Explore the national park or national forest for a week or more, maybe get paid? There are tons of artists-in-residence opportunities scattered across the United States. Take a chance, see a new part of the country and create new work inspired by unique landscapes.
It may sound too good to be true, but there is a long list of Artist-in-Residence (AIR) opportunities from Alaska to the Florida Keys. Spending a couple weeks at the Dry Tortugas has always been high on my list. Where would you want to spend a chunk of time to focus on your photography? Before you pack your bags, take a look at the details, and make sure you’re up to the task.
Most AIR have a small application fee $25 to $50 to cover administrative time and effort, some go higher up to $110. The largest network of AIRs is the National Park System; some are run directly by the hosting park, others, like the Dry Tortugas, are run by the non-profit National Parks Arts Foundation. The other large network of locations is hosted by the National Forest; some of these places include the most remote parts of Alaska and other wilderness areas you’ve probably never heard of. These tend to have lower application fees associated with them.
Two weeks away from civilization sounds pretty sweet; a month might be a stretch for most of us. Each Artist-in-Residence has its own requirements for the length of time an artist is required to stay on site. In the research I’ve done, the majority of terms are two weeks, and the next most popular is a month. If you’re thinking Dry Tortugas, like I am, this one is a bit unique, because it requires a joint application. You need to find another artist that is willing to go off grid for a month. That someone also needs to be able to tolerate you for a stretch.
There is no lack of exotic locations: Acadia National Park, Yellowstone, Big Cypress Swamp, and a bunch in Alaska. There are also many to choose from if adventure isn’t your jam: Gettysburg for the history buffs, Death Valley Dark Skies for all the astrophotographers out there, and the list goes on and on. There are also smaller private and non-profit AIRs that can be more local to you and sometimes have shorter terms, so they become a bit more appealing to the working class photographer. There are a couple on Cape Cod, Massachusetts that provide a “shack” in the dunes — truly off the grid, but maybe that’s what some of us need to refocus on the creative process. Oftentimes, small, local non-profits work with local artists to create work centered on lands they have conserved or special places connected to their mission. These are great short-term opportunities to see if an AIR works for you and your process.
Everyone loves to get paid. Few of the Artist in Residence programs provide a stipend, but some do. The Death Valley and another one in Hawaii have stipends of $1,000 and $2,000, but the required term is a full month of residency. These are the exceptions and not the rule, so don’t expect to find many that provide money.
Even if you don’t receive a stipend, a couple weeks of lodging can add up quickly. The accommodations for every AIR are different, ranging from a tent or shack all the way up to a clean hotel room or even a romantic cabin in the woods. One of my favorites I came across was the “shack” in the dunes of Cape Cod: small, rustic, and with no running water. On the other end of the spectrum, an AIR in Hawaii provides a three-bedroom, three-bath home with a recording booth, meditation area, and art studio.
Requirements: Art, Copyright, and Public Presentation
Across the board, each AIR requires that the artist provides public presentations of the work being produced. That can take the form of lectures, shows, workshops,or any other form that connects the work with the public. Another common component is that the artist provides a set number of finished works to the organization to be included in a catalog with other past artists or that could be used for fundraising purposes. Copyrights for individual works vary; some places require they get transferred over, others just require co-ownership.
Like anything out there, read the fine print before diving too deep into the application process and make sure those key parts of the program match with your work, life, and checkbook. I think all of us would love to carve out a couple weeks and leave the world behind to just focus on creating art. The reality is quite different: we have clients to please, bills to pay, and schedules to keep, but if you do have an itch to use your photography to explore a new place more deeply, maybe an Artist-in-Residence is the thing for you.
To make this even more useful to anyone looking at doing an Artist-in-Residence program, please add a comment or two letting us know which program you did and if it was great, good, bad, or horrible.