Free retreats for artists, writers and performers

Are you an artist, looking for a free retreat opportunity? Here are some places in the UK, Europe, the US and South America that offer free or very cheap retreats for artists, performers and writers.

IMG_2345Retreats are an essential for the writer or artist. On retreat, all you have to do is hone your craft, relax and nurture your creativity.

And while there are thousands of retreat centres out there, many are costly. Artists, writers and performers don’t start life rich, so here are a few retreats I have found out about that won’t cost much.

The US seems to offer many artists retreats with different entrance criteria and expectations.  Some offer residencies for free, some are subsidised, some are on a barter scheme. Check out individual venues in the USA on the excellent Mira’s List, featuring links such as the free residencies scheme at the prestigious MacDowell Colony.

One great page of US residencies can be found here: 26 Amazing Writing Residencies.

It seems that Amtrak are just about to start offering writers’ retreats… the details are vague right now, but if retreat-by-train gets you going, check out this news story for more information.

One such opportunity is the month-long residency in Finger Lakes from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation. Artists/writers must be from New York State, and there is a  $500 stipend available to help with your travel costs. Applications are now open.

One fantastic program in Massachusetts is the Artists’ Pointing The Way residencies in Edgartown, offered by the Point Way Inn owner Claudia Miller. Read an article about the opportunity here and find the contact details here.

Residency Unlimited is a site dedicated to finding residencies for artists and writers. You can search by art form, deadline or location. There are opportunities all over the world, from Mexico to the Himalayas to the Galapagos Islands. Many opportunities are free, some offer bursaries to the artists, some involve costs.

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, UK is the reputed castle of King Arthur.  It’s ruins lie before the spectacular scenery of the Cornish coast.  Rugged cliffs overlook the tidal Merlin’s cave. Take the path down to the beach, where you will crunch on sea-worn pebbles.

Even better is that you can enjoy this idyllic place through Camelot Castle Hotel‘s free artists-in-residency programme.  You have to apply in advance.  Regarding selection criteria, the owners John Mappin and Ted Stourton make this refreshing statement:

As soon as some one says they are an artist, why then they are one. The decision to create is probably one of the most powerful decisions that a being ever makes and by validating that decision and giving it a window of space to be nurtured it is extraordinary what can occur.

Odsherred Teaterskole in Nykobing, Denmark has a fantastic residential theatre school near to forests and beaches. I found out about it on a week-long residential mask workshop with Steve Jarand.

Nykobing is about two hours by train or bus from Copenhagen, which costs about 40 Euros return. Odsherred Teaterskole is not easy to find if you are a stranger so ask when you get there. The teaterskole is a good half hour’s walk through the woods from the train station, although buses and taxis are available. I choose to walk because it is delightful; through an ancient forest with Hansel and Gretel style cottages just off the path. The Teaterskole has a subsidised policy for playwrights and theatre practitioners: for 5 Euros linen charge you can stay in a room there. And that charge is not per night, it’s for the duration! There are kitchens and showers to use, or you can pay 15 Euros per day full board, which will buy you a share of a delicious, home-made organic buffet.

You can stay at Odsherred Teaterskole as a writer in retreat, or you can take part in one of the many residential theatre workshops are hosted there. Check out their workshop programme here. Staff are friendly and efficient, and if your Danish needs brushing up, don’t worry: most people speak English. If you like quiet beaches, gentle seas and walks in forests, this might be the retreat for you.

You can pay to stay at La Muse in the South of France, or you can apply to stay for free as part of a trade barter.  The barter involves free board and accommodation in return for 24 hours work per week.  You have to apply to barter at least two months in advance, and barters are not available during summer months.

The view from La Muse Artists' Retreat, South of France
The view from La Muse Artists’ Retreat, South of France

La Muse is a rural, mountainside retreat with a cosy, village lifestyle and views of lush green valleys.  If you want to be inspired while watching the sun set on the thousand-year-old cypress trees in the churchyard, then consider coming here on retreat.

This retreat page on mentions another opportunity in Paris, France. They say: “If you’re a writer and willing to put up with less than ideal conditions, the famous Paris booksellers Shakespeare & Company may let you crash above the shop.”

I couldn’t find details of this on the Shakespeare and Company website, but please look for yourself or contact them and ask.

The La Napoule Residency, a château in France, offers a five-week residency for artists.

They say:

La Napoule Art Foundation offers time and space for creative minds to engage in cultural interchange and meaningful work that impacts the world for the greater good. In addition to using this time to explore new ideas and develop their work, artists are expected to take every opportunity, especially mealtimes, to build community and friendship as well as to exchange ideas and experiences.We are not a hotel, and only welcome guests on certain occasions such as residencies, workshops, and nonprofit partnerships.

Application details can be found on their website.

The Art Monastery in Italy seeks to offer residential opportunities for those interested in the arts, spirituality and ethics. It has a wonderful website and offers many different opportunities from internships to work trades, from residencies to becoming a visiting lecturer.

The Creators Inn in Sweden offers artists free accommodation for visiting creators. They hope that this will promote the local area and that the presence of creative people helps enrich local life. So participation locally would be very welcome.

The Saari Residence in Finland hosts both individuals artists and groups who are looking to research creative work. Grants are available through the Kone Foundation, and you can stay for up to two months. There is an application process.



They have facilities to accommodates artists from many disciplines: “The barn contains four kinds of workspace: an artists’ studio, a dance studio, a woodworking shop and a metalworking shop.”

Their website says:

The Saari Residence’s historical surroundings and peaceful location near a nature reserve and bird wetlands help to fade away all distractions.

Artists and researchers can also come together under this interesting residency scheme.

The 360 Xochi Quetzal residency in Jalisco, Mexico offers three to five live-and-work spaces in a small town complete with cowboys and stunning lakes and countryside nearby. National and international visual artists, photographers, dancers, writers, new media makers and musicians over the age of 23 are welcome to apply for free one-month residency programs that include accommodations and a food stipend of 1,000 pesos – that’s about £35 GBP. You can apply for a summer or winter program or rent a live/work space at other times. There is a small application fee.

Organise your own retreat

Or why not organise your own informal retreat? My generous Danish friends have a log cabin that they use as a summer house. I was allowed to stay there for a couple of months in spring to do some writing. I offered to do some cleaning and painting and generally look after the place. I also paid for the electricity and water that I used. The great thing about organising my own retreat was that it was totally personalised with no application process. I stayed in a beautiful location with no wifi, no TV, no people to talk to, so I could really get my head down and write, undistracted. If you are not interested in collaborating, this kind of arrangement could suit you well.

Do you know anyone with a cabin or a caravan like this?

Alternatively, housesitting might fit in well with your plans. I can recommend the website Trusted Housesitters. There is a membership fee but the service is excellent.

I recommend every artist, writer or performer goes on retreat at least once a year to rediscover their passion, and allow space for new creation.

If you hear of other retreats, let me know and I will update this list.  And if you visit one I’ve recommended, please let me know what you think!

Lots of love and luck on your creative journey : )