Redefining the Residency | Alliance of Artists Communities Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon

Photo by Erica Thomas, The ARTIST IN RESIDENCE sign is lit whenever someone at the house is doing creative work.


The first standout theme from the AAC conference that I will discuss is Redefining the Residency, a topic that can be applied to any arts discipline and one that I, too, have worked to redefine in the past. The session, “Self-Declared: Practice and Politics of DIY Artist Residencies in Portland,” presented five local artists discussing the ways in which they have reconstituted the parameters of an “artist residency” for reasons political, pragmatic, and artistic. Such alternative opportunities are especially important for artists who work in community engagement, experimentally, and/or with no intent of measurable outcome, for whom traditional residencies are not often a fit for their practice.

Erica Thomas defined her declaration to become an artist-in-residence in her own life, resisting existing patriarchal structures and including in her practice her roles as wife, mother, and coworker, merging life with art. (Erica lists her marriage on her CV as an ongoing collaboration, 2012 to present.) Her audience for her work fluctuates from one to hundreds or thousands, but her practice is constant and exists in every aspect of her life. Erica pointed out that while her practice works in opposition to what typically defines institutional support – and that though, by definition, she must remain autonomous – her practice would benefit from funding, performance space, and conversations with a collaborative audience.

Taryn Tomasello shared her experience creating a renegade residency on Ross Island, an island in the Willamette River (which bisects the city of Portland) that is part city-owned forested riparian zone, part quarry, part toxic land fill. Taryn, with her husband and children in tow, camped without permission on the island and completed ephemeral projects she documented in photos and video. She investigated ideas of displacement and ownership of land, while allowing her work to exist in communication with her ongoing residency in motherhood. Taryn brought in other artists to join her on the island, and a catalog and several exhibitions have resulted from the residency.

Emily Fitzgerald began a self-declared residency at the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland after frequent visits with her grandmother revealed to her a community in need. Her practice is based around artistic research and storytelling, working with the residents to use photography and writing to learn about each other. The collective developed a printed book, performed readings in various locations, and created an installation that made the Center’s public space more humanizing. In another project, Emily grouped high school students with the Center’s residents and had them write about the role of dependency in their lives and ask each other questions about their respective generation and life experience. This led to individually responsive work in the form of writing and drawing. Often, these social energies are not considered “art” in the context of the institution. The self-declared residency allows for them to be.

Katy Asher and Ariana Jacob put a name to their project – the Resident Residency – in which they gathered fellow artists to create work in their own communities. Often, residencies bring in artists to an unfamiliar neighborhood to have impact there, but Katy and Ariana envisioned a residency where artists create impact in their own neighborhoods without having to leave home. Each artist developed a “residency” within his or her respective Neighborhood Association, groups already doing social practice-esque projects throughout Portland. The Neighborhood Associations provided a platform and a source of funding for projects such as community gatherings and project catalogs. However, the artists found it challenging to create subversive work inside the parameters of the Association’s vision, and struggled to reach underserved or peripheral members of each neighborhood.

All of the speakers expressed frustration with finding funding for their projects after they had occurred, rather than before, when the funder holds stake in the outcome. They are hoping to spread the word about the value of self-declared residencies to their communities, funders, and art institutions. (A representative from United Arts Funds shared that her organization is one to reach out to for such funding.)

For me, what resonated is that you do not have to wait for an institution such as a university, gallery, museum, funder, etc. to grant you lines on your resumé or venues for your work to develop or be shown. You can create your own opportunities and they are just as valid, and just as resumé-worthy. Too often we wait for acceptance or permission to do what can be done on our own.

My charge is this: Think, declare, and do for yourself as an artist, and soon the institutions will catch up with you.


I would be remiss not to plug my December 2015 Crafthaus article “DIY Residency: In Residence at Home”.

Also check out the other conference topics I covered: Community Engagement & Social Practice and Diversity Versus Inclusion.

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Hey All, I just got this in an email from the Alliance of Artists Communities - it does exist!! 

Sustainable Arts Foundation Residency Grants

For many parents, the financial, emotional, and logistical demands of raising a family make attending a traditional artist/writer residency program impossible. Over the past four years the Sustainable Arts Foundation has granted over $200,000 to support artist residencies in making their programs more accessible to parent artists. The funds support everything from childcare stipends, shortened or virtual residency formats, facilities upgrades and specific sessions designated just for families. (Pictured: Marble House Project's Family Friendly Residency session.)

Residencies can apply for up to $10,000. Applications are due January 27.


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