From Amtrak to Facebook, it seems like everyone is launching an artist-in-residence program. But can art and commerce thrive together?
On Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington State, there is a quaint farmhouse called Hedgebrook.
Since 1988, the bucolic, brown-shingled, chimney-warmed wonderland has hosted a writers-in-residence program for women. Every year, 45 women--out of the 15,000 that apply--get to spend between two and six weeks on the property. These lucky few have the opportunity to stay in a cottage nestled in the woods and to write to their heart’s content. All expenses are covered: during the day, meals are brought to them, and in the evening, over dinner prepared by an in-house chef, they spend time getting to know each other. For this brief period, writers have a charmed, idyllic existence. “We provide our writers this beautiful alchemy of solitude and community,” says Amy Wheeler, Hedgebrook’s executive director.
It has never been easy for writers and artists to pursue their craft: art takes time and does not, in most cases, result in much monetary payoff. In the ancient world, fortunate artists would find patrons from either the aristocracy or the church who would sponsor their work. Since the 1900s, nonprofit organizations like Hedgebrook have stepped in to fill this role with residency programs that are usually funded by wealthy donors or public donations. Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, New York, is perhaps the most famous such place. The Alliance of Artists Communities tracks these programs: there are currently over 200 in the U.S.
Artists are great explorers and discoverers when it comes to using technology.
But over the last couple of years, a new variety of artist-in-residence program has entered the scene, this time sponsored by big companies. Last year, Amtrak launched a residency inviting authors to write while traveling an itinerary of their choice. In San Francisco, the software company Autodesk invites artists to spend up to six months working in their facilities, giving them a stipend and funds for their materials. Facebook has also quietly launched its own artist-in-residence program, where artists are paid to create artwork that will adorn the walls of its buildings. Hotels are in on the trend as well: The Standard East Village hotel hosts a writer’s residency in partnership with The Paris Review, while the Ace Hotel New York has what it describes as a micro-residency, where guests spend a single night at the hotel and write a short story.