Artist Jordan Jirschele stood in his socks in the kitchen, brewing a strong batch of pourover coffee while three drywall panels leaned against the wall in the adjoining room, waiting for him to cover them with graphite and white paint.
Except this wasn’t his home, let alone his artist studio.
Jirschele, from Menomonie, Wis., had never met Thomas Wegner, but for 10 days he was staying in a spare room of Wegner’s Minneapolis home, making art. He was one of the first beneficiaries of Wegner’s brainchild, MakeRoom, a residency program that gives out-of-town artists a chance to get away from their day-to-day lives and make art freely.
Residencies offer artists time and space to work on a project without the usual disruptions, but they often last several months. That isn’t realistic for many creatives, who have to balance a day job with their art practice. And the bucolic “cabin in the woods” vibe is not for everyone. Some artists prefer quicker stays in urban environments.
Enter the speed residency, a shorter getaway to creative freedom that lasts up to 10 days, offering artists just enough time to clear their minds and get back into their inner child without affecting their pocketbook. The idea also plays into the sort of short-term, freelance, sometimes precarious lifestyle that many millennials contend with.
Wegner, who works by day as a graphic designer, isn’t the only one hosting short-term residencies: So is The Future, an arts project space and market in south Minneapolis. Even the Mall of America has gotten into the act. And for those craving a getaway Up North, there’s the Tofte Lake Residency near Ely.
These residencies can be completely transformative for an artist’s practice. It’s like an art vacation.
The upside of downtime
“I have a unique situation where I have a three-bedroom house and a spare bedroom,” Thomas Wegner said by phone.
An Airbnb host, he’s usually booked solid from spring through early fall by people who love to experience Minnesota during the warmer seasons. But there’s a lull during the long winter. He decided to use that vacant room during the snowiest season as a space for artists from outside the Twin Cities.
Wegner had learned from his Airbnb experience that he loves the interaction with new people in his home.
“Some of my favorite times are when my guests are creatives and we have lively and interactive discussions about their work, their field of interest or art and design in general,” he said. “So creating an artist residency has allowed me to simply invite more members of the creative community into my home.”
The residency also is a way of contributing to the Twin Cities art community. He’s had two residents thus far, and received 32 applications for the latest round.
Residents get free lodging during their 10-day stay, a daily breakfast and a welcome dinner on the first night. They cover any other costs. The main requirement is that they live and work elsewhere. One purpose of the residency is to introduce more artists to the Twin Cities scene.
Jirschele had never done a residency before. He found out about it through the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which Wegner also attended. Jirschele’s former professors encouraged him to apply at Make--Room.com. In all, the residency cost him about $60 for gas, $250 for food and leisure around town and $200 for art materials.
During his time at MakeRoom, he focused on a body of work called “Hibernation,” which dealt with themes of isolation. Jirschele also saw his stay as a way to expand his network in a vibrant art city.
Short-term residencies make sense for the way he works, he said.
“It’s fast, everything is fresh. It’s kind of like a sprint instead of a marathon.”
Repurposing existing spaces
Lacey Prpić Hedtke, owner of the artist market and project space the Future, decided to offer a seven- to 10-day residency last July. The space has a small backroom with a twin-sized bed, desk and a chair.
The Future has hosted residents from the Twin Cities and elsewhere. Artists do not pay for the residency, which is fueled by sales from the retail portion of the space and workshop fees. They receive perks like a bike to use while visiting, bus passes, a free yoga class at Imbue Yoga next door, free workshop time at Women’s Woodshop, and use of equipment at the Weavers Guild.
Hedtke just won a $5,000 grant from Midway Contemporary Art’s Visual Arts Fund to start a printshop for residents to use. In addition, residents who are professional Tarot readers can do readings at the store to keep their income stream going.
“The Future gets to expand the community around the space, and meet new, inspiring people,” said Hedtke. “This city needs even more DIY spaces supporting weird art that isn’t concerned with the marketplace.”
In November she hosted Grace Kredell, an interdisciplinary artist, intuitive and community organizer from New York City, who read people’s tarot cards for two days before working on a story for a friend’s small press. The short time period allowed Kredell to get just enough work done.
“I would love to do a longer residency, but it’s hard to coordinate that with my part-time job,” Kredell said.
Hanging out at the mall
Not every residency takes place in a spare room or is so DIY. Sometimes, artists can be inspired by the country’s biggest mall.
Los Angeles-based poet/playwright/writer Brian Sonia-Wallace was the inaugural writer-in-residence at the Mall of America Writer Residency last summer. He had just literally gotten off the train from California, after doing an Amtrak Residency — part of a series of residencies that turned into a month of travel and writing.
As part of his ongoing performance project “Rent Poet,” Sonia-Wallace set up shop at the mall with a table, chair and old typewriter, and wrote poems for people on-the-spot. In five days, he wrote about 100 poems. Each took just a few minutes — five minutes or so to interact with a person, five more to write, then two to read the pieces aloud.
“Because what I do is so much about public dialogue and playing with the conception I had of writers as secluded hermits, a lot of what Amtrak and the mall were able to provide was to interact with a lot of people as a writer,” he said.
The poet was treated to this whole experience, getting a $2,500 honorarium, four nights at a hotel and a $400 gift card for meals.
The program was a one-off for the MOA’s 25th anniversary, but a spokesperson said the mall hopes to have another writer-in-residence in the future. While it gave Sonia-Wallace the chance to reach a different audience, the mall saw a benefit, too.
“It creates a unique experience for our guests and it helps us to build stronger relationships within the arts community,” said spokeswoman Sarah Grap.
“Ultimately, we hope that [the residency] inspires the inner artist in guests of all ages.”
Escaping Up North
One thing that all residencies have in common is the chance for artists to disconnect from the day-to-day. Tofte Lake Center, about a 25-minute drive east of Ely, offers a quintessential Minnesota way to do that: nature.
For a week or 10 days, artists take up residence in cabins near the Canadian border that offer a view of the lake (inspired by water!). They can receive free lodging and a stipend for the week as part of an emerging-artists program sponsored by the Jerome Foundation. Or there are paid programs, ranging from $765 to $1,065, that offer a first meal, final meal and a midweek group barbecue.
Liz Engelman, a dramaturge who founded Tofte Lake 10 years ago, finds joy in other people’s experiences of having this creative space, with the time to experience a balance between solitude and community with other artists.
Twin Cities artist Lindsy Halleckson, who did the residency several years ago through the Jerome Foundation, is a testament to that.
“In 2011, I went to Tofte for this residency and I got time to let these ideas marinate, and I think they emerged while I was there in a quiet natural environment,” she said.
“I’m still working from the kernel of ideas that I got up there. That happened in nine days.”