To learn more about artist residencies I went to London for a research trip and visited Gasworks and Shape Arts. I had tried to make an appointment with Gasworks although with the building only just re-opening this month after a 2.1 million make over it wasn’t possible http://www.gasworks.org.uk/events/gasworks-reopening-2015-09-23/. The building is a short walk from the Oval tube station and is instantly recognisable from the top of the street. When I entered the building it felt very white and new a little unnerving, although I was greeted by a friendly receptionist. She was extremely informative about the current exhibition by South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulre titled Sincerly yours and she let me know about the international residency program which has accommodated 250 artists. Gasworks have supported artists working at the top level including Yinka Shonibare, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Song Dong, Tania Bruguera and many more. The residency programme is specifically for International artists although there is early discussion about the possibility of a national residency. I was surprised to hear that the artists didn’t actually reside within the building they stayed in a shared house close by. I did think if you where just visiting like myself or a member of the public how would you know who is the artist in resident? Regular open studio events are programmed to showcase the artists work although I wondered if some sort of sign with the name of the artist could inform people of who they are. The reception and gallery is a succession of highly finished white cubed spaces ideal for showcasing gallery art although I did wonder what about all the other work outside of that such as socially engaged practice, performance and events. I was delighted to see that the building had incorporated a new participation space for events and workshops with an impressive past programme of activities http://www.gasworks.org.uk/participation/. Within the studio complex are spaces rented out to London based artists and when they become available an open call is advertised.
I first heard of Shape Arts through an advertisement for the Shape Open themed open call exhibition for disabled and non-disabled artists to showcase work at their London gallery in Westfield, Stratford http://www.shapearts.org.uk. The organisation supports disabled artists contemporary art practice through the tiered structure of their Youth programme, Shape Open and Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary that supports a mid career artist to make new work with a high profile art gallery http://www.shapearts.org.uk/Pages/News/Category/adam-reynolds-memorial-bursary. Programme Coordinator Fiona Slater kindly met me at their Kentish Town offices where I got warmly greeted by the team, its not often you get to visit the back offices and we spoke for over an hour about Shape and the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary. Shape Arts gallery in the past had provided artist residencies by offering free studio space when the building was bigger although this was a temporary opportunity. Previous recipients of the annual bursary have been Carmen Papalia at the V&A, Aaron McPeake with Spike Island and Simon Raven working with Camden Arts. The main drive behind the bursary is to develop the relationship between the artist and gallery to support the project development that may be a final show, event or research period. Generally the artists do not reside with the art gallery as they may already live in London or they would book alternative accommodation.
I was interested to find out more about Adam Reynolds and I was told that the artist was very much respected in the London art scene that led to the successful long-term partnerships with art galleries. Sculptor Adam Reynolds was an artist, teacher, advisor and had his own gallery in South London in an old cobblers shop. The aim of his gallery was to have a workspace and to share it with other artists in a supportive environment, to learn more about the artists life and work follow this link: https://www.shapearts.org.uk/adam-reynolds. The different levels of participation that Shape offers is a way for the artist to progressively develop their practice from emerging to mid career with the Adam Reynolds bursary. Although my question is how do you select an individual artist for the bursary, surely all artists deserve the opportunity to develop their work? Fiona commented that this is why they feel that there is no ‘winner’ as such and that the selected artist is chosen based on the strength of the work, timing for the individuals career and match with the art gallery with all three shortlisted artists presented in a group show. The 3-month bursary open call clearly states what gallery the artist will be working with ensuring a level playing field with artists proposals. I was pleased to hear that by working with galleries in the selection process they can ensure that artists aren’t judged by what art school they went to and to take into consideration that not everyone gets the same opportunities in life. I was delighted to hear that the organisations long-term aim is to raise the artist bursary from £5,000 to £10,000 which would really help support the artist for a short time beyond the 3-month residency.