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Starting a Residency Program

One of the greatest luxuries an artist can have is a day in which nothing has to be done. No one to see, nowhere to go, just the gorgeousness of all those unsubscribed minutes and hours, occurring to be used as one most passionately wants. In real life such days are rare, but here we are given that extraordinary gift every day. — Peter Cameron

The following questions are some of the most frequently asked by those interested in starting new residency programs.

Just what is an artists' residency?

Artists' residencies provide time and space for artists and other creative individuals to work. Artists are selected through a competitive process for a "temporary" place in the community -- length of residency varies from one week to several years. Artists communities' can include housing, or be studio-only programs; they can support a single artistic discipline or bring together artists from across disciplines. The Alliance has developed three criteria essential to an artists' community:

  • A primary purpose of the organization is support for artists and other creative individuals in the creation of work. 
  • The organization brings artists together into a community, providing time and space to work, in a specific site that is dedicated to that mission. 
  • The organization selects artists for residencies through a competitive admissions process.

Does an artists' community have to be a non-profit?

Not necessarily; however, most artists' communities are not able to generate sufficient income-earning programs to sustain a residency program without also being able to solicit contributions and grants. While the Alliance does not require its members to be non-profits, much of our resources focus on non-profit artists' communities. One notable exception to this is our group of non-US members; each country handles charitable organizations differently. Read more about the pros and cons of becoming a non-profit.

How do I establish a non-profit?

The IRS has extensive information in their section on charities and nonprofits from the IRS website, which includes the Revised Form 1023, Application for Exemption. There is a separate website which offers up-to-date, plain language information on Form 1023, at

There are several other resources available that are instructive in establishing non-profit status. Publishers Jossey-Bass have a significant number of resources on non-profits, available through the Jossey-Bass website.

Can artists' communities generate income?

There are several ways that artists' communities generate earned income (as opposed to contributed, or donated income) -- operating bookstores and galleries, offering workshops and art classes, etc. It's a good idea to think about whether you plan to engage in income-generating programs upfront. Many of our members' websites describe the variety of activities that take place at their artists' communities, and we encourage you to explore these other models to gain a sense of what is feasible for you. You can find out more about our members on our residencies page.

What do artists typically pay for, and what is the artists' community expected to provide?

There are a range of practices within the field. Each organization must decide who will provide meals and/or groceries, art supplies, travel, etc., and whether there are additional living expenses or application fees. The cost-of-living in your area may also play a part in your decision to charge fees, provide free residencies, or offer stipends. The Alliance encourages artists' communities to charge as little to artists as possible. If there are expenses required of the artists, it is important that you be upfront and clear about your policies and expectations before artists apply. The Alliance collects much of this data and you can compare programs in greater detail through our residency search tool.

Are all artists' communities rural?

Artists' communities exist in all kinds of settings, from idyllic rural hideaways to urban warehouse districts. In fact, only about 60% are in rural or small-town environments. There is no single best environment for artists to be creative. If you have specific concerns about creating an urban or a rural artists' community, feel free to contact the Alliance. There are many successful models of a variety of artists' communities.

What resources can the Alliance provide?

The Alliance has a special membership category just for Emerging Programs. Membership entitles you to access the Alliance's extensive research and data on the field, numerous networking and mentoring opportunities, promotion of your program, and training intensives.

Research and data on the field

The Alliance has several publications which have been of great use to those in the development stages of an artists' community. We have assembled The Ultimate Residency Resource Guide. With more than 600 pages of newly compiled information, The URRG is a collection of introductory topical essays, how-to overviews, and standard and sample documents on nonprofit management in general and artists' residency programs specifically. While the guide will be especially helpful for start-up organizations, it can also serve as a resource for established residencies, especially those evaluating their existing policies and documents. In addition, Artists Communities: A Directory of Residencies offers a comprehensive overview of the field, with a general index of residency programs as well as more detailed information on 95 artists' communities, with photographs, deadlines, facilities descriptions, fees and stipends, types of artists served, etc. The Directory would give you an overview of the types of programming others have established, as well as a look at the diversity of the field. For those interested in a more in-depth look at particular issues facing artists' residencies, our Lessons Learned series includes two publications -- Artists' Communities at Work, and Engaging Communities -- that offer case studies from within the field.

Other data is continually gathered by the Alliance, in addition to the publications mentioned above, and the Alliance is happy to provide its members with benchmarking information and statistics to guide emerging programs in their development.


Learning from and having the support of peers is critical for emerging programs. One of the most beneficial and inspiring aspects of membership is eligibility to attend our annual conference and regional meetings where directors, board members and staff have the opportunity to network and share triumphs and struggles. Visit our Events page for more information on our next conference or regional meeting. Members may also join theEmerging Programs listserv, in order to stay connected to others developing new residencies, for advice, feedback and information sharing.

Emerging Program Institute

For a two-day intensive crash-course in creating a residency, the Alliance offers a biennial Emerging Program Institute, which includes site visits to established artists' communities, information on attracting artists, discussions of facilities, and more.