All you need to know about residencies for designers

All you need to know about residencies for designers

Ema Marinova says, “With the lack of physical exhibitions or social gatherings, where one would usually find opportunities, it is time to rethink our methods for community building and artist career advancement.”

Cluster is a London-based art fair founded by Marinova. Like most events-based companies, the pandemic has up-ended Cluster’s business and left the team wondering how it can continue to engage artists and designers during the biggest threat to the creative industry in a generation.

The Cluster studio is set to welcome its first illustrator as a resident later in the year. Design Week hears Marinova say, “We had to create an initiative that continues supporting individuals in the arts.”The Cluster studio

What is a residency?

Although residency programmes can vary from one institution to the next, most share the same goal of helping early-career artists to grow and strengthen their practice. While some programmes are geared towards specific fields, such as games design or fashion illustration, others are open for all types of creativity.

Marinova, from Cluster, says that their residency will be tailored for the selected illustrator.

She says, “Once an artist has been selected, we will create a mentorship program that is specific to them and the project’s requirements.” “This means that we will bring industry professionals to residents’ homes and examine how they can help the process.

Lifestyle funding, in addition to career support, can be part of the residency experience. Marinova states that the Cluster’s residency will pay for the recipient’s transportation, food, lodging, and flights.Matteo Menapace’s card game Fading Memories being tested out by the V&A team

What are the requirements to apply for residency?

It depends on the question. It all depends on what type of residency program you are applying for.

Certain residency programs require you to know what kind of project it is that you want to work on during your stay. Some are more prescriptive. It’s important to be flexible and not to stick to one method of doing things.

Matteo Menapace, a games designer at the V&A, was in residence in 2019. Design Week hears that he initially entered his residency pledging to do “probably more” than he could manage, but soon realized that he didn’t have to prioritize quantity in order to get the best out of the experience.

Menapace states, “I realized that it was OK to not go into this experience with a certain outcome in mind. The plan is always meant for change.” Menapace explains that the support he received allowed him to question, reexamine and move beyond his original ideas.Abiola Onabule’s work


What can I do in a residency?

Residentiary programmes are unique in that you can choose what you do with your time. You have the freedom to pursue your interests on different paths to help you develop your practice or idea. However, different institutions may have different expectations about how you might progress through their programs.

Menapace explained that while working at the V&A, he and other design residents were involved with a lot “outward-facing work” with the museum’s Learning Department.

He says that there were two open studios per month which meant that around 25% of our time was spent on this. We also spent a lot time doing workshops for teachers and school groups – then we could focus on our projects.

Menapace, a V&A resident who specializes in user experience design, developed and prototyped two games during the nine-month residency.

Designers in Residence at the Design Museum have other residencies where their teams work towards an exhibition that addresses a larger theme. Abiola Onabule, who was part of the programme’s 2020 cohort, says this shared end goal gives way to plenty of collaboration.

She explains that the entire experience was done online, using zoom and teams, and she has only met with a few people in person. The majority of the work was done in our own homes. Yet, we have been in touch so often and it has felt so collaboratively and communal. It’s been a completely different experience than I had expected, but it’s been so fascinating.Fading Memories cards

What could it do for my career in the long-term?

Design Week hears from Onabule that her time as a resident was a kind of “ideas incubator.”

She describes her experience as a fashion designer, explaining that the industry is dynamic and she has had the opportunity to work with designers from different backgrounds.

The Design Museum was her research project. It explored how trade in skills and craft could be a form of care. It focused on the lives of West African women who live in the UK. She said that the work she did here helped uncover topics she wants to continue “far into the future”.

Menapace explained that even after nearly two years, his work is still influenced from what he learned at the V&A.

He says, “Before starting with the V&A, I was still making video games but as a hobby. This helped me convert my practice completely.”

Marinova, who is the facilitator of the experience, believes that a good residency should offer close mentorship to enable designers to “flourish” later in their careers.The Cluster studio


Are residency programs better than masters or further education?

Residentia are in high demand and there isn’t a lot of them. There are many benefits to residency programs that university courses can’t offer. There are many benefits to residency programs, including financial support, mentorship and the ability for your idea to be presented before an audience. Residentia can also help you connect with people with similar interests.

Menapace says that one of the things that made my residency so beneficial was the constant feedback from people in the V&A Learning Department. “It was almost as if I was back in college. However, there was less hierarchy. Instead of being student and teacher, I would talk with my supervisors peer-to-peer.”

Onabule, who has done both a masters degree and a residency, says that residencies allow you to “freedom and time” to express your ideas and beliefs through creative work. While a degree is meant to give people a broad knowledge of a topic, Onabule says that the Design Museum residency program allows her to be more focused.

Onabule says, “It’s a customized program, where you’re the focus of it.”Fading Memories cards prototypes

What are the negatives?

Their scarcity is the biggest problem with residency programs. They are not always in high demand despite the fact that they are becoming more popular each year, including the Cluster programme, which is still accepting applications.

Marinova believes this will change in future.

She believes that alternative experiences are key to personal discovery, pushing the boundaries of creativity and achieving significant results. “The creative industry must be open to exploring alternative methods of supporting early-career artists in these times,” she says.


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