While art residencies have become an integral infrastructural feature of the international contemporary arts ecosystem, their perceived value is largely under-researched and the transformative impact they have upon the actors and agencies involved – not the least of those being the artists themselves – remains ill-defined and inadequately documented. This article provides the first instalment in a series of texts designed to account for and synthesize various investigative aspects of an interdisciplinary action research project that has taken the Visual Artist Residency program hosted by Monash University at its Centre in Prato, Italy as its subject. The Prato Visiting Artist Residency Archive research project (PratoVARarchive) seeks to illuminate the distinctive qualities associated with archiving art residency experiences from an artist-centred perspective by cross-fertilizing curatorial research processes with the records continuum model. The nature of artist-led processes, creative collaboration, extra-institutional relationships and the persisting influence of residency experience on an artist’s practice has been investigated through a combination of conventional qualitative research (i.e. artist interviews) and unconventional research through practice, including exhibition and paracuratorial formats that were called upon to focus the issue of art and archives at the Community Informatics Research conference hosted in Prato in 2017. For its part, this initial essay establishes some of the key values (i.e. artistic intelligence; artistic/performative research processes) and archivistic approaches (i.e. present-tense, creative archiving) informing the project’s inquiry-based approach.