Building A Better Residency

Building A Better Residency was a conversation event held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Glasgow, in May 2022 to explore current practices and future possibilities for live artist residencies in Scotland. Around 30 people took part: artists, creative producers and representatives of arts organisations, among others. The afternoon session was co-facilitated by interdisciplinary artist Claricia Parinussa and Live Art in Scotland’s Steve Greer, with BSL interpretation by Yvonne Strain and ‘active listening’ notes taken by Bryony White.

This page holds materials capturing the day’s discussions and discoveries, as well as some initial reflections on what we learnt. You can read by scrolling down the page, or by clicking on the links shown below to jump to the section which interests you most.

  1. hearing from artists and support organisations
  2. identifying emerging themes
  3. group discussion and discovery
  4. what did we learn?
  5. questions to explore further
  6. continuing the conversation

1 We opened the afternoon with contributions from three artists – Craig Manson, Gillian Katungi and Elaine Kordys – who had been invited to talk about their experiences of residencies and the role that residencies had played in their practice so far, as well as what they might want and need from residencies in the future. These perspectives were followed by short talks from people working at three different organisations: Annie Hazelwood who spoke about the CCA‘s Creative Lab programme and Open Source Programming, Karl Taylor and Amy Lawrence who introduced Take Me Somewhere‘s Studio Somewhere space and experiments with international Twinned Residencies, and Laura Fisher for The Work Room who talked about their ongoing artist residency programme as well as their flexible Artist Research Bursaries scheme developed during the pandemic.

Bryony took active listening notes – a form of writing which captures some of the ideas and exchanges voiced in the room, without transcribing exactly what was said.

Some initial threads:

  • artists spoke about applying for specific residency opportunities but also highlighted how they’d sometimes directly approached organisations asking to use space or facilities (while organisations might not be able to give exactly what was requested, it could start a conversation that opened up alternative possibilities)
  • artists described different experiences of residency spaces as being shaped by relationships to existing power structures and/or familiarity with a host organisation, and by the different forms that being made welcome might take
  • organisations outlined how they’d developed their offers during the pandemic as well as in response to larger changes and conversations in the sector informed by the desire for meaningful local and international connections but concern about the impact of travel; the need to broaden the residency model to emphasise flexibility, understanding but going beyond the value of access to physical studio space; and the necessity of inclusive, anti-racist practices
  • artists and organisations spoke to a range of different needs or ambitions for residencies: as spaces for research and development (focused on a specific question, problem or project), as spaces for creation and production (generating material and taking a work to something approaching a finished state, ready to be presented for an audience) or as more open-ended exploratory spaces for reflection and discovery (time and space spent on an artist’s development of their practice, alone or with collaborators, but without a particular outcome in mind for either artist or host organisation).

2 Everyone was invited to finish their contribution with a question or by identifying a ‘sticky’ issue – something that they were working or chewing on, and wanted to explore further in conversation. Steve recorded these ideas (as well as other issues raised in the talks) on post-its notes. In the larger images shown below, his writing can be seen in capital letters.

A yellow post-it with handwritten text reading 'residencies with outcomes vs. residencies with no expectations of a result'

During a short break, Claricia and Steve looked back over the questions and prompts offered by the speakers, grouping them around what seem to have emerged as the session’s themes at that stage of the afternoon: questions about care and support; questions about connection and collaboration; questions about access and the concrete ‘offer’ of any residency; and questions about what (and who) residencies are for.

These themes were then offered to the room as prompts for thinking about the future of residencies – whether in the form of ‘blue sky thinking’, identifying what could or should be priorities for the sector or something else again. We encouraged everyone to hold these prompts lightly – that is, as possible starting places for conversation rather than a fixed agenda for discussion.

3 We broke into smaller groups to share ideas and experiences, with everyone invited to contribute their thoughts by adding post-its or by talking with one of the facilitators. This is what we created – click for larger images.

The following pages contain transcriptions of the images shown above.

4 What did we learn from these conversations? The value and need for greater flexibility in residencies was perhaps one of the frequently raised topics of discussion, cutting across all four themes.

Ideas explored here included

  • the possibility of part-time residencies to allow greater access for artists with other commitments such as work or caring responsibilities, or for whom intensive working isn’t possible or appropriate
  • the greater possibility of including collaborators, as many residencies in the sector seemed to be imagined and budgeted on the basis of a single artist working alone
  • the opportunity (or not) of sharing work with a live audience, during or at the end of a residency period

Discussion of flexibility was often connected to ideas of responsiveness on the part of the host or host organisation. For example, good residencies were described or imagined as involving hosts asking what an artist might want or need in advance, and being able to adapt accordingly (e.g. in the level of the host’s day-to-day involvement – while some artists welcomed the idea of regular contact, others wanted to be left to ‘get on with it’). This understanding of responsiveness was grounded in an active approach to care, centred on the artist rather than whatever work they might be undertaking, and beginning before the residency officially began.

Some challenges:

  • it was recognised that it could be difficult to strike the right balance between flexibility / responsiveness, and having clearly structured support where everyone knew what to expect
  • the emphasis on care and support describes potentially significant responsibilities or expectations for host organisations which go beyond the allocation of money/resources and the remit of ‘professional’ development
  • enabling greater collaboration would likely require greater resourcing if you don’t expect collaborators to work for free
  • conversations sometimes uncovered competing priorities (e.g. for residencies which didn’t use the language of ’emerging’ and ‘established’ vs. the desire for residencies focused specifically on emerging artists)

The conversations generated some concrete proposals for enhancing residencies – some of which already exist as examples of good practice across the sector. These included

  • greater flexibility in how residency time can be used (i.e. in days or hours spread out over a longer period rather than the default model of an intensive week or month)
  • mentoring support or advice on how to apply for a residency, focused on people new to the scene in Scotland and/or who think residencies ‘aren’t for them’
  • for host organisations to clearly communicate their expectations about the purpose of a residency from their point of view, and to offer a tangible sense of ‘what to expect’ from the experience in an initial call-out

5 This session was imagined as part of a larger conversation about the support and development of live art in Scotland – and, unsurprisingly, it generated many more questions that we were able to explore as well as those which might require a different group of people to answer.

It was generally understood that good (better) access to residencies required an intersectional approach which recognised the range of factors that might inform different people’s ability to apply for, secure and make use of residency time, as well as take into account broader experiences of discrimination or exclusion in the sector. But how might this actually inform the design of residencies? What, for example, does an anti-racist residency opportunity look like? We also spent time talking about the kinds of care or support that host organisations might extend before and during a residency – but what do we imagine happening afterwards? What kinds of longer-term relationships might residencies sustain between artists and organisations?

A key question raised but not directly addressed during the session was whether live art – and interdisciplinary performance – requires and benefits from specific forms of support, beyond those on offer to single art form practices. There was also some discussion of whether organisations currently offering residencies might work in a more collaborative or joined up fashion – potentially by facilitating conversations or exchanges between ‘parallel peers’ working in different contexts.

We also touched on funding for the ecology as a whole, as many schemes seemed to be supported by specific project grants even when delivered by organisations with regular funding. Other projects were dependent on collaboration with organisations or funders outside of Scotland for their delivery. Where do interdisciplinary residencies sit in relation to the ‘core’ work of regularly funded arts organisations in Scotland? Are they viewed as essential or optional?

6 This page is an initial response to the conversations began at the CCA – over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring some of the ideas shared above in closer detail so that they might be put into action.

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You can offer anonymous feedback or comments via this website or contact the Live Art in Scotland project directly by emailing Steve at