then there was a chef from Seattle who cooked wild salmon to welcome me the first night. I am also from Seattle. Thanks for asking!