Some remarks on artist-in-residence programmes  

Guest studios for artists can now be found all over the world, and the interest to stay in them is steadily increasing. One result of ever-wider globalization is that many more countries have initiated artist-in-residence programmes for various categories of artist. It is worth asking what these residencies mean for the artists, just as it is worth asking what interest the various organisations, municipal councils and private trusts have in running such programmes. How do artists select their residencies? By what channels is information and awareness about localities/countries spread? What influences the selection process, the committees or curators?

- The profile of the place. Is it clearly stated what kind of applicants the artist-in-residence programme wants, e.g. "promising young" artists, or recognised artists who are already part of the "system" and reasonably established?

- The prestige of the place. On what basis are artists selected? Are there limits to the length of stays, or is there a wish to restrict the programme to certain regions? How is a host venue affected by its choice of artists? Do places consciously consider this question in their selection procedures? Is it the well-known/international artists who are sought, or is the focus on certain artistic genres?

- The strategy of the place. Individual artists/venues use residencies according to a variety of strategies. Artists might be following their own agendas in selecting places; they might wish to work on a project, collaborate with a group of artists, or seek an exhibition venue. The aims of those who run the programmes might be longer term, e.g. to draw attention to their own local artists, or to increase activity in the field of art in their district. Once again, these factors can be reflected in the artists selected, in the extent of the provisions for specific residencies, and in the focus the guests can expect to receive.

- The status of the place. What does an artist hope to gain from a residency? Does the artist regard it as a rather anonymous activity that merely looks good on a CV? Might the residency be useful in a career context? Might it become an interruption to a work process, or is it seen as an opportunity to acquire new knowledge and inspiration, or motivated by a desire for professional stimulation? Has the artist considered the possibility that a residence might result in a lasting sense of rootlessness and thus mark the start of a nomadic existence?

- Publicity. How are the activities of the selected artists publicised? Are they announced only in specialised art journals, or is there an awareness of how this information can be used more strategically to promote the programme of the host venue, or as an essential advertisement for the artist? In the Norwegian context, the importance of guest studios for artistic careers has been somewhat ignored. Why is this?

- Exchange programmes. Some artist-in-residence programmes establish contracts to encourage exchanges. This might entail, e.g. an arrangement ensuring 10 months-worth of residencies for Nordic artists in Ireland, in return for an offer of 10 months-worth of residencies for Irish artists in the Nordic countries. For many years the Nordic countries have had a policy of promoting cooperation with neighbouring regions, such as the Baltic countries and parts of Russia, and on this basis support has been provided to artist-in-residence programmes and art projects. One can ask whether there would have been so much focus on these regions if it had not been for the economic programmes specially aimed at supporting these activities. The Norwegian foreign office operates by investing in selected regions for limited periods of time, which results in exhibition projects and increased possibilities for financial support in those particular regions. Does this mean that artists who are granted residencies or exhibitions as part of a politically determined programme are nothing more than a medium for such politics?

In the past, foreign artists have had few possibilities to live and work in Norway. This situation has changed somewhat since the establishment of the OCA, the Office for Contemporary Art in Norway, which works to promote professional dialogue with other countries. The organisation also runs four guest studios at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo.

– What facilities do artists want or host venues provide in order to ensure successful residencies? The objectives of individual artists vary immensely. Some might plan to execute a piece of work or a project in deeper contemplation, away from possible disturbances. Others will wish to investigate opportunities to exhibit at the locality, to forge new contacts and networks, or to use residencies as opportunities to present their works to new audiences. The host venues themselves may have very different objectives in running artist-in-residence programmes. These might range from cultural activities imposed on a community to global network collaborations based on professional expertise and extensive experience of artist-in-residence programmes.

It would seem obvious that hosting organisations need coordinators who can provide information and arrange meetings between the guest artists and various relevant people in and around the locality. The forms of these arrangements will vary considerably depending on the individual needs of the artists, and on where the artist stands in her/his career at the time of the residence. They will be determined not least by the nature of the artist´s work process.
The challenge is to arrange meetings and presentations to suit the individual´s needs. In the Scandinavian context we have seen how IASPIS, the International Artist Studio Program In Sweden, has organised exhibitions and open studios for guest artists with great success. In a short time IASPIS has established an active and interesting meeting point for artists, writers and curators in Stockholm. People from the art world who come to Stockholm quite naturally head for IASPIS in search of information and updates relevant to their interests.

One can ask what it is that has made IASPIS so successful. Part of the recipe is good information from its own extensive international network, and the offer of relevant and interesting presentations by good international lecturers. IASPIS has received press coverage far beyond the local arena. It has a strong presence and supports artists who participate in important art events around the world. Keywords to describe IASPIS are generosity, enthusiasm and energy, which add up to an ability to create a good atmosphere for their visiting artists and others.

– Selection procedures for artist residencies. Since the establishment of the Nordisk Konstcentrum, the running of the Scandinavian artist-in-residence programme has progressed from a system whereby artists were selected by their national, professional interest organisations, via a curated programme that invested all power in a single person, to the situation today, which involves a specially appointed committee of notable experts from around Europe. It is important to consider the reasons for these developments. Other host venues, such as ArtSpace in San Antonio, Texas, employ groups of trusted experts to recommend artists for their programmes. Some places offer residencies so as to reflect their range of applicants. Others use a combination of such procedures.

– The economic aspect of residencies. Economy plays a crucial role for both the individual artist and the host venue. Artists who are offered the use of space without further financial support are required to finance their residencies personally. This they can do either by applying to other funding sources, or, if they consider the stay sufficiently important, by paying out of their own pockets. Many guest studios are offered on the basis that artists will receive state support from their home regions. Where this is so, the conditions that artists live under during residencies can vary immensely. To what extent is economy a determining factor for the quality of a residency? For most artists a residency at a guest studio entails increased costs.

A guest artist has to administer her/his work in the new space in addition to honouring permanent commitments back home. The economic aspect of most studio programmes has not kept pace with general economic developments in society. Generally it is still assumed that artists are adept at living frugally and at finding solutions to the financial challenges of residencies.

– The time aspect. What role does the length of a residency play? Many artist-in-residence programmes have fixed time limits, anything from a month to a year. For many artists it is the time aspect that determines whether they can concentrate on their work and hence make good use of a residency. Short residencies tend to be more superficial in character, with artists functioning almost like tourists, who merely check out what there is in the way of institutions, galleries and other opportunities. One might just get around to presenting documentation of one´s work, hoping that it will be deemed interesting, e.g. by gallery owners in the area. Longer residencies, on the other hand, can result in broader insights and appreciation of a region´s cultural life and structures and allow artists to approach art institutions in other ways.

– The exotic versus the urbane. Why do artists choose the places they do? Does chance play a role, or do they make conscious choices to travel, say, to Paris or to Namdalen? Does the choice of host location reflect the artist´s ambitions? Is it often based on information gathered through networks? Many factors play a part here, not least who the artist happens to be. Some will regard a residency in New York as essential to an international career, allowing them to study the art market from close up and to expand their personal networks.

Other artists wish to visit such metropolises in search of maximum inspiration for their work. What one person experiences as exotic can become hopeless isolation for another. Some artists might hope to find a new focus for their work, while others might hope to distance themselves from work.

Some guest artists have developed new forms of expression through finding themselves in situations where at first sight it seemed impossible to do anything with the plans they had so carefully prepared. Others have found everything including their meals laid on yet been unable to use the opportunity because of their personal reactions. Such things can be difficult to predict. Artists with several residencies under their belts tend to be better prepared and more able to profit from residencies than first timers. At the same time, ever more young artists are involved in project-oriented work, for which short term residencies might be more suitable.

How does a residency affect an artist´s career? What does it mean for someone to have stayed in New York (PS1 and ISP), Berlin (Künstlerhaus Bethanien), Paris (Cité Internationale des Arts), or in Scandinavia (Nordisk Institutt for Samtidskunst B NIFCA), or at the Skandinavisk Forenings Kunstnerkollegium in Rome, the Nordisk Kunstnarsenter, Dalsasen, or on Svalbard, or at Munch´s house in Warnemünde in northern Germany? Or what about those who have received the Namdal stipend, the Arisholm stipend, the Kanal stipend, the Jomfruland stipend, the Ryvarden stipend, and so on and so forth?

– Travel grants versus artist-in-residence programmes. Individual travel grants would permit artists far greater freedom in their choice of destinations, although they would not in themselves automatically ensure good working conditions during a stay. Where the aim is to expand knowledge and networks, then meeting places such as the Art-Hotel, with its small and flexible accommodation units, can be just as useful for the artists and might even be easier to run.

– The conclusion to be drawn from these various reflections is that many major and minor choices have to be made by both the artists and those responsible for the various artist-in-residence programmes. It isn´t everyday that one takes the time to weigh up the possible significance of various choices and actions. I have allowed myself to present a few essential and some rather more banal aspects of artist-in-residence programmes, based on my own experience, and the places I myself have stayed. I believe it is crucial both for the artists and for those who plan artist-in-residence programmes to reflect on what it is one is doing, why one does what one does, and what one hopes to achieve thereby. As I see it, the greatest strength of artist-in-residence programmes is ultimately the sheer variety of residencies on offer.

Sonja Wiik, Paris 28 August 2002.