Thank you to Skye Livingston for this guest post about her residency at Arrowmont:
When I accepted the residency at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN, I had somewhat of an idea of what I was getting myself into. As a studio assistant the previous summer, which marked the beginning of a year’s worth of shorter artist residencies all over the country, I experienced the hustle and bustle of a full summer workshop season and got to know the previous artists-in-residence. I also knew and understood the strangeness of Arrowmont’s location, whose campus is tucked into the side of a mountain, but simultaneously off the main street of downtown Gatlinburg—a tourist destination filled with corn dogs, moonshine and neon shirts. As someone who was familiar with the Arrowmont community and other various artist residencies, I was surprised by how challenging this past year was.
I didn’t realize how much the surrounding area would affect me. It’s a strange reality that you can’t leave Arrowmont without interacting with the Gatlinburg strip. I quickly discovered that being entirely surrounded by a tourist culture made for an isolated residency. When the hoopla of the workshop season dies down, you only have the other residents and Arrowmont staff to meet your social needs. The boundaries between work, art and personal time and space are blurred and difficult to differentiate. The schedule here moves at an incredible pace. Once you figure out how to manage your time, circumstances change. The biggest challenge of an Arrowmont residency is learning how to prioritize all of the opportunities while maintaining a productive studio practice and overall balanced lifestyle.
The residency at Arrowmont does not provide infinite time for artists in a serene, monastic space to quietly meditate on their work and their lives’ meanings. But that’s not what you come here for. It is high-energy, demanding, a little gritty, and within a town (within an incredible landscape) that doesn’t quite know what to make of this ever-changing group of artists. But there is, of course, an entirely different take on this residency: the quirky charm of Gatlinburg, the tight-knit community of Arrowmont, and a schedule full of incredible opportunities: social, creative and professional.
The parameters of Arrowmont’s residency are enticing: free housing and studio space for a year, exposure to Arrowmont’s students and instructors, access to the main studio facilities and paid teaching opportunities throughout the year. Add to that several scheduled exhibitions, a monthly stipend and four other incredible artists-in-residence to live and work alongside and it all amounts to one of the most supportive long(ish)-term residency opportunities for an emerging artist. The fact is, as an artist-in-residence at Arrowmont you exist in an amazing, seemingly unreal situation in which you get to live for free amongst other artists and, if you plan and work for it, are able to simply make.
Which really is the point of this residency. There is no true reward without work and you can’t fully appreciate one without the other. This residency has challenged me in ways I never anticipated and not only within the realm of art-making. I met artists who live all over the country, honed my public speaking skills, gallery installation skills and karaoke skills. I taught classes – an entirely new experience for me. I even hiked up a few (small) mountains. Nearing the end of this residency, I can now see how much work I was in fact able to make, including several entirely new series utilizing new materials and processes, as well as many smaller projects that I will continue to explore post-residency.
So while I’m on the subject of leaving (and since I know you’re curious), I’ll be heading west, after a brief stop in Wisconsin, to Portland, Oregon, where I will re-enter the “real” world of paying rent and juggling multiple jobs to support my developing studio practice.
And for me, at this time in my life, I couldn’t have asked for a better break from that world – and a better way to prepare for going back to it – than the residency at Arrowmont.