Friday, August 23, 2013

Family Residency Initiative: The Santa Fe Art Institute

If you’ve ever tried researching artist or writing residency programs as a new parent, then you know your options are limited once there's a baby on the scene. Most programs are only set up to support single artists working alone, and many explicitly state that partners or children are not welcome. There are exceptions (see the Residency section of our Resources Page), but for the most part residency programs are off-limits to nursing mothers, single parents, and anyone unable or unwilling to leave their family behind while they work.

This summer, the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico began a new family residency initiative, quietly but radically changing the landscape of access for artist-parents and creating an important model for other programs originally designed for single artists.  On their site, you'll find the following statement:

The SFAI recognizes the lack of residency opportunities for artists to be able to take advantage of residencies without having to leave their children behind. We are taking responsibility in doing our part to close that gap by offering an environment that supports both creative opportunities and the needs of artists with children.

The family residency was initiated by Residency Director Katie Avery, who talked with us about the development of this new project. Katie realized the need for a program supporting artist-parents while sitting on a panel discussion called Beyond Time + Space: Making the Impossible Possible, organized through the Alliance of Artists Comminities:

“ of the panelists spoke specifically to the issue of family residencies, and the lack of opportunity for parent artists. It immediately planted the seed, particularly after having a brief discussion with an artist who was part of a performance piece that opened the panel discussion. I left the conference convinced that SFAI would begin a family residency opportunity.”

At first her idea was met with some resistance, including understandable concerns about privacy and overall noise level. Like most residency programs, the facilities at the SFAI were originally designed to support single artists. The living spaces are dorm-like, with individual rooms for sleeping combined with larger communal living spaces that encourage community sharing and exchange. Noise travels throughout the building. Katie suggested they host all family residencies during a single month, allowing families to take over multiple bedrooms as needed and minimizing conflict with single artists expecting a quieter experience.

There were also concerns about childcare, an issue not addressed by any other residency program at the time. Childcare is a huge obstacle for artists who are parents, especially those who don't have a partner / family member who could take a month off to come watch the kids. Katie had the idea to connect residents with the SFAI’s existing educational programs – and because there were multiple families doing residencies there simultaneously, the artists worked out their own systems as well:

“My solution was to schedule the family residency during a summer month. This meant that all of the residents would be coming in with children, and that their children would be able to participate in our Youth Education and Outreach Summer Camp (if they so choose). This is indeed what played out during our initiative, and the response was really positive… They meet five days a week from 9-4, so it gave a fairly generous amount of time for the residents to focus on their own practice. It ended up that the residents would also take turns babysitting for each other to allow for more individual/partner or work time. “

Both the connection with children’s activities and the scheduling for multiple families to work
there simultaneously is something that makes the SFAI’s program particularly remarkable, and is a great example for other organizations looking for ways to update their residencies
to include artists who happen to also be parents.   

Katie Avery leaves the SFAI this Fall to pursue graduate studies in film directing, but feels hopeful that the family residency initiative will continue to thrive under the leadership of the SFAI’s new Executive Director, who is enthusiastic about the program.
photo by Alexis Brown Photography for SFAI

The Santa Fe Art Institute’s month-long Family Residencies currently take place during the month of July, when the facilities and art camp can be coordinated to specifically support artists with children. Their residencies are not free, but accepted artists can apply for scholarship support. If you’re interested in applying, visit the SFAI residency website for more information.

Related Posts:
* SAF’s Residency Grant Program for organizations
* FoAM’s Family-in-Residence Program
* Our Resources Page includes a growing list of residencies that allow partners and children.


  1. I absolutely LOVE this idea! Wish it could be implemented in Canada somewhere!


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