Review – Mind the Gap: Designing Residencies for Everyone

Photo: Group Photo: Day 2, 7th of September 2023: Res Artis Conference London – Mind the Gap: Designing Residencies for Everyone


On the 6th – 9th September, PILAA was delighted to be one of the invited session delivery speakers, on Facilitating a session on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Heath Check for Residency providers, at the Res Artis Conference London – 2023, hosted by Acme, in partnership with University College London (UCL). The four-day international event titled “Mind the Gap: Designing residencies for everyone”, brought together a community of artist residency providers, artists and arts organisations, too, as the programme stated, chart ‘a future for impactful residency opportunities, with a focus on optimism and practical working solutions for issues facing the sector’. 

This was the first time that the community was being brought to the UK, which coincided with celebrating the 30th anniversary of Res Artis and 50 years of Acme, with both bodies supporting artists through residencies, awards programmes and affordable artist studio provisions. 

Set across three UCL locations, Here East, at the Queen Olympic Park in East London and the Bloomsbury Theatre in the West End, and with the sessions being live streamed to the local and international communities, what emerged was a rather special event. Here, delegates were keen to impart best practices in addressing some of the challenges that the sector faced. 

The following four points are our top takeaways from the event. We hope that from reading them, they can be of use not only within this sector, but within current and future debates within the EDI landscape:

Lived Experience of hiring through a residency space

Photo: Slide presentation – Saber Bamatraf (Art27Scotland), Residencies for Everyone: Equality, diversity and inclusion in local and global contexts 

In a pre-recorded video transmission Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu, the Founder of makwande.republic and Director of Greatmore Studios in South Africa, spoke about having a deeper awareness around the lived experience of hiring through a residency space. For her, this lived experience referred to knowing what it felt like to go through the residency hiring process, as someone from a marginalised group, where the visa system was seen as a form of ‘weathering’. By weathering she meant that the system perpetuated a form of structural violence against marginalised groups. An understanding of lived experience in this context, looked at the laborious amounts of time it takes to engage in the visa application process, as well as the physical labour of having to travel to different places for interviews. It also would address the feelings of anxiety and financial stresses that one may face. Acknowledging lived experience in this context, was not just a buzz phrase, but rather a felt reality that needed to be factored in, when addressing the inequalities within the hiring process, through a residency space. 

Training for hosts

It was pointed out, that we often hear about the conditions artists may face, or the terms and conditions of the contracts, but one area seemingly overlooked, was about training for the hosts themselves. This is where staff training on themes such as inclusive welcomes, would be pivotal. It was clear that as an artist navigating the residency programmes for the first time, it can often be daunting. Travelling from one part of the world to another, would mean that artists and providers would need to learn about new customs and ways of working and it was important, that providers demonstrated this duty of care for artists, not only as they arrive, but through the whole residency experience. During the listening circle A Continent of Multiplicities: A perspective from the African continent on intersectional iterations of residencies – realised and imagined, the term ‘mothering’ came up, where crazinisT artisT Artist, the Artistic Director and Curator of perfocraZe International Artist Residency in Ghana and Oyindamola Fakeye, Board Member of Res Artis and Artistic Director of CCA Lagos, Nigeria, discussed this duty of care towards artists on residencies, that providers had to show. As a host, you are making sure that no stone has been left unturned, in the health, safety and well-being of the artist. For example, thinking ahead to whether the artist has appropriate clothing if they are coming from a hot country to somewhere cold, or checking to see whether artists know how to access the internet, should they not be used to it. Whilst these may seem like small things outside of the focus of the residency, from the perspective of the artist, it shows that the residency host cares.

Replacing your morning meetings with a craft making session

Photo: Dr Ope Lori’s mask from: Supporting neurodiversity and disabled artists workshop

Supporting neurodiverse and disabled artists, was a highly fun and creative afternoon breakout room session, facilitated by Sheryll Catto, the Artistic Director & CEO of Action Space, an organisation who works with, supports and creates opportunities for learning disabled artists, alongside Michael Achtmann, one of their exhibiting artists. In a group we were asked to work with in teams of five and had the simple task of decorating a blank mask with various materials. After a period of a few minutes, you would then have to pass your mask along to the person on your left, until after a number of passes, your original mask is then returned back to you. This activity was in the aid of highlighting key points around organisations supporting neurodiverse and disabled artists which included:

  1. Please do not let fear stop you – even if you don’t know where to start, don’t let that put you off taking the first steps in making your organisation more accessible, and/or supporting artists who are learning disabled
  2. The provider and artist work together
  3. The artist comes first – It has to start with saying “I’m really excited by your work.” In other words, take on the artist because of their talent and what they do. Remember “right artist for the residency, not from the level of identity.’
  4. Universal versus specific – Remember that each artist has different needs. There is no one single checklist, as you are working with different people.


We heard the term ‘learning disabled artists’, as used by Sheryll Catto, when speaking on the panel, Residencies for Everyone: Equality, diversity and inclusion in local and global contexts. This term pre-fixes learning as opposed to simply using disabled artists. We also unpacked the word accessibility. Often, accessibility is used in reference to the physical environment, but it was pointed out, that we should also consider it in recognising challenges in the mental health and well-being space. For example, recognising the potential feelings of anxiety for people who are learning disabled, and who might not want to give artists talks about their work in a traditional lecture hall space, as well as other marginalised groups, where being the only one, can often be uncomfortable. Accessibility was also used in the sense of various bodies being allowed to pass. As we mentioned earlier, the visa application processes can indirectly discriminate against marginalised groups and so by accessibility, we should think of the total ways in which this term is being used and recognise the various barriers that can limit a person’s movement or sense of belonging. 


If you are looking to implement an inclusive welcome training course, please get in touch!