With sky-high real estate prices and expanding attention to the need for equitable opportunities for diverse artists, more artist residencies have cropped up in recent years, varying from live-in spaces where artists can stay, to work-only and exhibit spaces.
Some artists dream of faraway artist residencies, living and creating work in unusual buildings or exotic locales: a tiny treehouse in Scotland; a container on a commercial cargo ship; the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (yes, all of these are artist residencies).
Undoubtedly, those fantastic places would inspire creativity. But what about visual-art residencies here in Seattle? What about finding a room or studio or exhibition space of one’s own in the increasingly expensive Emerald City?
Residencies have been around for decades, but with sky-high real estate prices and expanding attention to the need for equitable opportunities for diverse artists, more and more residencies have cropped up in recent years. Residency programs vary from live-in spaces where artists can stay — temporarily, and usually free of charge — to work-only spaces that provide artists much-needed elbow room to develop ideas and exhibit new projects.
The iconic Fremont Bridge is the site for what may be Seattle’s most-talked-about residency, which allows a visual artist (or writer or musician) to climb into the bridge’s northwest tower to work in an 8-by-13-foot space. The stipend of $10,000 — half of which must be used for project materials, presentation and documentation — is funded through a city ordinance that requires that 1 percent of the city’s capital-improvement project funds be spent on art.
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According to the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, which manages the program with the Seattle Department of Transportation, residents can use the space as a “studio, a platform for observing the bridge and its surroundings, or as a base from which to interact with the community.” Despite any fantasy artists might have about living in a bridge tower, this four-month residency is work-only, not live-in.
Just last month, one of the city’s newest work-only residencies was kicked off by Mount Analogue, an interdisciplinary arts space. In a phone conversation, founder Colleen Louise Barry said that she launched the Space Residency as “an experimental model with artist-run projects that are community-oriented, interdisciplinary and based in social practice.”
Barry says that she lies in bed at night thinking about “the responsibility of having a physical space in a place like Pioneer Square in a city like Seattle. I want to make sure that this space is here for young artists, people of color, queer people and artists who might not have this kind of opportunity otherwise.”
So far, Barry has lined up five monthlong residencies, ranging from emerging to established artists, all with collaborative, genre-crossing, community-building goals. Each resident develops their own plan for the space but must include at least three opportunities for public interaction: receptions, performances, artist talks, pop-up sales, etc.
The residencies are unpaid, but Mount Analogue supplies the space, installation materials and exhibition support, and travel and lodging arrangements for out-of-town residents. If the resident decides to sell work, all proceeds go to the artist.
The first resident, 23-year-old multidisciplinary artist and curator Alexis L. Silva, says that his monthlong experience “was not only a way for me to explore and experiment, it broadened my network. I met people who have been in the community longer than I have and we had productive conversations about how artists of color navigate art spaces.”
Rather than featuring his own art, Silva curated a solo show of art by Stefan Gonzales whose work involves issues of capitalism and the use of resources. (Disclosure: I taught Gonzales and Silva at Cornish College of the Arts.) Mainly, Silva wanted the exhibition and accompanying panel discussions to be about “reclaiming and regenerating space.”
Reflecting on his first-ever residency, Silva says, “Having the opportunity to curate a show, with the lack of space in Seattle? It was kind of terrifying at first but it taught me so much.”
The fruits of the second Mount Analogue Space Residency are currently on view: “Ultra Light Beams,” a futuristic, Day-Glo group show organized by artist and curator Anthony White.
The Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington offers a residency with a specific, and significant, focus: A monthlong residency followed by an exhibition during Black History Month. Established in 2015, the Jacob Lawrence Legacy Residency and Exhibition invites one black artist per year to create new work. This year, the artist received a $3,000 stipend and free lodging in a Seattle apartment.
“At this juncture of history and politics, it is crucial to support the production of new artwork by black artists that can act as a change agent to the conversations of the past, and lay the way for a more equitable future,” said Emily Zimmerman, gallery director.
For the 2019 Legacy Residency, Chicago-based Danny Giles created drawings and collages that, according to a curatorial statement, examine “how Western aesthetics have structured whiteness, by responding to various moments in the interwoven histories of Western science and visual-art practice.” This new body of work makes up the exhibition “The Practice and Science of Drawing a Sharp White Background,” now open to the public.
Some Seattle artists, with their problem-solving and DIY sensibilities, have initiated nontraditional residencies of their own. The Duwamish River Artist Residency, for example, was created in 2012 by artists Fiona McGuigan and Sue Danielson who, according to their website, “seek to redefine the term ‘residency’ to include and embrace their city of residence by stepping into and engaging with a part of the city that is unfamiliar to them. They chose the Duwamish River because of its economic and environmental importance, and for its visual and social diversity.”
Every summer, the Duwamish Residency engages 12 or so studio artists in an educational program about the area’s history or ecology. The artists return year after year, kayaking the river or working in some of the area’s many industrial buildings. In a soon-to-be-released book titled “Art & Industry: Roots That Clutch,” Danielson writes that the “constant tug of war between humans and nature creates an underlying tension that clutches at us while we attempt to capture the river’s essence.”
On Bainbridge Island, Bloedel Reserve has offered a live-in “creative residency” since 2015. Artists, composers, writers, botanists and other creative practitioners have stayed for multiweek stretches in a lovely two-bedroom house built over a stream in the woods, tucked away from the main pathways of the 150-acre public garden and forest preserve. According to their application materials, the residency gives “special consideration to projects that explore the connection between people and nature.”
Painter Kimberly Trowbridge, who was a resident for three weeks in 2018, says, “As an artist who gains such integral inspiration and knowledge from direct observation of nature, being at Bloedel Reserve was like living inside a color/form laboratory. Each day I did multiple, painted studies out in the gardens, and then brought those studies back to the house where I began combining and developing them into larger pieces. This constant cycle and flow of gathering ‘data’ on-sight and reformulating my ideas while actually living inside the garden was a creative and mystical experience.”
Trowbridge, who has participated in several artist residencies, both nationally and internationally, notes that “residencies vary greatly in terms of what they offer (stipend, food, studio, etc.), but all of them have in mind the essential need for an artist to have focused time to work. Some of the most significant and lasting breakthroughs in my work unfold during these focused periods.”
Clearly, residencies offer rich opportunities for artists. In turn, what do artists offer the institutions or communities in which they take up residency?
Zimmerman suggests there’s a ripple effect; the Jacob Lawrence program, for example, gives UW students, faculty and staff “the opportunity to engage with the artist around the production of a new body of artwork. The residency not only transforms the life of the school through those conversations; the artworks created then travel out into the world, cultivating a conversation about the conditions, attitudes and circumstances of our time.”
Barbara LaBoe, a spokeswoman at the Washington State Department of Transportation — which has developed the nation’s first statewide transportation agency artist-in-residence program — told The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline that “this isn’t like commissioning a piece of artwork. This is bringing in someone with an artistic sensibility and fresh eyes who can help us identify or develop new programs or improve the way we do something.”
This program will embed an artist within the department for a year, during which the artist is expected to propose creative approaches to help advance the department’s overall goals. ArtPlace America is providing a $40,000 stipend for the artist and $25,000 for a final project developed by the artist and staff.
Trowbridge underscores the unique role that artists can play, saying, “artist residencies are a way of facilitating and honoring the significant research and contributions that artists bring to our communities.”
“Danny Giles: The Practice and Science of Drawing a Sharp White Background,” 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 1-5 p.m. Saturdays, through Feb. 28; Jacob Lawrence Gallery, University of Washington’s Art Building, room 132, Seattle; art.washington.edu/jacob-lawrence-gallery