Why to invest in residencies?

The first panel presentation was devoted to artistic residencies in the wider context of cultural policy.

A successful mediation between public and private bodies, creating partnerships on a local, regional and world-wide scale resulted in a vast development of art residencies in the last 20 years, especially in Northern European countries. While (geographically) broadening the impact of this form of artistic practice and communication, it is still worth asking about the reasons and goals standing behind the investments made in their development.
Invited speakers represented a proactive attitude towards promoting, funding and developing new schemes of residencies. The presentations touched upon such issues as the rationale of founding bodies, evaluating good residency schemes, institutional and financial factors to consider, as well as addressing the dynamics of international networking, and the impact of artistic exchange on the dynamics of regional cooperation and development.

Invited speakers:

Odile Chenal (FR), Research and Development programme, European Cultural Foundation

Monika Fabijanska (PL), Director, Polish Cultural Institute in New York

Marijke Jansen (NL), Vice President, Res Artis

Ayeh Naraghi (FR), UNESCO - Aschberg Bursaries for Artists Programme

Dana Pekaríková (SK), Artists-in-Residence Programme Manager, International Visegrad Fund

Moderator: Monika Fabijańska (PL), Director, Polish Cultural Institute, New York

Below you will find an insight from Odile Chenal reflecting on the issues raised during the discussion.


Why invest in residencies?

In this brief question, asked at a roundtable of the conference Re-tooling Residencies[1], several other questions lie hidden. Not only is the question ambiguous in itself - meaning both 'Why do we invest' and 'Why should we invest?' - it also prompts other queries. Who is investing - artist, host organisation, or funder?
And investing what? Since investment implies expectations of getting something in return, we need to know what it is that's expected, and by whom.
In this short article I would like to comment on these issues from the perspective of a funding organisation. But one more question first: why do we ask this question now?

Artists' residencies: a trend
Debating this subject is indeed very timely, since, despite the economic crisis, there is a growing tendency to invest in artists? residencies. They are now something of a trend.
A mushrooming of art centre residencies has taken place over the past ten years. Money that cities and regions would once have put into festivals has been going to residencies instead.
The difference lies not only in the number of residencies, but their location too. European artists are no longer attracted only by large western cities, but also by Eastern Europe, China, Africa, the Middle East: places offering new inspiration and new artistic challenges.
During the last five years there has been an increase in what I call 'secular residencies', which are residencies in non-artistic environments. These can be just about anywhere: in universities, companies, airports, hospitals, private houses, etc. All of these places want ?their artist?.
At a very general level, how can this trend be explained?
The role of artists in our societies has changed and is changing. Artists are called upon to intervene in all kinds of social contexts, especially where politicians and social workers have failed. They are expected to unveil new realities, bring people together in communities, contribute to inclusive policies, and so on. Whether they want it or not, a role as actors and beacons of change ? a role performed by intellectuals in the former century ? is thrust upon them.
Related to this is the desire to re-connect art and artists with the social environment. There is, too, a growing interest in the creative, economic impact of arts and culture. Artists' residencies are becoming part of the panoply of cultural policies for local development.
And even if concrete outcomes are less visible than with arts festivals and events, residencies give both artists and hosts a sense of duration, of process and of sustainability.
These developments mean that the concept of residency is no longer automatically associated with geographical mobility. A residency used to be about going 'somewhere else', usually beyond one?s own country. Now residencies can take artists directly into their own environment, their own cities or towns. They still experience difference there, but the challenges come not from working far away but from being in totally different contexts, professionally, scientifically, politically. 'Otherness' can be, in terms of distance, very close.
As one artist at the Residency Cairo Symposium[2] put it: 'I could even go in residence in my own home. It is not about distance or unusual environment: it is a state of mind!'
This may be taking the point to an extreme. But residency is, indeed, about inhabiting and working within a 'space of difference'.

Residencies: Expectations, interactions, negotiations
By entering this different space, the artist is also entering a new system of relations. And it is this complex system of relations, seen from the viewpoint of a funding organisation, and with particular attention to 'secular' residencies, that concerns me here.
In a residency, each of the partners has particular expectations. And there can be three active partners involved ? artists, host organisations and (often) funders ? not to mention a possible fourth partner who can have a decisive role: those people, artists or not, within the immediate environment.


An artist can take up a residency for a number of different reasons: artistic interest, career development, new inspiration in confronting a different art scene; but also research, social engagement and intervention; the need to interact with other professionals or a specific environment; or simply the opportunity to survive financially.
The artists will have dealings mainly with the host organisation: a curator, a director of programmes, who is their interlocutor and with whom an agreement is established. In some cases, agreements are very loose, very open (?I was only given the keys?), directed only at the artist?s professional development. But many residencies have formal or informal requirements and expectations regarding an end production or exhibition, and also regarding relations with the professional or local environment.

Host organisations
The host organisation will have all kinds of more or less clearly expressed expectations. These are about working with interesting artists, supporting them, contributing to a vivid local art scene, while also increasing its own visibility and status, gaining international networks and recognition.

Funding bodies

Things become more complex when funders come into the picture. There is naturally a large diversity of public and private funders, but nearly all of them have expectations of a specific or general nature. They have an agenda.
Local or national funders may expect a return in terms of improvements to their image, to tourism, local development, or cultural diplomacy. Funders with a social mission (such as foundations) will evaluate more in terms of social change, community building or, as has often been stressed in recent years, intercultural competence, exchange and dialogue.

How to invest?

Artists often expect the host to keep the funder and its objectives at a distance. But these objectives exist and, like it or not, artists are part of this interplay of relations with hosts, funders and the environment. Artists are more and more often being invited to work in a political environment: an area of conflict, a difficult urban district, a region undergoing economic transformation, etc.
While artists' residencies are multiplying ? a very positive trend ? they are increasingly becoming an aspect of cultural and economic development, of social and international policies. The risk of instrumentalisation is only a short step away.
Personally, I am not too concerned by this risk, providing the partners involved present their expectations with as much clarity as possible. Needless to say, not everything can be clarified ? an artistic process is always a journey into the unknown ? but at least basic objectives should be exchanged, common ground negotiated.
Due to the arm's length principle, funders are often absent from this negotiation. But since more residencies are taking place outside art centres, and within certain political contexts, artists should be ready to engage in conversation with the funders. In my view, this conversation is one of the keys to a 'successful' residency: a residency where artists know the context they are entering and where funders, while not intervening in the course of the residency, remain open about their agenda and, above all, open to listening to the artist[3].
In short, for all partners involved there are many diverse reasons as to why they should invest in residencies. However, it is not only about why, it is also about how to invest: how to clarify partners' expectations in a way that doesn't affect the artist?s freedom, but acknowledges the various positions and perspectives.
The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) in Amsterdam has experienced not exactly a residency but an exchange of positions between a programme officer and an artist. Over six months, one day a week, the artist sat at the desk of the programme officer who, in turn, worked at the artist?s centre. This exchange took place as part of the ECF programme Almost Real and was called 'Almost You'[4] . In the words of the two participants: 'The office-residency hospitality exchange is intended to challenge the usual distinctions between guest and host, in particular between artist and cultural funding programme. This office swap aims to come to grips with the ethical implications of hospitality between artist and arts funder'.
If 'hospitality' means not expecting anything in return, then, between hospitality and investment, where are artists? residencies?
Odile Chenal
[1] Re-tooling Residencies, an international conference on artistic residencies, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, November 16-19, 2009.
[2] Residency Cairo symposium.
[3] "Mountains of Butter, Lakes of Wine: The effects of changing conditions for contemporary art", Stockholm Stadstheater, 7-8 November 2009.

Odile Chenal - until 1982, she was a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. In 1982, Ms Chenal became Director of the Centre Culturel Francais in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and later became Cultural Attache at the French Embassy in Hague. Since 1990, she has worked at the European Cultural Foundation and is currently responsible for the Research & Development sector.