Provide Quality Work Samples: The single most important factor in being accepted into a residency is the quality of your creative work, not who you know or where you have exhibited/published/performed. Often the jury is reviewing only your work samples, while the narrative part of your application comes into play only after you’ve advanced to the next round. So it is critical that you provide high-quality work samples.
- Use a professional photographer, audio engineer, videographer, etc., to ensure your work is well documented.
- Select your strongest recent work. Have a friend or colleague you trust look over the samples you have chosen to give you feedback. If you are moving in a new direction in your work but do not yet have good examples of your new work, choose work samples that demonstrate your strongest work and then discuss the new ideas in the narrative parts of your application.
- Select a coherent set of work samples. Too little variety seems like you are stuck; too much variety seems like you are scattered – try to find a happy medium. The jurors don’t need to know that you are interested in everything; they just want to know what is most compelling and that you have enough depth in your creative practice to explore ideas.
Articulate Your Interest in This Residency: Some applications ask for a statement of intent, a project proposal, or an artist statement. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that you have done your homework and know why this particular residency is of interest to you. Perhaps you are drawn to its location, its history, its technical equipment and facilities, the surrounding community, the other kinds of artists that attend, the organization’s values, etc. – whatever the reason, find a way to connect with the residency program in a meaningful way.
Show Appropriate Project Plans: Residencies can be a time for you to explore new work and experiment, to try new techniques, and to work without expectations of outcome. So if nobody is looking over your shoulder, why do they ask what you plan to work on during a residency? Project proposals are used to help the residency staff and jury better understand your thought process, your ability to imagine the possibilities of a residency, and your recognition of what is appropriate for this particular residency. For example, an artist applying for a year-long residency should think beyond a specific short-term project that he/she would like to finish; an artist applying for a rural, isolated residency whose work normally involves urban landscapes should discuss how a new environment will further his/her work. Project proposals also allow the organization to plan what facilities or equipment you might need, and whether they can accommodate your needs.
Follow Directions: From requiring work samples in a certain file format, to limiting the number of words or pages, to asking for specific information, residency programs spend a great deal of care and thought developing an application process. Most now use an online application service, like Call For Entry or Slideroom. And with hundreds or even thousands of applications per deadline, applicants who do not follow directions are often eliminated outright. Not following directions also sends a bad message, when residency directors have to consider whether a resident will follow directions about studio safety, being a good neighbor to fellow residents, and not damaging property.
Make it Easy on the Jury: If you are given a chance to include information on the context for your work samples (e.g., date, materials, scale, performers, publication, etc.), do so. If there are gaps in your resume (e.g., a lapse in your creative output while you raised a family), bring it up. Have someone you trust review your materials before you submit (preferably someone who has served on a selection panel before) – if there are red flags, don’t shy away from them!
Choose Your References Wisely: Many residency applications include references or letters of recommendation. These are primarily used to determine how well you will be able to function in a self-directed environment and in community with others. Be sure to ask for references from people who can speak to these things, rather than seeking references who have cache but don’t know you well; if you have attended other residencies, consider the residency director as a reference.
Not sure about something? Ask!: Applying for a residency, especially if it is your first time, is nerve-wracking. If you are unsure what is being asked of you, whether you might be a good fit for the program, whether you should apply in one discipline or another if your work is multidisciplinary, which application deadline is more competitive, if the site can accommodate your workplace needs, or other questions, just email the residency or program director. Be as clear and concise in an email as possible as to what your concerns are, and solicit feedback well in advance of a deadline. And if you are not accepted, ask for feedback. Not every program offers this, but it can’t hurt to ask!