As part of my series on artist residencies, I am happy to welcome Cliff Garstang,  editor of Prime Number Magazine and a fellow Queens MFA alum, who will share some of his experiences at different residencies. Incidentally, Cliff also runs the blog Perpetually Folly where he publishes, among many other missives, his annual Literary Magazine Listings based on the Pushcart Prizes. He’s been my inspiration for putting together my similar list for best literary magazines for nonfiction. Alright, here’s Cliff on residencies (Thank you, Cliff!):
Most of my artist colony experience has been at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia, where I’ve been in residence several times, but I’ve also been to two other residencies that are quite different.
VCCA France

The more exotic and stimulating of these is actually VCCA’s outpost in Auvillar, France, Moulin á Nef. It’s VCCA, and one must have been a VCCA Fellow to apply, but it functions very differently. Getting there is the first difference. Some people fly to Paris and take the train south (making at least one connection along the way). I flew into Toulouse where I spent almost a week exploring before going on to Auvillar by train, just one hour away. What I hadn’t realized when I applied was that it’s a small facility. In contrast to VCCA-US, which has space for twenty-five or so artists at a time, VCCA-France can accommodate just four. Upon my arrival, the Resident Director showed me to my room, a large space on the second floor of the lovely old house that serves as the residence. We then went to the newly renovated building next door that holds the four studios, configured so they can function for visual artists or writers—big sunny spaces few furnishings to get in the way.

Cliff’s bedroom at VCCA France

So the sleeping and work space is fairly standard. The big difference is in the meals. There aren’t any. Or, rather, there is one “Fellows Dinner” each week, prepared by the Resident Director. The rest of the time, residents are on their own, although transportation is provided once each week to an incredible market in a nearby town. With our market provisions, we cooked our own meals in the house’s kitchen. It’s a small space, though, so when I was there the residents decided to share meals and rotate cooking duties. That worked well. And the result was a series of wonderful, slow dinners, with lots of wine, making it nearly impossible to return to work afterword. For lunches or the occasional night out, the village of Auvillar has some nice restaurants, and we visited those from time to time, as well.
But, of course, the real point of being there is not the food or the wine or, really, the number of other residents. While I may have missed making lots of new friends, I managed to get a lot of work done.
And then there’s the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City, Nebraska, which, other than the fact that it’s in Nebraska, is somewhat similar to VCCA-France. It has space for just five artists in three apartments, with shared cooking facilities. Meals are not provided, but residents receive a stipend with which to buy groceries. The work space is also similar: visual artists have studios in a separate wing of the building; my writing studio was a separate study in my apartment.

What these colonies share, of course, is the precious gift of time to write.