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Local artists learn how to get an upper hand with artist residency program applications

By Staff | Oct 5, 2018

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Based on 400 acres of Appalachian mountainside in Back Creek Valley, four-year-old North Mountain Artist Residency is the only artist residency program in the state, according to Director John Labovitz.

On Sept. 26, Labovitz met with a group of 20 local artists at Shepherd University’s Phaze 2 Gallery, where Labovitz talked about the current “Made on the Mountain” exhibit, which features works by former NMAR residents from around the time they were in the program.

According to Phaze 2 Gallery Director Evan Boggess, this is the second year the gallery has featured an art show with NMAR’s former residents.

“Last year we had Katrina Brees do an installation show in here, that was our first time working with North Mountain,” Boggess said, mentioning he first met Labovitz at an event last year, and has since worked to strengthen the relationship between the gallery and NMAR. “This is the most text-heavy show we’ve put up in this gallery. It’s good to get their name out there, and to get more working artists involved in the gallery.”

Thousands of artist residency programs exist in the U.S., and many others outside of the country. But for those who want to work in a rural environment in the Appalachian Mountains, NMAR may be a good fit. The exhibit, like the program, shows how diverse the artistic disciplines of residents can range, from writing to textile art, from oil painting to foil transfers on paper.

According to Labovitz, artists should educate themselves on which artist residencies suit their needs, and focus on sending applications specific to those residencies, rather than sending the same resume to a larger pool of residencies. An applicant’s passion and intentionality to complete a project at a particular residency needs to be apparent to the application committee. One such intentional applicant was textile artist Brees, of New Orleans, Louisiana, who delved into folk burial rituals in the Appalachian Mountains while at NMAR. Although Brees’ work from her residency was first featured in her Phaze 2 exhibit “Fantastic Casket: Undertaking a Fresh Approach to Death,” the gallery’s current exhibit features one of the burial shrouds inspired by her time at NMAR.

During the “How to Make an Artist Residency Work for You” workshop, Brees gave a few tips on how to get into an artist residency.

“Choosing a residency to apply to is the biggest factor to whether you’ll be accepted or not. I really scrutinized if I wanted to be in this environment long-term. When you’re applying, look at their personality and their politics, and see if they would want someone like you,” Brees said about her experience at NMAR, mentioning social media is a great way to get an accurate read of whether or not an artist will flourish in a particular residency’s environment.

Another important thing artists need to look for in residencies, is if they have the work space and materials needed for their art forms, according to Labovitz.

“You need to know what will be available at the studio — if you’re a ceramicist, you’ll need a ceramics studio. Some studios are private, while others are shared or collaborative,” Labovitz said.

NMAR accepts 12 applicants a year for its three-week unpaid residency program, and is currently accepting applications through March 1, 2019. For more information, visit northmountainresidency.org/.