Artist Communities Alliance (ACA) is an international association of artist residencies.
ACA supports the people who power the field of artist residencies — administrators, artists, culture bearers, creatives, volunteers, neighbors and community members — the organizations and programs that provide time, space and resources for artists to advance their creative practice. Artists and artist residencies are at the center of our work.
An artist residency field that shapes a world where people have the freedom to unleash their full creative potential and prosper in inclusive, just, joyful and accessible environments.
Our work is always in progress. ACA pledges to remain curious about how we can build community, promote learning, direct resources and advocate for causes most relevant to the residency field. We can only explore the possibilities together, so instead of a mission statement, we have a mission question:
How can ACA unite the people who power artist residencies and inspire the field?
Residencies: ACA supports the people who work in the artist residency field and artist-centered organizations. We provide training and networking opportunities; leverage funding and promote evaluation, reflection, transparency and the development of equitable practices.
Artists: ACA is a resource for artists, providing a searchable residency directory that spans disciplines; and other resources to help artists find, apply and fund a residency experience.
We build connections among people who work in the artist residency field and the arts sector at-large through programming, convenings and our membership program.
We promote knowledge-sharing and exchange through research, evaluation, and information.
We administer funds to individual artists and artist residency programs in partnership with foundations and arts agencies.
We facilitate research to champion the issues most relevant to the artist residency field.
We aspire to an artist residency field that shapes a world where people have the freedom to unleash their creative potential and prosper in inclusive, just, joyful and accessible environments.
We lead with our values
- We center artists.
- We believe power lies in the people.
- We respect and celebrate differences and commonalities.
- We thrive on inquiry and thoughtful debate.
- We are unequivocal in our stance on fair and just treatment for all.
- We acknowledge privilege and historic inequities and work vigorously for broad access to resources, properties, information and opportunities.
- We believe that experimentation yields transformation.
- We share reciprocity with the earth attending to the impact of our actions on it and all that it contains.
- We listen, learn and share; we follow and lead.
Artist communities and residencies were first documented in the 19th century as informal efforts to create workspace for painters, writers and composers. In the 20th century, these efforts became more formalized. For decades there were a limited number of residencies and they were predominantly based on the rural retreat model of providing white artists with seclusion and limited public interaction. In the late 1970s and ’80s, the field saw a significant increase in the number and types of residencies — urban residencies, workspace programs for local artists, community art residencies and larger institutions that created residencies as an additional programming component. However, artist residencies continued the practice of exclusion and marginal support of Black, Indigenous, and other artists of color, and disabled artists.
In 1991, following preliminary research on artists’ communities, the MacArthur Foundation selected 18 artist residencies to receive funding for a one-time project entitled Special Initiative on Artists' Colonies, Communities, and Residencies¹ to “nurture the process of creation…at a time when it is important to reaffirm the essential freedom that is necessary for all creative accomplishment.” With government funding on a sharp decline because of the Culture Wars, the MacArthur Foundation wanted to bolster a small network of well-established artist residencies.
The project distributed over $2.5 million to Alternative Worksite (now called Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts), Omaha, NE; Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, FL; Capp Street Project, San Francisco, CA; Centrum, Port Townsend, WA; Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Woodside, CA; Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA; Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art (now called MoMA PS1), Queens, NY; Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA; MacDowell, Peterborough, NH; Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA; Millay Colony, Austerlitz, NY; Palenville Interarts Colony, Palenville, NY; Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest, IL; Sculpture Space, Utica, NY; Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Amherst, VA; Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY; and Yellow Springs Institute, Chester Springs, PA.
In February 1991, these 18 organizations met at the invitation of Doris Leeper, founder of the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and agreed to form a national consortium of artist communities. MacArthur Foundation underwrote the Alliance’s first two meetings and provided a startup grant. The National Endowment for the Arts gave the group its initial grant. Together, these organizations hoped to bolster artist residencies across the U.S. with the aim of creating a better system to support artists’ needs.
In 1992, the consortium hired its first part-time staff member, Richard Evans, who facilitated the formation of the Alliance of Artists Communities. Tricia Snell served as the Alliance’s first Executive Director. She moved the organization from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, and authored the Alliance's first print directory of programs, Artists Communities: A Directory of Residencies in the United States That Provide Time and Space for Creativity (Allworth Press), which formed the basis of our online Residency Directory.
Since its founding, the Alliance has convened 29 annual conferences. The first of these symposia, “American Creativity at Risk,” held in Providence in 1996, expanded the membership and earned the Alliance national recognition within the arts. The Alliance has also created several publications, including three editions of the Directory of Residencies, in 1996, 2000, and 2005, conceived and compiled by the Alliance, with each artists’ community approving its own entry. Each new edition reflected the field's growth and made it increasingly possible for artists to find the proper match. Additionally, ACA has produced research reports on the field and compilations of organizational development data.
For 30 years, ACA has believed that cultivating new art and ideas is essential to human progress. We believe that the practices of artists and culture bearers hold the power to transform, uplift, and sustain the world. Artist communities have never been a more essential—or challenged—component of the arts and culture ecosystem as they are today and we continue to support them. As the artist residency field continues to change, ACA is evolving to meet the needs of the field and today’s artists.
In 2016, ACA hired its first Black woman Executive Director, with the board signaling that a change needed to happen within the organization and within the field itself. ACA could no longer idly witness from the sidelines the perpetuation of white body supremacy, but needed to embody and represent the diversity of artists within the artist residency field.
In 2021, the organization changed its name to the Artist Communities Alliance (ACA). Our membership now includes more than 300 organizations and individuals from 50 U.S. states and 20 countries who are working to change the environment in which we support the creative process. Since 2004, we have provided more than $4 million in direct grant funding to artists and artist residencies. Proudly, we together are ACA.
¹In 2020, ACA ceased using “colony” to refer to arts communities.