One of my aims for this research trip has been to explore the kinds of residency models available here in LA, and to look at what opportunities there may be for UK based artists to come and spend some time working here. At Islington Mill, we have been running an innovative residency model since 2010 in the form of an artist-led B&B, where guests of the B&B subsidise artist-in-residence costs. Our goal is long-term sustainability and financial stability, independent of fluctuations in art subsidies. With our new capital development, we plan to expand our residency capacity from our 3 current rooms to 8 new rooms on the 6th floor of our building. Our intention for this project is to explore new and underserved areas within residencies, including those specifically tailored for collectives and residencies with a focus on rest and recuperation rather than production and outputs.
With this in mind, I was interested to find out more about what kinds of models are being employed here in LA. I met with Anthony Carfello, deputy director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture – a long running residency across 2 sites designed by renowned Austrian architect Rudolph M Schindler (1887 – 1953). ‘The Schindler House’ (the architect’s former home) was designed in 1922 as an experiment in communal living for 2 couples to share. This building is owned by the ‘Friends of the Schindler House’ foundation, who in 1994 entered into a cooperation agreement with the MAK/Austrian Museum of Applied Arts for the creation of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. Funding from the Austrian Government has covered the costs of 8 residencies per year plus core funding for the staff team here since this time. The organisation fundraises on top of this for their exhibition and events program. The residencies are open to both artists and architects, and whilst it is in theory open to anyone to apply to, in practice it tends to be artists with a connection to Austria that are successful, Anthony tells me. Because of the 6 month residency duration, Anthony tells me that the applications tend to come from younger emerging artists who perhaps have more flexibility to spend an extended period in LA. The MAK Center experimented with shorter 2 month residencies some time ago which tended to attract older artists. This is in itself an indication of how the durational aspect of residencies may mean that many practitioners are excluded. The Mak’s reasoning for having the longer 6 month program is so that the participants have ample time to be present in and respond to LA in a more meaningful way than 2 months would perhaps allow for. In order to help with this, Anthony organises social events where he introduces new residents to his network of LA based practitioners.
A few days after my meeting with the Mak Center, I meet with Anuradha Vikram and Jan Williamson, directors of 18th Street Arts Center, one of the longest running artist-led spaces in California and cited as one of the top 20 artist residencies in the US. Their program is in 3 sections – visiting artists/curators/writers/musicians who stay in four live/work artist studios for 1 to 3 months at a time, mid term residencies open to local artists who wish to rent either live/work or day studios at the Center for terms of 1-3 years – these studios are subsidized in part by 18th Street Arts Center, in an effort to provide artists with affordable rental properties within Santa Monica. The institution also provides long term residencies open to individual artists and art organisations. These “anchor tenants” help to define the character and scope of the organisation through programmatic partnerships and community-building. Many of these residents have been with the organisation since it was founded in 1988. 18th Street also has ‘organisations-in-residence’ including OTIS MFA in Public Practice led by long-term resident, artist Suzanne Lacy.
While waiting to meet Anuaradha and Jan, I bump into resident artist, William Wells who has just arrived from Cairo, where he is director of The Townhouse Gallery. William shows me his live/work space which is large and well equipped with bed and cooking facilities, generous workspace with a wash-up sink and a full complement of basic tools. When I meet Anuradha and Jan, they tell me that their visiting artists come from all over the world, though the majority are self-funding, often through grants that they receive from funding bodies in their own countries. They tell me that cuts to arts funding in Northern European countries has had a knock on effect on their program, but nonetheless they still have a full program of visiting artists. They tell me that they are open to applications from artists with ‘strong practices’ who are able to self-fund their residency.
What I begin to realise from these meetings is that UK based artists may have difficulty coming to LA on an artist residency, unless they can bring funding, sourced from the UK, or elsewhere. From my research here, there doesn’t seem to be any directly funded international residencies available from within LA. At the moment, the only fund that I am aware of for international travel for UK artists is the ‘Artists International Development Fund’ which is aimed at artists who have had some initial experience of working abroad and who would like to develop this further. While it’s a great option for those that fit this criteria, I have had artist friends knocked back for this grant with the feedback that they already have too much experience of working abroad, when only having done a few international residencies for example. This suggests that we may need to look at developing other funding streams within the UK if we want to enable artists to develop international careers. There is a slight worry that we are moving away from a Northern European model of arts funding (which seems to continue to see the benefit in subsidising artists to work abroad) and instead shifting more towards a US model of subsidy, where there are currently little to no funds available to subsidise artists to work abroad – many of the LA based artists that I meet confirm this.
Throughout my trip here, something I pick up on is that I recognise very few of the names of artists participating in exhibitions here. Looking more closely at their CV’s, it seems that not many have shown their work in the UK or indeed in Europe at all, which perhaps accounts for this. With so few opportunities for artists from both the UK and the US to travel to each other’s countries, it is perhaps no surprise.
We often hear how we are all participants within a globalised art world with 100’s of international biennales and art fairs, and with instant access to the work that artists are producing from every corner of the world via the internet. I wonder how much of a reality this is for the majority of artists? The internet does allow for a distanced overview – to get a general sense of the kind of work that galleries may be showing in a particular place. But I’ve found that it really is a much more fulfilling experience to spend even a short amount of time somewhere, to see and experience the work in a wider context – the kinds of things that don’t make it onto Instagram or ‘Contemporary Art Daily. I’ve found it a privilege to be here, even for such a short time. I would love to come back to spend longer, I’m just not sure how that would be possible yet!