There are times when home life just gets too much. It may be the pram in the hall, or the lodger on the drums or just, well, stuff. I’m having one of those periods and have decided to run away for a while with my laptop and think about, well, stuff and the future and the present, and hey, the past too while I’m at it. One needs these respites from life and as an artist, retreating can be an fertile and focusing time. And, in all honesty, sometimes one senses that people need a break from you too : )
I’m Irish, so I know most about the residencies and retreats in my country – and there are a disproportionately large number in Ireland, a land noted for its writers. Surprisingly, there are far fewer over in the UK, even though they have a much larger population. America is where the writers’ colony was born however, and it still provides the best, the most prestigious and the most difficult colonies to get into.
Yes, “get into”. Therein lies the difference between a “residency” and a “retreat”. Residencies are institutions to which you must apply and demonstrate your professionalism as an artist via a portfolio, and perhaps references and a CV that shows you are considered by your peers to be a practicing artist. Residencies are often funded by an arts and/or educational body and can mean you must also provide a service such as creative writing classes in the locality. Residencies can last from two weeks to a year. In Ireland, prestigious residencies include The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Cill Rialaig and the Heinrich Boll Cottage, Even if accepted, you may have to pay for your stay. However, attending one of these establishments is an impressive addition to your C.V. and you may come into contact with some top tier “names” during a stay.
Then you get retreats. These are institutions that sometimes offer courses – the UK’s ‘Arvon Foundaction’ is a good example which has three properties around England and holds intensive writing courses throughout the year. Other retreats just offer room and board to writers for a fee, somewhat like a hotel but with an emphasis on creativity and productivity during your stay. Anam Cara and the Molly Keane house are Irish examples. They’re not as prestigious residencies, so you won’t find yourself having dinner with Seamus Heaney etc… but you might meet some interesting people and the surrounds are usually very picturesque and perhaps inspiring. Retreats are good for novice or emerging writers who are not yet at the stage in their career where they might gain acceptance on a “residency”. I’ve been lucky enough to bag a month at Aras Eanna on Inis Oirr in January – as artist in residence, which I’m greatly looking forward to.
A sample (and by no means exhaustive) list:
If you know of more, please feel free to post!