Forget an MFA, These Options are Cheaper – and Better

There was a time when an MFA was considered one of the top and terminal means to achieve status as a serious artist. Earning an MFA proved to the world that you were willing to invest time and resources into furthering your career as an artist. These days, higher education comes at an increasingly unattainable premium for many and the weight behind an MFA has diminished significantly over the years. Fortunately, there are opportunities all over the world for artists who wish to eschew the route of traditional education. Residencies and experimental art programs offer unique opportunities for artists to work closely with people from all over the world across every discipline imaginable. Often these programs are set in fabulous locations and typically boast low or no fees, sometimes even offering a stipend. In the landscape of the 21st century it is time to explore alternatives to a tradition that proves unreachable or ineffective for many. Here are some residency programs available in the US and abroad.

Ox-bow
The list of venerable artists who have done time at Ox-bow’s multiple artist residencies reads like a who’s who of the art world. While some of the programs are designed for MFA students, others offer residency for those who desire the time and space to commit to a project. The program is free of charge—and recently ox-bow announced that they are able to offer free application as well—and participants receive room, board, and a host of collaborative and individual opportunities. The program invites artists of all experience levels from around the world creating a diverse and engaged community. Ox-bow is highly competitive and deadlines are strict. Be prepared to submit samples of your best work.

Rome Prize Fellowship
The American Academy in Rome is situated on eleven hilltop acres overlooking Trastevere. Each year they award residencies of up to two years to artists from multiple disciplines. Those who receive a fellowship are offered private workspace, room and board, and a stipend. As you would imagine, the program is very competitive. There are nominal application fees, and multiple applications are welcomed.

Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
Every year, 65 artists are invited to spend nine weeks in idyllic Skowhegan, Maine. The residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture offers space to a cross-section of artists across all disciplines despite the school’s retention of the original name. Participants live and breathe their work for the duration of their stay, though the school emphasizes the benefit to arriving without a preconceived agenda of how to use the time given. The program includes individual and collaborative work, one-on-one faculty critiques, and access to art lab and library facilities 24 hours a day. There are application fees, and the typical applicant pool is around 2,000, so do your best work and maybe you will spend a summer among the pines.

Cite Internationale des Arts
Around 1,000 artists are given the opportunity to spend time working in Paris every year through Cite Internationale des Arts residency program. The residencies range in duration from two months to a year, and there are service fees for use of the space. Every artist in residence has a living space attached to the studio provided by the foundation. Deadlines are typically in late summer/early fall, keep an eye on the foundation’s website for details.

The MacDowell Colony
The oldest artist colony in the United States, the MacDowell Colony has hosted luminaries like Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copeland, and Alice Walker. Situated on a farm in Perterborough, New Hampshire, the colony’s mission is to nurture the arts by allowing artists to have a place in which to create enduring works of art and imagination. The colony is open year-round and there are three application periods. Residencies are free of charge and last up to eight weeks.

Arte Laguna Prize at Espronceda
Situated in former industrial buildings in Barcelona, Spain, Espronceda is a contemporary art center offering residencies of three to six weeks to artists in multiple specialties. Resident artists are provided with studio space and accommodation, curatorial assistance, materials support, and a final exhibition or other public activity. There is a small application fee.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Artist in Residence
This jewel of a museum in the heart of Boston began inviting artists in residence in 1992. The museum residency offers a unique opportunity to work and live among a world class collection of fine arts. Resident artists live and work within the walls of the museum. As part of the program, artists are asked to assist with educational programs. Terms of residency vary from artist to artist, though one rule that has garnered some attention is the midnight curfew. There are extremely limited spots for the Isabella Stewart Gardner residency program but don’t ever let that deter you from submitting an application.

For more resources, they continue to be compiles here, in the Resources section.

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