Creative Digest

Jo Atherton

Have you ever thought of taking an artist residency? This month, we consider why so many artists choose to leave the comfort of their studio to embark on a project in an unfamiliar location, and examine how the often unpredictable results can work wonders for your creative practice.

There are different types of residency, so this month I reflect on my own experience whilst providing a few examples of opportunities closer to home along with some for the more adventurous!

Despite many artists having a dedicated space to work, be it a studio, shed or room at home, it can be surprising how easily daily life distractions can creep in. A few snatched hours here and there may be the only opportunity you have to dedicate to your creative practice. There is much to be said for dedicating an entire block of time which enables you to immerse yourself fully in your work, something a residency can allow. This is long enough to explore ideas thoroughly, disappear down creative rabbit holes to experiment and see where your thoughts take you, without the background worry of daily chores, schedules or a pet hate of mine - having to pack things away!

Brisons Veor, Cornwall

Over Easter, I was lucky enough to spend a week down in Cornwall as a Brisons Veor Artist in Residence. This was an opportunity I had applied for, deciding that time away from my usual routine would give me the space to honestly reflect on my work and try out some new ideas. I could not have predicted how useful it was going to be, and would never have heard of it had it not been listed on the HVA Opportunities.

With an entire week to myself, I had the time to experiment with new ideas, play and allow myself to make mistakes. If something didn’t work as expected, that was fine as I had the whole week to work through themes and thoughts - something I had simply not been able to realise in my home environment.

The Brisons Veor Artist in Residence Scheme has a rolling application deadline each quarter and I would encourage anyone to apply. The experience had such a positive impact on me that I have been evangelising about it ever since! Located down in Cornwall near Land’s End, it is the perfect spot to immerse oneself, far from distractions and surrounded by the constant soundtrack of the roaring tides. You can read reflections from artists who have spent time at Cape Cornwall and enjoy their different interpretations of this special place and learn why they chose to spend time on this beautiful peninsula.

Closer to home - opportunities within the Home Counties

Residencies often crop up in the county and are posted in the Opportunities section of the HVA website. This month, Courtyard Arts in Hertford are inviting applications for an Artist in Residence, along with an opportunity to work from a quirky shed in Norfolk!

Schools often invite artists to spend one day a week to work alongside students. Usually unpaid, these residencies typically offer space and free reign of equipment in exchange for interacting with students and possibly running a number of workshops. The arrangement is mutually beneficial, allowing the artist more room to work on a dedicated project, the use of facilities such as kilns, and the chance to gain teaching experience. Keep your eye on the HVA website for these opportunities over the summer, ready for the start of the new academic year.

Artists Access to Art Colleges (AA2A)

The AA2A project provides placements for visual artists and designer makers in Higher and Further Education institutions across England. Within our county, placements are available at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield and North Herts College in Hitchin.

I was lucky enough to be selected for a residency placement at North Herts College back in 2012-13. This was my first experience of a residency and I cannot stress how much value there is in sharing techniques and explaining ideas. It was a fun environment to be part of a learning community, especially as any artist is used to spending periods of time working in solitude. In a different studio, with different tools, new materials and meeting interesting people was all I needed to inject a new direction into my work. In the residency situation, everything is unfamiliar, which made it easier to take risks and try new things.

Further afield - international residencies

ResArtis is ‘a worldwide network of artist residencies’ listing opportunities from a wide range of countries and organisations. Some of my favourite opportunities from the past year include a visit to the Arctic Circle, working with ‘a growing network of curators, gallerists, arts presenters and institutions to engage with the public and to communicate ideas resulting from the expedition’. Or how about spending 23 Days at Sea, travelling on a container ship across the International Date Line from Vancouver to Shanghai?! Access Gallery in Canada ran an international Call to Artists earlier this year calling for those who would like to spend time in what must be the perfect location for solitude and reflection. And if neither of those appeal, don’t despair as there is still time to get your application ready for the Hadron Collider residency in Geneva!

Create your own opportunity

One final point I would like to stress is that if you are inspired by a particular place, a collection a community group you would particularly like to work with, don’t wait for a residency to emerge. Why not make a direct approach and propose your project?

In a recent Arts Council report, Animating Museums: Working with artists, engaging audiences, the value of artistic reinterpretation is recognised. ‘Artists often draw on, and draw out, stories, collections and connections previously unseen and unknown to visitors.’ By inviting this creative input, new expertise can develop both the skills of both museums and artists. During times of austerity, ‘these partnerships enable arts organisations, artists and museums to pool their resources and to attract new support and income streams.’