Known by tourists for its pizza, pasta, and wine, and home to one of the world’s most famous art galleries, Florence, Italy remains a popular destination for international travellers year-round. Florence welcomes artists from all over the world each year who come in search of a place to focus on refining their artistic practices. During the spring of 2019, one year into my Master of Fine Arts degree at OCAD University, I completed a month-long artist residency in a busy yet beautiful city of Florence within the region of Tuscany. Engaging in studio time, museum visits, and participating in small group critiques, I further developed my skills as a visual artist and situated my art practice within the context of my surroundings. A year and a half later amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this residency seems worlds away. While the world has been placing current and future travel plans on hold, I’ve reflected on my experience abroad and even put what I learned to use during these past few months.
Working in a bright, spacious studio, my view from the shared studio space looked out across a quiet cobblestone street - the perfect place to draw day in and day out. When I think about this time in my life, I recognize that I was situating myself in a place of inspiration. Re-evaluating your scenery is something I would recommend to anyone struggling with a creative block or to someone looking for a change in their day-to-day. The change does not need to involve explicit travel, and can simply be intentions to experience something unfamiliar. While I was in Florence to work in the studio, I took it upon myself to explore the city and surrounding region. I indulged in new experiences, including a Venice for the Biennale, scaling the stairs of Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, and going for a bike tour that led a friend and I to a winery in the Tuscan countryside. Visiting the Boboli Gardens, the gardens at Villa di Castello, and my personal favourites, the Bardini Garden and the Rose Garden, I immersed myself in a world of curated natural beauty. I walked everywhere, making the experience incredibly personal and spontaneous.
Amidst the pandemic, I have found that it remains equally as important to find places of spontaneity and inspiration. Most of us are in a different mental space, so it follows that we would want to approach our days differently as well. For me, I have taken to spending more time out in nature, actively seeking out online talks, taking new courses, and reading books.
During my Florentine artist residency, I actively participated in all the lectures, seminars, and site visits available to me. It’s well known that creative activities lead to positive mental states. This optimistic mindset is critical in a time where we feel limited in our options and helps us find mental peace and relative stability. I have been so focused on finding new ways of learning while being on my own these past few months. Walking everywhere, just like I did in Florence, has not only helped me get more exercise but also gets me out of my head.
Completing an artist residency abroad was one of the highlights of my graduate career. I had to learn how to adapt and deal with uncertainty, something that I’m still benefiting from as we work through this unprecedented period. To some, investing in creative efforts can be seen as fanciful. I’m hoping that sharing my experience with you has shown how it can also be practical, especially in a time such as this.