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Drawing on past UK evidence , this essay provides analysis how the landscape and drivers for artists’ residencies have changed and insight to inform more productive residency practices within future arts policies.

The terms of reference for today’s artists’ residencies are wide and various. Examples of the polar­ities artists are now presented with range from a considered oppor­tunity over several months for artists to take stock and reflect with little or no expec­tation of public’ output, to those residencies in which artists are expected find a solution to a community, education or arts problem’ in a short time, often for a very small fee. 

Drawing on evidence from the past in the UK, this essay attempts to provide a brief analysis how the landscape and drivers for artists’ residencies have changed, highlighting where arts policy and the changing political and economic climate might have impacted on the various expec­ta­tions for, and manifes­ta­tions of, the residency format. By raising and commenting on the issues arising and highlighting an example of one artist’s commitment to set a new, more equal context for artists’ residencies, it is intended to contribute insight to inform future residency practices and arts policies. 

Defin­i­tions and origins 

Research (Dahl, 1987) concluded that residencies were essen­tially about two kinds of relationship: On the one hand there are those residencies which are exclu­sively about the artist and the artist’s activity. On the other, there are those exclu­sively concerned with people and people’s activ­ities. The difference is the degree to which the clients’ – the people whom the residency project serves – are considered to be an active element in it.” 

He described as artist-centred’ those residencies which were either trans­ferred studio’ or commission-based’, and as people-centred’ a residency such as for a community artist, the response requirement’ type (in which the charac­ter­istics of the situation are the lever for new work), and the consul­tation-type’ (where artists’ creativity can effect change). His additional description of the inter­change type’ – a residency which balances the interests of artist and public – probably comes closest to what we might now recognise as a socially-engaged’ artists’ practice. 

However, we must look to the pioneering work of the Artists’ Placement Group (APG) in the 60 – 70s as the forerunner to artists’ residency practices in the UK. Initiated by artist Barbara Stevini, the group also included John Latham, Barry Flanagan, David Hall and Jeffrey Shaw.[i] APG’s aim was to reposition the role of the artist within a wider social context, including in government, commerce and industry. The brief for Garth Evans’ placement in 1969 at the British Steel Corpo­ration was simply to carry out his own work as a sculptor in relation to the material of the industry.” While he was categor­i­cally not expected to be working for BSC – his funding came from an education budget — he did in the process interview appren­tices on-site and produce a paper for the Iron and Steel Feder­ation. [ii]

As regards consid­ering the relationship between APG’s approach and current residency practices, it is notable that APG did not operate through a typical patronage or sponsorship model and seek funding to conduct a programme of activ­ities. Rather, each project was unique, the artist receiving a fee for under­taking a placement to which APG added a 15 – 20% fee to cover its organ­i­sa­tional costs. Signif­i­cantly, there was no consis­tently-applied residency formula. Each situation was individ­ually negotiated, with the placement process comprising an initial period of some months of paid-for time for the artist to conduct a feasi­bility study and famil­iarise themselves with the specific context, leading to formu­lation of the artistic proposal for the longer placement to follow.

Artists involved in APG were intended to function as independent observers within the organ­i­sa­tions which they placed, with nature of work produced devel­oping directly from being on site. It was John Latham who called artists placed such contexts an incidental person’ and an engineer of conceptual material… for which he (sic) carries respon­si­bility”. [iii]

UK Year of the artist 

Although it was artists including APG who led the way in concep­tu­al­ising artists’ place­ments as a new way of under­standing the artist’s role in society and in which the artist’s practice remained at the heart, a substan­tially different approach was taken for the UK’s Year of the Artist (YOTA) 200001. The overall ambition of this venture was to: Place the artist at the centre of society, to create a better under­standing of the role of the artist, to establish new partner­ships between every section of society and the arts, to empower artists and commu­nities and to have a lasting impact for their benefit.” 

While the original proposals for YOTA as devised by an independent working group of artists and practi­tioner-based organ­i­sa­tions had been broadly-based and encom­passed artists’ devel­opment, new art projects, in-depth research and strategies for raising public awareness, this was trans­lated by the regional arts boards concerned with activating the initiative specif­i­cally into a simple residency programme because, as an internal paper from the regional arts board Chairs group revealed, it was felt that this would: enable artists to work alongside more normal’ people who do not at present recognise the way arts can and do impinge on their lives”. 

Amongst YOTA’s highly-ambitious aims was a desire to provide signif­icant oppor­tu­nities for artists to initiate and develop projects and to demon­strate and promote good practice in the commis­sioning and employment of artists. Within the detailed objec­tives were aspira­tions to deliver lasting oppor­tu­nities for artists creatively, struc­turally and finan­cially; extend oppor­tu­nities for artists to exper­iment and replenish their creative energy; and to help expand the arts economy and support attempts to create new oppor­tu­nities for employing artists, including action to improve the economic status of the arts and artists. 

Artists’ pay and conditions 

To a lesser or greater degree, improving artists’ pay had been an aspiration of arts policy-makers since the mid 80s, and YOTA might have presented itself as a perfect vehicle to finally make this happen, both during Year itself and beyond. This was because an important principle in the ambition to improve the economic status of artists was estab­lishment of a minimum rate of pay for artists of £150 per day (£20,000 a year). This was intended to be a core legacy, upheld by the arts councils and boards and embedded into arts practices as a legacy for the future. 

However, although this minimum rate of pay for artists was recom­mended, the Arts Council (ACE) evalu­ation report by Hutton and Fenn (2002) revealed that in some cases that artists whose projects ran into financial diffi­culties effec­tively subsidised their residencies by taking a cut in fees. An approx­imate calcu­lation based on the number of artist days for the Year overall and the amount spent on fees produced a mean daily figure instead of £76: roughly half of the intended minimum rate. Led by a newly-appointed network of YOTA co-ordinators appointed to solicit and assess appli­ca­tions from artists through a mainly open submission meant that although £15m was invested by the arts bodies in 1,000 artists’ residencies, just £4.2m (38%) went on the individual artists’ projects and the remainder on general costs. 

It terms of whether YOTA achieved the all-important artistic ambition of replen­ishing artists’ creative energy, the Arts Council’s evalu­ation report forms shows that although most artists had gained new skills or developed their artistic ability in some way, some felt the formulaic constraints of the residency model and short length of most residencies had prevented them achieving the heightened creativity they had hoped for. Furthermore, an independent evalu­ation by Stephens (2001) concluded that YOTA had in effect taken artistic control away from artists and the artist-led and put it in the hands of arts managers this: signalling the devel­opment [more widely] of artists’ residencies as a management tool [which could be employed] to deliver arts policy.” 

The treatment and expec­ta­tions of artists for YOTA contributed in effect to a general momentum which has served to reclassify the role of artists away from a research-based art for art’s sake’ practice into becoming instru­ments of economic and social and community benefit, their creatively tempered and controlled by the ambitions and needs of insti­tu­tions. Within arts policies in England at least, the nuanced appli­ca­tions of the term residency, as identified by Dahl and tested by APG in the past, have largely given way to a contract for services’ approach which is a charac­ter­istic of the creative indus­tries as a whole. 

Artists in the creative industries 

Under the new-liber­alism of New Labour, a Green Paper in 2001 outlined the look and feel of a new cultural economy, one in which the new patterns of freelance and self-employed work were set out as a model for others in the industry – including those in the visual arts — to emulate. However as research by McRobbie (2001) concluded: The neolib­er­alism of the cultural economy under New Labour seems likely to be the model for some time. And yet the myriad of freelancers, part-timers, short-termers and contract workers who sustain the model who have nothing to lose but their talents know that their way of life and work is, over the long term, utterly unsustainable.” 

Portfolio working and the need for artists to hold down at one time three, or even four often short-term projects (which artists’ residencies nowadays often are) has compounded the issue of low pay and career uncer­tainty for artists. McRobbie (2002) has pointed out a key downside of creative indus­tries (and thus the visual arts) as a talent-led and social network-driven arts economy, is that: it irons out any dissent… It’s not cool to be difficult’”. Many artists will agree privately that in the current climate (in England at least) the misgivings they might have about what they are offered and expected to achieve against the size of the fee is must be privately managed and any diffi­culties carefully concealed, even from peers. 

Equality of opportunity 

Women now make up 70% of the UK’s visual arts workforce as a whole and amongst artists this same percentage holds true. This trend is likely to continue because there are more than twice as many female students than males leaving UK under­graduate fine art courses each year.[iv] While evalu­ation of YOTA did quantify the take-up of residencies by artists from ethnic minorities and those with disabil­ities, there was no data provided in the Arts Council’s evalu­ation report on gender balance. At first sight, however, it might seem that the portfolio working and synthe­sised visual arts practices that have developed since the Millennium and which are the norm now might be more favourable to women. 

However, there are conflicting opinions about where the actual disad­van­tages are to be found within the creative indus­tries as a whole which are pertinent to this essay. While her research pertains to new media workers, Gill’s asser­tions (2011) may also resonate with the context in which visual artists find themselves, where the work which is available: calls forth or incites into being a new ideal worker-subject whose entire existence is built around work. She must be flexible, adaptable, sociable, self-directing, and able to work for days and nights at a time without encum­brances or needs and must commodify herself and others and recognise ……that every inter­action is an oppor­tunity for work. In other words for this modernised worker-subject, life is a pitch’.” Signif­i­cantly, McRobbie (2016) considers the longer-term impact for her predom­i­nantly female students (at a top London art school) who are: part of a global demographic of young women deter­mined to life a life of their own. What is not on their mind is the question of motherhood and grappling with a career and children.” 

Furthermore, research by Nelligan and Morgan has coined the term labile labour’ to describe the need for creative workers, if they wish to survive in turbulent labour markets, to be mobile, sponta­neous, malleable and capable of being aroused by new vocational possi­bil­ities. These researchers identified the four key qualities that such labour requires as being comfortable with the condition of incessant job seeking; being willing to rebrand’ and improve themselves in response to the changing ecology; being excited by serendipity; and prepared to endure the scrutiny and arbitrary judgement of the gatekeepers. They have thus concluded that because these charac­ter­istics are most often found in women, it is their male counter­parts who are in fact the more disad­van­taged by the contem­porary environment for creative work. 

While the modus operandi of women in the creative arts may be more amenable in terms of being able to secure the work available, the rates offered or artists’ projects in the public sector clearly do not acknowledge their family circum­stances. The £150 a day intended as a minimum rate in 2000 and championed by arts funders as a benchmark for good practice is now often offered in 2016 as a flat rate, regardless of artists’ experience level and their particular overhead costs. Despite Arts Council England’s assertion that artists should be paid fairly and properly [v], artists’ projects such as at Kingsgate Art Space in the West Midlands [vi] which have been funded through ACE’s own Grants for the Arts scheme, offer what is a substan­tially out-of-date rate. [vii] Artist Emma Smith whose practice predom­i­nantly comprises under­taking residencies in the public sector and who regularly puts in 12 – 15 hour days and rarely takes holidays has observed that: funding [bodies] are always looking to get more-and-more for less-and-less [money].”[viii] She has acknowl­edged that having a child and remaining an artist would present a conflict. 

Female artists working in the gallery sector are faring no better. When it comes to juggling childcare and art production costs, many of today’s up-and-coming female artists find themselves both time- and cash-poor. The burgeoning careers of many of them can stall as they grapple with the practi­cal­ities of having a family and managing the expec­ta­tions of the art world that artists are contin­ually available to undertake commis­sions and projects wherever they may be, while active and visibly networking, whether nationally or internationally. 

As a direct response to residency oppor­tu­nities which do not acknowledge the circum­stances of artists with family commit­ments, artist and mother Nicola Smith (aka We Are Resident has been researching a new micro-research residency which is specif­i­cally family-friendly’. Supported by Arts Council England and Finland’s Tampere Artists’ Associ­ation, a two-week fully-funded oppor­tunity was offered, aimed specif­i­cally at an artist (male or female) from north-west England whose family or personal circum­stances limited their partic­i­pation in the usual residency oppor­tu­nities. By widely commu­ni­cating her inten­tions and findings [ix] and demon­strating the value of the approach she has adopted, it can only be hoped that such family friendly’ oppor­tu­nities for artists will be repli­cated elsewhere, as part of achieving equality of oppor­tunity across the visual arts.


This essay has attempted to provide a brief analysis of the history and contem­porary environment for artists’ residencies and to indicate how the appro­pri­ation of the residency format by arts managers as a tool for deliv­ering policies for audience devel­opment and social inclusion has been to the detriment both to the need of artists for concerted time and space in which to exper­iment and take risk and to their financial status. 

Furthermore, while through funding organ­i­sa­tions to programme residencies the arts policy-makers may have recog­nised that artists’ residencies contribute to raising awareness of the value of art and artists to society as a whole, I am unaware of any evidence being system­at­i­cally collected or dissem­i­nated by the arts councils (or their programme collab­o­rators) which might quantify this. The Arts Council’s own analysis of visual arts audience devel­opment remains based predom­i­nantly on public atten­dance at insti­tu­tions such as galleries, museums and heritage centres.


Culture and Creativity: the next ten years, Green Paper, DCMS2001 

Dahl, D (1987). What are Residencies for? in ed Butler D, Making Ways: the artist’s guide to surviving and thriving. (2nd edition). Sunderland: AN Publications. 

Gill, R (2011). Life is a Pitch”: Managing the Self in New Media Work in Deuze, M ed, Managing Media Work. London: Sage pp249-262 

Hutton, L, Fenn, C (2002). Year of the Artist – Evalu­ation of the programme in England, Research report 26. London: Arts Council England. 

McRobbie, A (2001). Everyone is Creative’: artists as new economy pioneers. www​.opendemocracy​.net [accessed 05/06/2016]

McRobbie, A (2002). Clubs to Companies: Notes on the decline of political culture in speeded up worlds. Cultural Studies, 16 (4) pp516-147

Morgan, G, Nelligan P, (2015) Labile labour – gender, flexi­bility and creative work in The Socio­logical Review, 63:S1 pp66-83

Stephens, K, (2001). Artists in residence — past, present and future: report and recom­men­da­tions’, Centre for Cultural Policy and Management, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne.


[i] For more infor­mation see the Artists Placement Group archive and conference report 

[ii] See Context is half the work 

[iii] Extract from an APG statement on displayed in Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 – 79, Tate Gallery May-August 2016 

[iv] Drawn from evidence cited in my article for The Guardian May, 2016

[v] This aspiration was published in Arts Council policies from 2014 and is measured in the funding agree­ments with National Portfolio Organ­i­sa­tions – those which receive revenue funding for a fixed term. 

[vi] Three, six-week residency commis­sions which included the expec­tation that partic­i­pants would spend additional time under­taking formal training sessions were offered for 2016 at £150 a day for 10 days and £300 to cover all other costs, via the Arts Council’s own online jobs service 

[vii] Taking the sum of £150 in 2000 and quanti­fying how much it should be in 2015 to have kept up with UK inflation and changing economic circum­stances gives the range of £209275 depending on which economic yardstick is employed (GDP providing the lower figure and the share of GDP the higher one). This would seem to represent a consid­erable under­payment to artists nowadays against the 2000 benchmark of good practice which was estab­lished by the Arts Council for Year of the Artist. 

[viii] See Emma Smith video interview

[ix] See Nicola Smith’s We are Resident blog

[x] See Taking Part surveys for infor­mation on scope

Commis­sioned and first published by TransArtists in Station to Station, Dirty talks: Money September 2016