Russian artist-in-residence Potential Symposium Senezh

Russian artist-in-residence Potential Symposium Senezh

Starting from nearly zero at Senezh - June 2010

At the former artists' union house in Senezh the symposium focused two full days on the potential of artist-in-residence opportunities in Russia. The aim was to discuss all possibilities for the development of artist-in-residence in Russia, starting from nearly zero. The fruitful starting point of the organisors was not to haste forward, and first to get a picture of the situation, then mapping the possibilities and then developing realistic plans.

Brainstorming in Senezh. From left to right: Viktor Shalay - Arseniev State Museum, Vladivostok; Mikhail Krest - NCCA residency Kronstadt; Andrey Kurchenko - Spasibo Primore residency, Novosibirsk; Elena Mischenko - Agency for Cultural Initiatives, Wolgograd; Irina Scherbakova - translator.

It is a cliché, and it is true: Russia is huge. At first sight the continent seems monolithic: one language, one culture. And the hierarchy seems to be clear: Moscow and in a lesser degree St. Petersburg work as the big cultural magnets, leaving the rest of the 'country' culturally drained.

This situation is changing. In big cities such as Perm, Novosibirsk, and Vladivostok awareness of local cultural development is growing. And in some smaller towns the same is happening, especially when a local cultural venue has a wider significance, such as the Science Museum in Troitsk, the Tolstoy Museum of Yasnaya Polnaya, or Dialogue Dance in Kostroma.

Sometimes the artists take the lead, sometimes cultural professionals, sometimes museumstaff, sometimes people in local governments. Enthusiasm and support for local cultural intitiatives is slowly growing, but this is mostly directed towards temporary projects and especially festivals.Participants to the symposium said that the big challenge is how to make cultural initiatives, and the support for it, more sustainable. For this reason they were interested in the long-run benefits of artist-in-residence programs.

Brainstorming on Russian artist-in-residence potential.

Possibilities and models

For all participants it immediately became clear that the symposium wouldn't provide them with one artist-in-residence model, which could be applicable for all. There are many different models possible. The basic concept of artist-in-residence is to provide artists with time and space. The challenge is to adjust this basic concept to the specific, local situation.

To get an idea of what could be possible, the organisors of the symposium managed to keep us attentive to the most basic questions, among them:

  • what is your motivation, from your point of view as artist, as curator, as museum director, as private cultural entrepeneur?
  • what kind of residence do you have in mind, what is your vision?
  • what are the interests of others, with whom you must deal?
  • what could be the main aims of your program?
  • what role would you like the residency to play in local culture and society?
  • what could be the main positive effects for your region, for your discipline, for your own organisation?

Workshop session on artists & artist-in-residence. From left to right: Andrey Kurchenko - Spasibo Primore residence, Novosibirsk; Natalya Goncharova - NCCA Moscow; Natalya Sergievskaya - curator & organisor symposium
Mikhail Krest - NCCA residence Kronstadt; Nailya Allakhverdieva - Artpolitika, Perm;
Georgy Nikich - curator & organisor symposium.

With 30 people the group was small, so even the plenary sessions in the morning were intimate and offered time for discussion and exchange of ideas. The afternoon sessions were energetic brainstorming sessions for which the group was divided into small groups, working on residency issues from different perspectives: artists, managers, networks, governments.

Do it your own way!?

To stay to your own vision of what the artist-in-residence program could be, is most important. But... to realize your vision you need to work together with many different partners: building owners, governments, the public, and last but not least: the artists. How to deal with all different interests?

The workshops focused on this question from different perspectives (the artist, the coordinater, the art organisation). How to match the residency to the policy of a museum? How to convince building owners, government officials, the public? How to collaborate and with whom, when you can't do it on your own?

Running an art residency is always also about communication and sometimes confrontation with the interests of others. It is "part of the game". The symposium stimulated the participants not to wait for the ideal circumstances, but to start to develop plans, to keep their own visions in mind and at the same time trying to convince other parties.

Try it out!

The symposium at Senezh brought about an energetic feeling of enthusiasm for the potential of artist-in-residence. The overall conclusion was that in many cases it would indeed be possible to start small, on a local level. Trying out will give experience and a better idea of what could be a good model within circumstances. Start and see how the residence program can grow.

Read here about the Symposium at Moscow