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Some Notes on Artists-In-Residencies – Part ONE

Today, when we cease to be satisfied with the life that is offered to us in our own city, we no longer strive to change, revolutionise, or rebuild it; instead, we simply move to another city – for a short period or forever – in search of what we miss in our home city. Mobility between cities – in all shades of tourism and migration – has radically altered our relationship to the city as well as the cities themselves. ……But above all, it is today’s artists and intellectuals who are spending most of their time in transit – rushing from one exhibition to the next, from one project to another. All active participants in today’s cultural world are now expected to offer their productive output to a global audience….
‘Art Power’, Boris Groys

Many of East Street Arts’ activities take the form of residencies. Though most people perhaps will not think of us in the first instance when thinking of residencies, in the last two years East Street Arts has hosted over a dozen artists through our residency opportunities and it is a format that is gaining prevalence in our programme. Some are new projects for the organisation, like the Graduate Residency that was introduced last autumn, or the also new Live/work Residency, a year-long residency of which we have currently two running; one in Beeston (Leeds) and one in Hull.

Other residencies have evolved organically as another way to support our members, like the Member Residencies in our Project Space in Patrick Studios (Leeds) or the International Residency at pocagallery (Portugalete, Spain), both lasting one month and giving artists a focused period of time that can be dedicated to research, experimentation and the development of new work. These are the projects in which I am involved within my role at East Street Arts, but there are other variations have taken place in our space Union 105, for example.

We are constantly reflecting and revising the projects we do and the reasons why we do them, so over the last few months I have been doing a bit of research on residency programmes elsewhere; looking at what they offer, why are they important for artists and also what do we, as an organisation, want to contribute to this very widespread format. This part ONE contains a selection of my own notes and questions about residencies. In part TWO I will be highlighting my research findings from various sources with some case studies and part THREE will contain a summary of the feedback gathered from artists about their experiences.

• Residencies can change the way an artist works, or revive a confidence lost into their practice. This can be due to a change in environment, perhaps discovering a different approach to art. Residencies provide stimulus. Most residencies are related more or less to an aspect of ‘research’. Research, not necessarily in an academic or theoretical sense, but as an exploratory period to develop new works. Research as time to play, try, read, think and so on.

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• Some residencies (sadly a minority) actually offer a fee or stipend for the artist, this way contributing to artist’s income. In most cases, however, the resources are offered in-kind and the artists must source funding from elsewhere, or even pay themselves a fee to take part.

• Residencies can provide a needed pause in an artist’s practice. Perhaps a pause to reflect or to revisit materials or a pause for new inspiration to explore new ideas or simply take a breather, to allow the new environment to spark a new line of enquiry.

• Residencies provide with varying levels of validation of that artist’s work. They build your CV and networks; especially the residencies where there is some form of economic or in-kind support offered to the artists. It provides a ‘stamp’ of approval for artists, as they imply commitment to a professional practice.

• Residencies are a way to see the world: As simple as that, as complex as that.

• Residencies that involve collaboration between an artist and a non-art institution may have different benefits; they may work more as commissions in some cases (the artist is creating work in response to a very specific premise, or the outcomes are guided in advance). It is important to consider if a project is a residency or a commission in advance. Many site-specific works require that the artist stays in situ making the work, but that does not necessarily make it a residency. This is something that needs to be clear both in the guest’s and host’s mind as it affects expectations.

• The audiences in each residency will be very different. In many of them, the general public will not be involved at all. Other artists will, in most cases, be the most direct audience (through professional development, education etc.)

• Residencies can happen at all stages in an artist’s career. Each residency programme may be targeted at specific levels (emerging, mid-career or established) but residencies as a whole are something that is relevant to all artists and, unlike many other opportunities (art prizes specially), they tend not to have an age limit.

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• A residency can be an opportunity not just for the artist (guest) but for the institution/organisation (host) to develop a more in-depth relationship with the community or environment where the residency takes place. This may not be applicable or even relevant in many cases, but if it is, this triangular relationship (guest-host-community) has the potential to go beyond the mere time limits of the residency itself and grow into something substantial for that locality or community. This leads into the idea of residencies as opportunities for immersion. Some residencies offer artists an opportunity to be immersed in an environment or community; this is often portrayed as providing benefits to both the visiting artist but also the others in the community (in the form of inspiration, challenge, stimulus, knowledge exchange). In other cases, this new environment may be a non-art institution or business, in which case the outcomes of the project tend to be set in advance by both parties. I believe that residencies should provide some form of exchange between the guest artist, the host and the local scene. The degree of this exchange and its importance can vary enormously, and less exchange in one area does not imply a less successful residency.

The above are my reflections on residency programmes as a whole, drawing from my own experiences as an artist who has done a few but also as an organiser of some and the information already out there. In part TWO I will go through my research in which I divide residencies into three categories: A difficult task since there are as many types, but I felt that, to be able to draw some conclusions, it was necessary to create some form of division: Mine is based on the level of financial support they offer.

Here I leave some very good online resources for residencies all over the world:
• Res Artis (listings and resources) www.resartis.org/en/residencies/
•Trans Artists (research, general info and listings) www.transartists.org

Stay tuned for more and thanks for reading!

Hondartza Fraga, February 2015

Related posts:
This research continues in PART TWO