Traveling on a Wish and a Dime - Budget Travel for Artists
If you know me or spent any time on my site, you know that I love to travel. A lot. Not the hotel-pool-by-the-beach variety or an all-inclusive package at a resort. I love to explore, connecting with worlds beyond my own, responding to new environments and people, landscapes, cultures. I’m a junkie for it. The horizon lures me with a come hither gesture that gets me every time.
Because I’m often on the road for months at a time, some might think I have a large trust fund, a rich ex, or socked away a fortune after a career in hedge funds. None of the above is true. My strongest funding source is my deep desire to make travel happen. After that, it’s a matter of practicalities on a small budget.
I’ve done some epic cheapo traveling in my past, riding my bicycle for a year from France to Thailand (6 months of that through the mountains of India) and solo backpacked for months through southeast Asia, slumming it in some unspeakably crummy places.
I’m nothing if not crafty and resourceful when it comes to plotting my adventures.
I wasn’t always like that. As a fashion designer in New York City in the 80’s, I regularly jetted off to Europe and Asia on the company’s wallet. I blithely ordered cognac room service at 3 am just because I could (I know, gag me). I got used to first and business class and proclaimed I’d never fly coach again (ha ha good one). And frankly, I was never more miserable.
Fast forward to my life as an artist. Getting creative is not just about the art, it’s about how you craft the artist life. After my domestic life shifted and my son was launched on his own, I longed to get back on the road, yet my limited funds kept me grounded.
Then I discovered artist residencies. By now you may know I’m a super-fan. There are zillions of them around the world and I’ve only scratched the surface by attending some 20 of them so far. They are literally everywhere. There may be one within driving distance of your home or further afield in a remote and hard to reach location you’ve always dreamed of. I’ve been to residencies in southern Iceland, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, a tiny village in central Turkey, and the wild and rugged coast of southwest Ireland.
(All photos shown are from residencies I’ve attended around the world)
So what is an artist residency? They are dedicated places around the world for creatives of all disciplines - writers, visual artists, filmmakers, performers, dancers, even scientists and academics - to create work away from their usual distractions.
The gift is that they are usually reasonably priced and sometimes free. This is my secret about how I have traveled the world for the past 10 years making art. Boom, that simple.
Their core tenet may be the same, but each residency couldn’t be more different. So here are a few things you need to know:
Costs vary wildly: as mentioned, some of them are free. Most have some kind of fee to help the hosts offset their own expenses. A few will cost you big bucks. And then there are the special few that will actually give you a cash stipend just to warm their chairs with your bum (while creating your masterpiece, mind you!). Artists are knocking themselves out to land these gigs, so get in line and sharpen your skills of persuasion.
Timing: the average length of time is about 1 month. But they can be as short as 1 week or as long as 6 months to a year.
Production: Some will expect you to be productive and maybe have an exhibition or open studios at the end of your stay. Others want only that you relax into your creativity and allow new ideas to emerge.
Accommodations: Usually you will get your own room, sometimes your own cabin/apartment. You might share a bathroom, kitchen, common area. It’s communal living in all it’s glory, and you make fast friends (or not!). Some are cushy, others minimally basic.
Studio space: As above, they might be shared, or private, funky or drool worthy (see below).
So it all comes down to choices, no? If you are longing to explore the world while making art in cool places, what are you willing to trade for it? Are you married to your stuff or to your experiences? I’m of the latter variety. Sure I like my things, but if it holds me back from my bigger calling, I’d gladly sacrifice the latest device or cashmere sweater for a creative adventure in the world.
Like anything that’s meaningful, it requires some deep consideration and decision making. I first researched residencies years before I was ready to take the plunge. And then I went at it with a vengeance - racking up 10 residencies in my first year! Since then I’ve become almost evangelical, spreading the word with passion and zeal.
That inspired me to create my online course all about artist residencies. This takes you through the A - Z process of defining your WHY, researching the right residency for you, crafting a proposal that will (hopefully) get you accepted, and what to expect once you are there. If you want to know more, click the button below.
Join me for this journey and discover for yourself this wild and affordable way to see the world while making great art. And maybe we will cross paths on the far shores where art and travel meet!
I would love to hear from you! Do you have any stories about art and travel - what’s worked for you or not, residencies that you liked or loved or hated? Spread the wealth and share your stories with other creative travelers in the comments below!