Why some don't quite feel like a monarch in their residency
The word "residence" used to mean the dwelling place of a sovereign. In German civil service law there was a "Residenzpflicht", meaning the obligation for a civil servant to live near his workplace. And that's a lot closer to what an artist's residency means these days. Of the numerous conditions the artist has to comply with, this is among the most common. often, the residency expects more services from the artist. This may include an exhibition, assistance in misc. activities (like teaching) of the institution, the donation of artwork, writing reports about the residency in a blog, and so forth.
On the plus side, you will probably get a studio, some new experiences and maybe contacts, and yet another entry on your CV. Sometimes, a small stipend is provided, along with lodging and other services.
I'm sure there are some great residencies out there where you reside in a comfortable New York Loft, free to make the kind of art you want to. But the residencies people tell me about do not sound like that. It starts with the application. I remember an otherwise generous call for proposals issued by a housing society. The artist was expected to "reflect" upon the city district and include the local people in his/her work. The idea, of course, is to bump up the district in a process of gentrification. I wondered what kind of art would be produced during this residency. I pictured the artist talking to the people, collecting "stories" related to their district and putting up some clever visualization. And that's pretty much what it was; moreover there were somehow migrant kids included. Who could ask for more. Everybody emphasized how much of a success the project was to the district. No one talked about art.
As I see it, residencies tell us a lot about what the public expects an artist to be like. For us artists, it's no problem to spend months at some remote spot far away from home. We don't have a family, kids to take care of, or generally a life. The residency may have the luxury of a school camp or a youth hostel - we don't care, art is all that matters to us. In living this kind of life, we acknowledge and promote it at the same time. We put ourselves in the psychological position of a kid, hoping to find appreciation of our parents.