A path to the residence: invitation or proposal

“Shishim Hill” publishes a series of texts, which provides insight into various components of the processes around an art residence.

One of the main questions about an art residence is who actually makes an offer and who accepts it? There is a common idea that presents an art residence as a sort of a maiden of marriageable age: she receives proposals, one more elegant than the other, which she rejects without too much hesitation. There are especially enviable brides — who get so many proposals that they are unable to process them alone. Then matchmakers and their neighbors join in, start a strict screening out, because, as a saying goes, “everyone needs such a cow.”

The second pattern of residence behavior is aptly described with an image of a lookout man. On the bow of a ship there stands a residence, proud and self-sufficient, and by looking through a telescope it decides whom to take on its residential board. Surely, there is little space on the ship, so a residence quickly masters one important gesture: confidently turning around on its heels when the ship levels with a potentially unnecessary passenger.

Although both strategies seem predatory in this cartoonish description, these are the two basic ways by which artists get into residences, and residences form their entry lists. In reality, naturally, none of the ways exist in its pure form. Most often, you’ll come across hybrid or intermediate options, in which an open call and invitations are variously combined.

An open call, or open contest, is considered to be the most transparent and democratic means of attracting potential residents. A contest should be announced publicly on the residence’s own platforms (website, social media) and distributed by partners and the mass media. For a young residence that has no tight connection to a large institution or a big event, it can be difficult or costly to collect applications through an open call for the first time. There is a great chance it will lack applicants.

However, often there are too many applications. To be more precise, there are more than expected. Therefore, it is important for a residence to carefully choose platforms where the information is posted: placement should be targeted (so that people would come), but not overadvertised (to avoid rejecting interesting candidates simply because there are too many of them). Of course, each residence shares a different view on ​​the desirable conversion of ads into residents, which is based on their experience, but no one denies the simplest rules: the higher awareness, the more applicants. Surely, this quite mundane observation should not stop artists from submitting applications to famous residences. There are absolute leaders who head the list of Dream Residences, from which it is merely impossible to get an invitation, but one can always submit a well-elaborated application.

As for the invitation to a residence, it can come both from a curator, who forms the program of the residence on a permanent or project basis, and from the residence itself as some impersonal, rather formalized institution. In any case, an invitation does not imply an immediate public disclosure (unlike a contest that should be announced) and, as a rule, suggests that the artist was chosen by a small number of specialists. Technically, it could be just one person — a curator.

Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Alyona Skala
Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Alyona Skala

Moreover, there are exceptions. It is possible, for example, that a residence team asks external curators, its employees (in the case of a large staff), representatives of partner institutions to nominate artists that would join the residence; on the basis of the nominations, a list of residents is drawn up and then its administrative examination begins, which may lead to the invitation of an artist and his/her participation in the residence. A number of questions are clarified before contacting the artist, some cannot be clarified without a correspondence or conversation. It is important to find out where the artist lives and whether there are means to bring him from there; does the invitee have time to stay at the residence; whether he is interested in the opportunity and whether his conditions are met; what languages ​​does he speak and many more. At the same time, we assume that the questions of artistic content were settled at the time of the nomination, in a pre-administrative order.

In case of an open call, the issues of content often become determining in the selection process. Therefore, the invitation of experts is a necessary component of the open contest. They are the ones who monitor applications in terms of content and give their opinion. However, the experts’ participation in the work of a residence is one of the blind spots in the whole process. Frequently, this point is overlooked, and as a result, when a residence is being organized, it turns out that neither time nor budget has been allocated for the experts’ participation.

Experts may belong to institution which started the residence, but most often they are rotating professionals who share or clearly understand the objectives of the residence, its procedural and artistic standards. When announcing a call, it is worth outlining as clearly as possible who will select among applications — this contributes to open communication with the artists. Applicants, who know the list of experts, in other words know the addressee and have a chance to express themselves as accurately as possible.

Another factor for obtaining / submitting a “dream application” lies in clearly articulated criteria. The criteria that an applicant must meet are the primary information of any competition. They can be formal: age, place of origin or living, artistic education, duration of practice, a possibility to come with a child, etc. They can also relate to media of work (for example, the residence accepts only composers), the features of creative process (the residence invites artists with engineering education) or certain skills (work with some particular material). It happens quite often that the residence imposes some demands for content (for example, it is necessary to work with the local community) or focus on some topic (in the case of a direct connection with a festival, biennale or simply seasonal programming).

Transparent terms, criteria, possibilities and limitations of the residence allow motivation to crystallize. Frequently, motivation stands as a mandatory point in the application. And this is the least formal point. It caters for a resource of mutual connection and a chance of a good match. If the residence is in the mountains, it is not enough to “always love mountains” to join. Not a single residence (the bride) will be happy that someone has loved someone (else) all their life. Therefore, utterly specific motivation is important — an honest answer why you (as an artist) need this residence. It should be a kind of a fantasy about mutual benefit.

When inviting or choosing from applications, the residence is ideally guided by a similar fantasy. In order to fulfill hopes of the residence, it is important that artists communicate the most detailed information about themselves. The stay in the residence can be long and seem excruciating, if one of the parties deliberately or unconsciously misleads, creates a false image of themselves. After all, in fact, the best thing that can happen between an artist and a residence before the start is an exchange of intentions, expectations and promises with a rigorously outlined framework of their implementation.

And yet about the proposal. We mean “project proposal” at the application stage, which is not the most obvious requirement. The conversation will undoubtedly return to this point when it comes to projects in the residence. For the rest, we can say that an art residence is most likely the easiest option for a fixed-term marriage of convenience.

Text: Zhenya Chaika, curator, Shishim Hill artists-in-residence

Translation: Anna Bubel Goldfarb


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