Artist residencies are a terrific way for creative types of all stripes – writers, painters, dancers, sculptors, photographers, and filmmakers – to beef up their resumes, get a tremendous amount of work done, and see some of this great country of ours. As a fiction writer, I've been lucky enough to be accepted at four programs: Caldera in Sisters, Oregon, in 2006; Red Cinder Artist Colony on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2007; The Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, in October, 2008; and at Centrum in Port Townsend, Washington, in June of 2011.
Residencies are usually awarded based on an artist's work. Some programs only accept published or acclaimed applicants, but many will consider emerging artists who have won awards or otherwise distinguished themselves. A few require references with the application, and many want artists and writers who are able to spend a committed length of time at the facility. Residency programs usually offer some type of housing, which can be anything from a log cabin to a room inside a house. Most include meal plans and some provide space to cook your own meals. The majority expect you to get there on your own and provide for your own transportation while you're there.
Whether you're a working parent or a single person with a busy day job, an artist residency is the ultimate getaway. Imagine two-three weeks of nothing but fresh air and free time. You'll meet many other artists and writers who are there the same time you are. You get to sleep in or stay up late, read, explore, ruminate, meditate, breathe – and create your art.
A great resource for locating artist residencies can be found at www.artistcommunities.org. Also, watch for announcements in industry publications and newsletters for your artistic field.
Here is an excerpt from a note I sent my agent after my stay at Caldera in Oregon:
The residency was an incredible interlude – so peaceful and beautiful. I awoke each morning to a blanket of snow on the deck and trees outside the window of my A-frame cabin. I'd build a fire in my little wood burning stove and listen to NPR on my shortwave radio while I made coffee, then worked until 1:30 or so. I usually hiked around Blue Lake or Suttle Lake in the afternoon, or sometimes went in to Sisters, which is a really pretty little town. There are lots of ranches off of Highway 20, and most farms have a few llamas interspersed with the cattle. The forest in Central Oregon is all Ponderosa pine and Douglas firs, spreading for miles up the valleys and into the hillsides.
There was a blue heron who fed in Link Creek right outside my main window. He flew up into the air one day in the middle of a snow storm. It was a lovely sight. I also discovered a pair of bonded eagles that nest at Suttle Lake. The male has an eight-foot wing span. There were hundreds of salmon in the creek, heading for the fish ladder just outside the Hearth Center before returning to Blue Lake to spawn. I laughed out loud one morning when a baby squirrel fell out of one of the pine trees onto the deck outside my cabin. I think his appearance surprised us both. He sat there kind of stunned for a moment before scampering away. There was also a resident blue jay, who was quite a persistent character. He'd hit the railing of the deck each morning with a loud thunk, and then come stumping up to the window, cocking his head and looking at me as if to say, "Okay, sister, cough up the food!"
I really miss my fellow artists at Caldera. Even though we spent most of the days and nights working alone or in the center studios, we all got incredibly close. The whole experience of being there was amazing – almost Zen. There is something about being in the woods where, except for the sound of the creek outside your window or the wind blowing through the trees, there is nothing but you and your work. I felt a sense of everything falling away – all of the noise and material trappings – and experienced a heightened state of awareness. Everything you do up there, from lighting a fire to walking along the lake shore to putting words on a page, becomes filled with intention. It was very hard to leave.