Artists have always been travelling to search for new assignments, to learn new skills and techniques from other “master” artists, to be informed about the latest developments in the arts. The numerous artists that travelled to Italy during the Renaissance clearly supports this claim.
Probably the best known movement “artists’ residences” in Europe arose in the late 19th and early 20th century. In these periods, artists settled in the countryside. Grass-roots artists’ colonies came into existence, where artists came together in the summertime to work outdoors and research, develop and realise their artistic ideas. 'Top-down' initiatives came from art-loving benefactors. They offered secluded residencies, where artists, according to romantic patronage, were able to stay and work.
A new wave of artists' residencies programmes emerged in the 1960s, adding new models to those already existing. One new model offered artists the opportunity to withdraw temporarily from society and create their own utopias in seclusion. Another new model aimed for social interaction and attempted to involve the public: guest studios in villages and cities served as bases for social and political change. A third model consisted of artist-initiated residencies. These incorporated exhibition spaces which became an alternative to the formal gallery space/ world, both for the artists themselves and for the international colleagues they wanted to work with. During the 1970s and 1980s, many new residency initiatives were elaborated on these new tendencies.
In the late 1980’s and 90s, through globalization, artists’ residences throughout the world became internationally better known and accessible for artists from all parts of the world. The diversity increased enormously. These initiators not only wished to offer hospitality to artists but also to create alternative, locally based centres of knowledge and experience in the arts. Residential art centres, started to function more and more as catalysts in the local contemporary art scene and have become indispensable for connecting the local scene with the global art world.
From 2000 onwards the proliferation of residencies worldwide has intensified. Easier and cheaper means of travelling, and quick ways to communicate through the Internet and social media: all added to the growth of the artist-in-residence phenomenon. At the same time an urge to consolidate emerged, a strong need to sustain existing opportunities, to connect and create networks, and also a need to explore the meaning and value of artist-in-residence for all its users.
For many artists it became an indispensable part of their career. Residential art centres organized themselves nationally and internationally to support each other and to represent their interests. Quality standards were rising and application procedures for artist-in-residence programs became more and more competitive. Funds, governments, and other parties hook on.
This development of consolidation produced a longing for renewal. Low-key, hard-to-grasp artists’ residence models emerged: other forms of hospitality were explored, such as nomadic projects, collaborative residencies, inter-disciplinary workshops. Artist-run-spaces from different corners in the world connect to each other and organize temporary residency exchanges. And there are artists, who seek the unfamiliar around the corner instead of thousands of miles away. They organize working periods in their own country, in their own town, in their own street.
These last years the fluidity of the field shows another development with a growing interest in issues of content, themes of artists’ residencies. Next to a focus on their means of existence, their models and ways of operating, both residencies and artists are rethinking their role in society and the cultural field. Now the interest in “how” seems to shift to interest in “what”. This has become an issue of both the artists’ residencies and the artists research-driven residencies are increasing in number. The artists’ residency revolves around peer-to-peer exchange, internationally organized and focused on topics of importance to hosts and guests.
The idea is growing that artists’ residences may offer new spaces and models for the development of knowledge and understanding, not only in the arts, but in society as well. Creative businesses invite artists to develop and/or change products in a creative way. Or artists are invited in non-arts businesses to throw a different perspective in the work, this might be an airport, rugby stadium or local government buildings.