Residency programs are gearing up again, and even more opportunities have been created for virtual residencies in response to the corona crisis. As you start scrolling through the options, we have some tips to help you identify red flags and avoid potential art residency scams.

Art scams can take different forms. They may target artists and creatives directly by email, or through open calls on listings sites, for example.

Some residency programs may use an artist-as-customer economic model, while operating under the pretense of helping artists to advance their careers. For example, by claiming to give them meaningful exposure. The benefits of these types of residencies may be exaggerated at best, or possibly even nonexistent. They may end up putting only minimal resources and effort into providing a suitable live/work environment for residents. And on top of that, they might not put much care and attention into what artists need to effectively develop their work and their careers. 

So before you apply, there are a few details to consider. Here are some ways you can identify and avoid art residency scams. 

1. Look into the fees

There may be so-called residency opportunities out there that require a substantial application fee, for example. Some organizations that charge a fee are certainly legitimate — perhaps  nonprofits operating with little to no funding, or artist-run initiatives. But there are also art residencies that are set up to turn a profit.  

Some profit-driven residencies, which follow an artist-as-customer business model, may not even end up awarding artists in the end. Or, maybe they do award artists with a residency, but the site and facilities turn out to have been completely misrepresented; there’s no support provided to artists; or no audience around to generate visibility for their work.

There are a couple of ways that you can gain some more insight into a residency opportunity if you’re uncertain.

Why is there a fee?

You can try to find out what the fee is actually being used for. Some organizations will make this information available in order to be transparent about why the fee exists and how these funds are used. 

What do other artists and art professionals have to say?

Do some research to see who has participated. Find out what their experiences were like, if possible. You can also ask around in your own network to find out about the program’s reputation. And if you are having doubts about a residency and don’t know anyone who has any information about it, a simple search might bring up a blog post or forum thread where other artists have shared similar concerns. 

We know application fees, especially high ones, can be a burden for artists — regardless of whether or not the program is a scam. If you are interested in an opportunity that is legitimate but are unable to afford the application fee, contact the organization and ask if the fee can be waived. Some organizations may offer to waive the fee based on the needs of the applicant. In any case, it’s worth asking! 

Try to find out as much as you can beforehand about the nature of the fees and the organization itself. 

Which brings us to the next point…

2. Research who they are and what they do

As a rule of thumb, it’s important to research a residency program that you’re interested in applying to. How else would you determine whether it’s the right fit for you

But there’s another important reason why you should do your research. Looking into the background, history and network of an organization will also help you to rule out less trustworthy opportunities and even avoid an art residency scam. 

What type of organization is it?

See what you can find out about the organization itself (e.g., is it a non-profit, private company, artist-run association, government body?). If it’s unclear from their website, check to see whether the business or organization has been officially registered with the local authorities. In Germany, for example, there’s the Unternehmensregister. This will not only tell you the type of organization it is, but also confirm that they are legitimate. 

What’s their story?

Look into the history of the residency: how did it get started, by whom and how long has it existed? What’s their mission and how do they achieve it? 

Who’s in their network?

If a residency is making promises to provide artists with elaborate, professional resources and meaningful exposure, then they should also have an expansive network of reputable connections to back up these claims. This includes artists that have attended the residency: are there any notable alumni? As well as partners and supporters. And have they, their residents and exhibitions received any valuable press?

3. Ask questions

You’ve done your research, gotten advice from others and compiled as much information as possible, but you still have lingering questions? Then get in touch with the residency program directly. 

A reputable residency should always be responsive and happy to answer your questions. But if they are less than responsive, don’t provide clear and direct answers to your questions, or communication somehow seems off, this should raise some red flags. 

It may sometimes be difficult to detect or even classify art residency scams. The issue here is about transparency and trustworthiness.

Participating in a residency can be a big commitment, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Always do your research before making a decision about a residency program. It shouldn’t just be them researching you! 

To find real residency opportunities, you can research artists that you admire to see which programs they’ve participated in. And talk to artists that you know about their experiences. There’s also a collaborative project initiated by artist Everest Pipkin, which includes a growing list of residencies and opportunities compiled for artists by artists. 

For more tips on finding residency programs and how to proceed when you do, also check out our guide on how to apply to an art residency.

Looking for your next art residency?