Embarking on a residency at the Banff Centre in Canada, I’m creating a new body of site-specific photographic work, based on historical research and shaped by stories from Banff residents.

My work involves exploring storytelling, history and nature through time-based conceptual frameworks; constructing ‘three-dimensional stories’ from collected visual material and research, and through visual objects/installations, I create plausible stories and characters who inhabit imaginary lives.


ANONYMOUS: Thematic residency

My experience at Banff was incredibly valuable, but also fraught. It was worth the time, absolutely. The work I made during my residency was completely unexpected and could not have been made without the facilities and staff at hand.

Because I received outside funding to be there, I can say it was worth the money, but I might not say so if I had used my own funds to cover all my costs. Since I had to travel long distances to get there it was still quite expensive, but for what I spent I believe it was worth it for what I gained. It is unfortunate that residencies at the Banff Centre are so costly and therefore limited to those with means or access to outside funding and resources.

The Banff Centre itself is a beautiful campus with a slightly unsettling, corporate feel. Food is overpriced and extra costs are lurking around every corner. At the same time, residents have unlimited access to almost all facilities on campus. The mountains are spectacular and imposing. I had an inspiring view from my studio window. During my residency I engaged with artists of many other disciplines, from whom I learned immensely through observation and conversation.

I went to the Banff Centre because I was interested in exploring performance within a visual arts context and I was intrigued by the theme of our “thematic” residency. I found the group environment to be quite dogmatic and unfriendly at times, while at other times very open and joyful. Coming to terms with that opposition was an interesting challenge.



The Banff Centre residency was recommended to me by my University of Brighton tutor, Jacqui Chanarin, who had completed the residency a few years previously. Having recently graduated I was really looking to expand my portfolio somewhere that had resources already in place. I also needed some technical guidance to support my transition from student to practitioner. It was important to meet artists from outside of my own network and discipline, for an insight into how artists from other countries and institutions approach their practice.

At university we were expected to follow many guidelines and criteria which inevitably effected our work, I wanted to realise some of the ideas that did not meet this criteria, that I had developed during this time; the freedom to explore just for the love of making.

My agenda was also to achieve more balance in regard to my work/life relationship—to be able to not make without feeling the guilt. Being in Banff, with the mountains and lakes and hedonistic social element demonstrated that you can be a ceramicist and talk to real human people and go outside sometimes too!

When I arrived I was really overwhelmed by the number of people at the centre. Having lived in quiet solitude for the previous year I found social interaction really challenging. Being forced to communicate with strangers really helped my confidence and was especially revitalising.

Being around such inspiring artists made me realise that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to, which was incredible motivating. Having critical dialogue with such a diverse range of people has enabled me to consider my work from different aspects. It was so interesting engaging with artists on the thematic residency (experimental comedy boot camp) that ran parallel to my own. Seeing different approaches to visual art, significantly changed my own attitudes to my own work and the work of others. It also gave me a clearer understanding about what my work is not about, which is just as helpful.

I am now more focused on producing work that enables social cohesion by making objects that facilitate interaction, social engagement, mutually beneficial exchange and enable ‘togetherness’, which I credit to extensive informal critiques with Lee Campbell, who challenged me to really explore what my work is about.

Being surrounded by mountains made everything I made, seem very small and insignificant! The seasons seemed to change so quickly from hot sun to autumn through to snowy winter, meaning that I lost all sense of time. I felt like I was there for such a long time which meant I approached my work with a much more relaxed attitude. Being outdoors so much enabled a lot of reflection time away from the studio, which helped give perspective. I loved the environment and the sense of freedom.

I think the residency was a little expensive as it was self-directed. Making funding available for self-directed artists would perhaps mean that a more diverse social demographic were able to attend, which would be really enriching—I think it would have been inspiring to meet people from wider cultural backgrounds.



Over the next posts I’ve included personal reflections by other artists on residency at the Banff Centre.


The Banff Centre gave me the time and space to experiment with different mediums. Being a cast glass artist, I facilities allowed me the space to carve large pieces of stone, make a mess and experiment. I brought pre-cast glass elements that I intended to combine with stone, and I was really pleased with the 24-hour access to come and go in and around the Centre.

Having my own studio, my practice from beginning to end is quite solitary, and it is stimulating for me to change my creative surroundings. Banff is a beautiful, inspiring place to do so. Residencies are a way to recharge my batteries by meeting wonderful artists, having great discussions, and exchanging ideas. It is constructive to have artists from different countries, backgrounds and disciplines together; it makes you realise aspects of your own art that you would like to develop, and it also opens up creative possibilities that you never would have thought of.

Another important outcome of doing this residency was the professional contacts that I developed from around the world. I met some artists with whom I am still actively in contact, and we keep each other informed of our artistic development. I know that they are a valuable resource if I ever need help with problem-solving, and I am also planning a joint exhibition for later this year with an artist I met at the Banff Centre. This experience has been enriching, and I recommend it to any artist looking to nourish their practice.



My name is Lisamarie Johnson, I am an Irish artist who graduated with a Masters of Fine Art from The National College of Art and Design Dublin, Ireland, 2010. I primarily work in performance art. My thesis project involved community conversation and storytelling. Irish history was heavily kept alive by the oral, the shanachie (seanchai) and the seanos, it is a very important part of my culture and my work often develops from a social strand merging with and from a community practice.

I was particularly interested in Mary Schaffer the first white woman to be-friend the natives living in the Rockies (Banff, Alberta and Calgary).

I befriended an Elder and German shaman (Helmer and Doris) while on my residency in the Banff, representative of the Ist nations they told me stories , played music and helped recreate an object I used in my performance, the collaboration with the Luxton Museum and the Indigenous writers program helped develop a new work entitled “The Chandelier , The Indian and me” that represented both white culture :decadence, capitalism and western arts such as ballroom and Opera . While the gem, crystals and feather represented: craft , the four directions and the sun-dance.

I am currently producing and editing the filming and shots I took while on my time in Banff and on the Stoney reserve. This is supported by the digital residency program at the Fire-Station Studios Dublin. I really enjoyed my time and friendships made. The Banff Centre couldn’t have done enough for me, my co-ordinator Sarah Fuller was very supportive of my work. The nature of the residency allowed for socialising and meeting with other artists on residency, such as the thematic program, ‘The International Experimental Comedy Camp, which brought much fun all around, I even collaborated on some stand up!


One of my aims during this residency was to use it as a springboard to: Develop an online presence and investigate new audiences for my work.

I’ve principally done this by creating a crowdfunding campaign (through crowdfunding site sponsume) and in turn I’ve used that to promote my website, which until then few people had visited.

Crowdfunding is very a time consuming process. As it was my first time, I set a realistic target of £500. Raising this relatively small amount, meant that at times I may of questioned whether it was worth it—comparing the amount of time spent to the revenue raised. However, from the beginning, I decided to see it as a platform for creating an online audience rather than an income generator. The good thing about crowdfunding as a marketing and audience development tool, is that at all stages you are in complete control.

I made the presentation of my work as professional as possible, despite knowing that this time round my appeal would mostly be seen by people that knew me (personally or professionally) and my core ‘backers’ would be people that knew me really well and wanted to support me.

Audience development

I might think of ‘the audience’ while in the process of making any work, but often in my practice this has been towards the end, when I’m in the process of exhibiting. The very nature of crowdfunding means that the audience can be ‘present’ through the process of creation. I say ‘can be’, because not everyone approaches it in the same way. Some artists are seeking funds for the production of artworks, or costs for framing completed artworks for exhibition. Also the range of ‘rewards’ offered to ‘backers’ varies.

I did a lot of research about crowdfunding before deciding what the best approach for me would be. I wanted to provide a range of quality artworks even at the most inexpensive end—not simply provide a signed postcard. My crowdfunding audience enabled me to think about ways that people could access and own a piece of my work. As an artist who thinks more in terms of installation, it became more about sharing my work with people in a very direct way, and thinking of ways I could make that possible.

I also needed to feel that my backers were more than just a means of financial support; that they would have a value as an audience as the work was being created—this may have been more important to me than to them, but it’s what I needed to feel inspired. I saw it as a trial for future work and thinking about different ways that I could involve people to participate; exploring what effect they might have.

The responses I’ve had to the work, has made me think about my practice in a different way. I’ve seen how people valued the objects they chose; how much they’ve enjoyed being part of my journey; how they’ve responded to investing in me and acquiring a piece of original artwork for themselves—sometimes for the first time.

Online presence

For an individual, just starting to embark on this way of connecting with people, particularly non-arts people, I had realistic expectations. Most of my backers were friends and family, but some backers, while not complete strangers, were totally unexpected.

While many others didn’t financially support the crowdfinding campaign, they did send words of encouragement and spread the campaign through their own networks, and during the six weeks it was running it generated 1130 hits on my sponsume page.

I also saw a huge spike in regards to hits on my website. Before the residency it was an average of 20 per month, over a period of two years. For the three months (month before, during and after) that rose to 454 hits collectively.

Advice at a Q&A run by the arts council about grants for the arts, suggested that as an individual, audience development might not mean huge numbers, and that is true in my case, I’ve got a very small following of people on my website now. But it’s given me a lot to think about for the future, and how I might develop further audience development.



At the end of the week two we were invited to open our studios to the public at the end of week three. This was not compulsory but an invitation. This is not something that I knew before my arrival, nor did anyone mention it until week two. On reflection, I’m glad that I didn’t know about it before, it might have shaped my work in a negative way, making me face decisions too soon.

At first I was reluctant, as much of my work in the first two weeks was spent outside of the studios—in short I felt I had nothing to put on the walls. However, after an initial panic, I chose to see it as an opportunity to gather my visual material together and see what I could accomplish in a week. In the end that turned out to be a lot more than I expected.

As my work is about creating historically plausible characters who inhabit imaginary lives. The open studios gave me the opportunity to present genuine research documents alongside purely created photographic ‘evidence’. Although, I had a smaller amount of created ‘artefacts/objects’ in which to convince the audience, that didn’t seem to hinder the plausibility of the story. The audience were presented with an introduction that explained that I’d been given an award to research the life of Beatrice Emilia Wilds (the creator of the original photographs: taken in Banff in 1888) and to make my own visual response to her work. It’s a small measure of success that members of the audience were persuading me to contact those local organisations with my ‘artefacts’.

As one of my original aims was to explore how I could do this with a very limited time frame, I feel that I can judge this with a certain amount of success. I think it also reminded me of what can be achieved in such a short space of time, when you focus intensely and without any other distractions.

I also had the time to create a small series of experimental ‘contemporary’ photography/print based works that were a response to Wilds’ historical artefacts. To this I had a really positive response from all audience members including faculty and local non-arts residents. Perhaps the digital print market is different in Canada, but I had a lot of questions about how I made the work.


The open studios created a deadline a week ahead of what I originally expected. Bringing some conclusion to the research aspect of Mountain Whispers, I was able to think more clearly of what I wanted to accomplish in my last week.

I asked myself the question, ‘What is the most valuable resource here, for me at this moment?’ For me, that was the control that I had within the digital archival print studio; the immediacy of that resource and how cheap (compared to at home) that resource at Banff is.

It allowed me to play, experiment and explore. It reminded me that several times over the past few years, when doing some other project, I’ve wished to have the opportunity to just just stop and play/experiment, for a couple of days with photoshop. This was that opportunity to do so. Subsequently, this had led to me discovering some new things, but also reminding me of some old things that I used to do. My last week was spent printing a series of the largest digital works, experimenting with different colours and varied effects.

The residency has enabled me to build some new photographic work, but it’s also allowed me, to employ some old skills/aesthetics that I’d forgotten about, namely printmaking. However, the printmaking I’ve now been experimenting with is of the digital variety, and the response that I had at the open studios, has encouraged me to continue exploring this at home.