5 Different Ways to do a Residency as a Mother of a Young Child

Posted by: Elaine Luther

Residencies are a wonderful way to get away to an inspiring place and be surrounded by fellow artists.  They also give artists external validation and focused time to immerse themselves in a single art work or body of work.

The requirement to produce while at the residency and the built in deadline can sometimes get an artist to try new things that they might not have otherwise.

While I love residencies, I have youngish children, so it is not at all easy to get away.  They not only need to be cared for, but they also need to be driven around to assorted lessons, they have their own schedules to keep.

My solution to this challenge has been to go on very short residencies, just one week.  This is difficult because there aren’t many one week residencies.  My children will not be young forever and I try to set aside this desire to go off and be a part of an intention artistic community, but it just won’t go away. 

I have a bit of a hobby of collecting strategies and programs for artists with children to get away to a residency, or to create an alternative program at home. 

In this article I’ll share with you the information I’ve gathered about residencies specifically designed to support artists who are parents as well as the stories of mother-artists who have found a way to create a residency in their daily lives.

Childcare is the single largest obstacle to going on a residency.  Even if one has a committed partner who would be delighted to take over complete care for the child or children, can they?  Will they have to use all of their vacation time for the year in order to do so?  These are complicated decisions that involve multiple family members, partner and perhaps grandparents, if you are lucky!  Can you afford not only the lost wages for yourself, but in addition, the money to pay for quality childcare while you are away?  No wonder so many parent-artists simply give up and wait.

A short residency

This has been my solution so far — I have gone on two short residencies, each one lasting a single week week.  One was technically a class that I received a merit scholarship for, but in my mind, it was a residency, because of the immersive quality of being away, completely focused on making art.

I’ve included two images here of art work I created while at the Uphill Art Farm residency, where I really went deeper into working with embroidery hoops, something I continued doing for the next two years, taking the concepts as far as they could go and creating dozens of pieces.

There are very few short term residencies, those lasting one to two weeks, but they do exist.  That’s the simplest strategy, find a short residency and work out your own childcare on your own.

A few, pioneering residency programs are trying out new things to meet the needs of artist-parents, mostly by providing some level of economic support for childcare.

Here are some of the residencies, grants and alternative approaches to residencies for artists.

Money for childcare

The Women’s Studio Workshop in Kingston, New York, offers a Parent Residency Grant of $1,000.00 that can be used to pay for childcare back at home, or bring the child or children with your and finding childcare

The Headlands Center for the Arts in California offers family members the ability to stay (at no charge) in the  Family House for up to four weeks.  Children would obviously need a caregiver with them.

Sustainable Arts Foundation

This foundation, which already has a program of awarding grants to artist-parents with children at home who are under the age of 18, is now providing grants organizations.  In most cases, the organizations receiving the grants are residency hosts, which in turn award the grants to the artists who are accepted to attend the residency.

More information can be found here.

Both artist – spouses go, take turns

Chicago artist Christa Donner and her husband, Andrew Yang solved this problem by going on two residencies, at the same time and taking turns.  She wrote a residency report here, on the website Cultural Reproducers, which Christa co-runs. 

Here are some strategies other artists have used to participate in or create residencies.

Cultural Reproducers has an extensive list of residencies of all kinds, virtual, in-person and with and without children.

Bring the kids

The Wassaic Artist Residency offers the option to bring your family, the stay can be one to eight weeks.  Financial support is not given toward childcare, but it is a positive start that you can bring your family at all, I hope that more and more residencies will be responsive to the needs of artist-parents.

The Sante Fe Institute in New Mexico invites artists with children to attend in July for their Family Residency.  Here is an article that describes the beginnings of this program, on Cultural Reproducers.  And two artists shared their experiences here and here.

The Sante Fe model sounds like a dream to me, because not only are the artist’s needs met, but the children are getting a bonus artistic experience.  Rather than “just” being brought along, the kids also get a special experience to look forward to.  This seems really ideal. 

Each solution seems to bring its own trade offs.  While a program that provides on-site childcare is wonderful, you have to consider the additional travel expenses when bringing the whole family. 

Hybrid Model

The only hybrid residency I have heard of is the one at the Edna St. Vincent Milay Colony.  You go there for a no less than four days and then continue working at home, with financial support.

This is a brilliant accommodation that they offer not only to parent-artists but also to artists whose specific, and often heavy, equipment needs, to not allow them to travel as an artist to a residency very easily.  (This was one of my issues when I worked as a metalsmith, the tools are heavy.)

They have printmakers, for example, in mind.  More information here.  

Other artists have taken a different approach, a staying home and immersing themselves in motherhood and art both, while at home.

Residency IN motherhood

Artist Lenka Clayton solved the problem of the residency while being a mother problem by creating a residency IN motherhood.  You can see the work she made while in residence. 

And she has since gone on to create a model for other mothers — she offers a free how-to kit as well as services and support for a fee.

Artist Working

While Lenka Clayton took the approach of making her residency an immersive experience in motherhood, Rebecca Kautz took the opposite approach, emphasizing that she, the artist, was always at work as an artist, even while doing the work of the mother.  Her year long project was called, Artist Working.  You can read about it on her blog, in reverse order.  

During her year, Kautz wore the same while coveralls, every day, without washing them.  The coveralls say, “Artist” on the back in bold, black letters.

One of the fascinating things about this project is that she ended up wearing the coveralls for not one year, as planned, but one year and one day, as she had trouble letting go of the project.  I find this interesting as so many fairy tales involve the enchantment lasting a year and a day.

Wait until the kids are older

The Sally Wolf approach — draw the moon each night, for decades.  She created her moon project because as a mother, it was something she could do at home, yet commit to doing every single day.  I love this example because it shows what a small daily practice can add up to over time.

She writes eloquently about her experience as a mother-artist on her site.

This project has grown over the years and been shown at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, at Fermilab, in Batavia, IL and she got to work on it while on a residency at Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest, IL.

To find your own perfect residency, check out the website of the Alliance for Artist Communities.  This is the not for profit member organization for the residency places themselves.  AAC has extensive listings that are easily searchable to find a residency that’s right for you.

Consequences of being away

Another price to consider is the emotional labor involved in being away from children, and the catching up and rebuilding of trust when one returns, depending on the age and needs of the child.  I went away on my first residency, for just one week, when my youngest child was 5 years old.  It was very hard on her and I regretted it a bit.  I decided to wait until she was older to leave again.

As a mother, my standards are very high.  A residency experience cannot be merely adequate for me, it has to be really, really worth it, because so many people have been called in to replace me and a young child who needs me is also sacrificing while I am away.

This issue has made me think that for now, for me, perhaps the best approach is to just take nice vacations with my family.  Get some of that new perspective and freshness that comes from travel, take a lot of photos, and bring that back to my home studio.

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