All about arts residencies

As an artist, you might have heard of arts residencies before. If you’ve ever wondered if a residency is the right step for your art career, this article will give you some idea of what to expect.

What is an arts residency?
An arts residency is a temporary stay at a location set up for an artist and other creatives to practise and develop their craft. These locations are equipped with living quarters and the facilities that the artist needs. Artists can meet like-minded people and soak in the atmosphere of a place different from what they are used to.

Residencies can be very different from each other – some being self-funded and others being state-funded. Most provide allowances for artists, and some even provide grants to outstanding artists. In some residency programmes, the artist is required to produce artwork by the end of the stay, while this may not be required for other programmes.

What are the benefits of attending an art residency?
An arts residency can be a greatly rewarding experience. Local artist Izat Arif, who attended the Nanyang Technology University Centre for Contemporary Art (NTU CCA) Singapore art residency, said that it was a good opportunity to focus purely on working on art for three months. He was able to have uninterrupted time to develop his work, and to share his ideas with other artists. The residency that he attended also held public exhibitions, where he was able to talk to members of the public and curators. He is grateful that during this time he received focused feedback on his art from people in the industry.
“More importantly, I had the opportunity to meet so many people from different backgrounds and build relationships with them. Sharing ideas and learning from each other can help artists grow rapidly. Sometimes these relationships can turn into growth opportunities in the future,” he said, stressing also that being able to develop meaningful relationships with his fellow artists was itself extremely rewarding for him personally.
Bilqis Hijjas from the Rimbun Dahan private art centre which offers a range of artists’ residencies, adds that residencies are a great way for artists to experience living in a totally new environment.

For example, Rimbun Dahan – the home of architect Hijjas Kasturi and his wife Angela – is a 14acre large estate with a beautiful mixture of modern architecture and traditional Rumah Panggung, surrounded by a lush garden. Other residencies could be situated in hotels in the middle of old towns or foreign cities, or beachside retreats surrounded by acres of open fields. Many artists find the new environment inspiring for their work.
Many residencies also have useful resources for the artist. For example, at Rimbun Dahan there is a collection of heritage textiles from around South-East Asia. Artists who are interested in working with textiles may find this to be a valuable resource, as it would allow them to actually get up close to and touch the textiles, an experience that cannot be replicated at a museum or by online research.

How can an artist make the most of their residency programme?
Izat’s advice is to do your research and have a rough idea of what to expect at the residency. It is good to have a sense of what you want to accomplish there and a direction that you want to take. However, it is also important to keep things flexible and to keep an open mind, as things may change after you arrive. You may become inspired by someone you meet there, or a new experience you have.
Creating a schedule and structuring your time is also a good idea. Izat advises artists not to waste their time when at a residency, as time is limited and precious.

Some residency programmes expect their artists to submit a final work at the end of the programme, while some, like Rimbun Dahan, do not. If the residency does not impose a fixed structure on the artist, the artist can try to set goals for themselves to ensure productivity. Again, this is all up to the individual artist and their personal approach to their art.

Bilqis had this to say: “Make the most of the unique aspects of your particular residency. For example, if a residency is in a heritage zone in George Town, for example, it would be a waste to not absorb the local culture. Talk to the local artisans, try the local food, stay up late to see the heritage buildings in the moonlight. If the residency is more of a solitary retreat where the artist can be alone with his art and nature, make the most of that. Explore the great outdoors alone and paint outside. Inspiration could come from anywhere, and your residency experience will be richer if you leverage what makes your residency unique.”

Bilqis Hijjas welcoming the audience of Dancing in Place 2015 at Rimbun Dahan. Photo: James Quah

Bilqis Hijjas (yellow shirt) with participants of the 2018 Southeast Asian Choreolab at Rimbun Dahan, facilitated by Isabelle Schad. Photo: Huneid Tyeb

Izat Arif

How should an artist choose the right residency?
Every residency is different from the other. So how should you choose the right one? The first thing to find out is if the residency you are interested in supports the type of art you want to create. For example, Rimbun Dahan offers residencies for visual artists, dancers, choreographers, writers, art managers, curators and researchers. If you are a musician, perhaps a different residency would be more appropriate for your particular practice.
If you have an experimental idea that requires some funding, you can try looking for a residency that would be open to provide funding.

Bilqis’s opinion is that an artist should also select their residency based on their preferences for working and what kind of environment makes them the most creative. Thus, it is important to understand yourself and what works for you, and then match that with the residency.

What makes Rimbun Dahan special?
Rimbun Dahan is the biggest arts residency in Malaysia, as well as the oldest. They cater mainly to visual artists, although they have also hosted many dancers and choreographers in the past. Bilqis is a believer in artists being self-motivated, which means that the Rimbun Dahan programme may not be as formally structured as other residencies, and there are no hard targets for the artists to meet. Instead, artists are encouraged to work at their own pace and make the art that they want to make, evolving their craft organically. Rimbun Dahan is a good choice for emerging or more established artists who already have a body of work that they can use to prove their experience and dedication.

Malaysian artist Haffendi Anuar working in his studio at Rimbun Dahan. Photo: Ian Teh

British artist Rhiannon Rebecca Salisbury working in her studio at Rimbun Dahan.

British choreographer Carol Brown in the dance studio at Rimbun Dahan. Photo: Ian Teh

What other residencies are there?
There are many other options for art residencies within Malaysia, and even more if you are open to applying for overseas residences. To find the residency that is right for you, you can use the Resartis website at

Resartis is an international art residency network and is the worldwide professional body for the field. There, you can search for open art residencies by country, discipline, duration and many other filters. At the moment, Rimbun Dahan is the only Malaysian residency in the network that is active, but this could be a valuable resource for those looking for international residencies.

Here are some other notable residencies that Malaysians can join:

East Coast Artist in Residence (ECAiR)
An art residency in Kuantan that welcomes artists of all disciplines from writers to sculptors, painters to filmmakers. Fresh graduates and established artists are welcome. Collaboration with local artists, artwork exhibitions and public workshops are a possibility.


The application form can be downloaded at:
Application should be e-mailed to

Aimed at supporting local emerging artists by providing a conducive space and the chance to exhibit their work. Located in the fringes of Seremban’s historical old town, this residency provides artists with an art space within a 1919 pre-war, as well as a three-month stay at a heritage-style hotel. Studio visits and art networking events are also hosted.

You can apply at:

Located in Ampang, A-RES, short for Adopted Residency is a six-month programme made for young and emerging artists to make a name for themselves and grow their art career. This residency focuses on a committed studio practice, as well as guiding the artists in the aspects of art direction and techniques, and experiencing the life of a full-time artist. There will be a public exhibition of the work created during the residency towards the end of the programme. Supporting programmes to allow resident artists to communicate with the local art scene, network with established artists, and opportunities to exchange ideas with international artists will be provided.

You can apply at:

INXO International Residency
INXO International Residency in Kuala Lumpur is a multidisciplinary residency programme that allows artists to freely explore the potential of their art and to connect them with the local arts community. Artists are invited to create art based on the local culture and elements. The artists will have the opportunity to participate in a workshop and a final showcase of their art. Artists from disciplines as diverse as installations, photography, theatre, choreography, and sound art have been residents in the past.

You can contact them at:

Khazanah Residency Programme
This residency located in Acme Studios, London, was created to develop emerging Malaysian artists by giving them the skills and network required in their fields. They will be given the chance to develop their practice in a structured 12-week programme. Artists will develop artwork and work towards a post-residency exhibition. Knowledge sharing sessions and solo exhibitions are a feature of this residency. This residency may be of interest to artists looking to work on their practice in a foreign environment and to gain overseas experience.


You can apply by writing to

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