Museum Residencies Offer Opportunities for Artists

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.

Good art may be enough to get an exhibition, but to be an artist-in-residence, "they have to enjoy being around other people," Armor said. "I've approached artists who didn't feel comfortable conversing or leading discussions and don't think it's the best use of their time."

Similarly, artists chosen for the artist-in-residence program at the Rockford Art Museum in Illinois "must have teaching experience," said education coordinator Mindy Nixon. The program, which began in 1996, is "structured for youths; they tour the museum and do an activity with the artist-in-residence."

The Aspen Art Museum in Colorado, on the other hand, which established its artist-in-residency back in 1979 but let it languish, restarting the program again in 2006, has no teaching or workshops required, "unless the artist feels like it," according to assistant curator Matthew Thompson. The average residency is one month, although it may be as short as two days or as long as two months. Artists are given a workspace in one of the museum's galleries (viewable by the public), and it is there than exhibition of what the artist has created during the interim is exhibited. In addition to studio space, artists receive accommodations and an allowance for food, money for materials, equipment and to pay assistants. Since the Aspen Art Museum is not a collecting institution, what the artist creates does not go into a permanent collection, although "if the piece is sold, we may try to recoup our costs," Thompson noted.

It is not only artist museums that have artist-in-residence programs. A number of science and natural history museums also have worked with artists, establishing more or less formalized residencies. On the less formalized side is the American Museum of Natural History, which allows artists to work at the institution on projects for which they arrange financial support and of which the museum gives approval. Justine Cooper's 2003-04 project of photographing behind-the-scenes storage and collection facilities at the museum was funded by both the New York City-based Greenwall Foundation and the Australia Council. Thomas A. Bennett, a painter in Wallace, North Carolina, proposed the idea of creating 80 paintings of extinct or endangered bird species of the southeastern United States to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh back in 1999, which started and sums up the museum's artist-in-residence program. (He doesn't expect the project to be completed before 2015.) In exchange for a stipend that ranges from between $15,000 and $50,000 per year (based on the museum's success in fundraising), Bennett donates the original paintings to the institution's collection, "although I own all rights and can make prints," he said. His self-published print editions, which vary in size from 100 to 750, are priced between $175 and $1,450.

Being the museum's artist-in-residence has led to considerable exposure, when he is seen working in the museum or his paintings are seen in the museum (some visitors to the museum have commissioned him to create specific wildlife paintings), and in a wider sphere as well. In 2005, he was given an award by the South Carolina Audubon Society, and the Missouri Department of Conservation requested the use of one of his paintings in the museum's collection, a South Carolina parakeet, for an exhibition.