International artist residency programs face great uncertainty these days. When will international travel be possible? How can programs be continued or transition online in the interim? How should residencies support and engage their artists, alumni, and local communities at a time when the economic and human impact of the pandemic is seismic?
In every sector of society, the COVID-19 pandemic has forefronted serious challenges that have existed for years. Artists and arts workers around the world do not have equal access to resources. The factors that define success in the artworld are largely commercial and filtered through a narrow range of aesthetic sensibility. The voices and perspectives that dominate critical discourse belong to a relatively small minority. To achieve the richly diverse and thought-provoking arts landscape our multi-cultured world deserves, the onus is on the individuals and organizations that create opportunities in the field of arts and cultural exchange to ensure equal access. This responsibility is made more difficult, yet all the more important, in the pandemic’s wake of rising xenophobia, bigotry, divisiveness, and economic precarity.
In this climate, there are questions we are asking ourselves anew. How can artists afford to pay their rent while participating in an international residency program if they have lost most or all of their income? How can we invite individuals from another cultural group to live in a potentially hostile environment? There are also questions our programs have historically engaged with. How can we support artists taking their first trips beyond their home countries to succeed in engaging with the localities that characterize the residencies themselves? Who benefits from international cultural exchange, and what role does it play locally and globally?
The Asian Cultural Council, Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation, and La MaMa E.T.C. co-organized the International Artist Residencies panel as part of Creative China Festival 2018. The hosting organizations share the belief that cultural exchange is essential to fostering international understanding and respect. Immersive international exchange holds the potential for powerfully transformative experiences that benefit the individual artists involved, the communities in the exchange country, and the artists’ communities at home. Focusing primarily on residency programs committed to the exchange of artists between China and the United States, International Artist Residencies gathered arts professionals who design and run residencies alongside artists who have participated in such programs for a three-part discussion: Artist Residencies and Community Engagement, The Experience of the Residency, and After the Residency.
While the panel took place in a world different from the one outside our windows, there are constants that remain. Exchanges of and by artists create a space for dialogue and engagement and are a critical vehicle for advancing international understanding and respect. Artist residencies continue to present opportunities for building meaningful cross-cultural and cross-border networks. Last, but not least, building relationships based on mutual respect between China and the U.S. is more important now than ever. Looking at this transcript, we find insight into international artist residencies as they were, and inspiration as we reimagine what they can and will be in the COVID-19 era and beyond.
Many thanks to the panelists, our partners in the field, who have lent their voices to the critical dialogue on international cultural exchange, artist residencies, and supporting arts communities around the world.
Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America
Jay Brown, Founder of the Lijiang Studio in Yunnan Province
Ping Chong, Artistic Director, Ping Chong + Company
Cecily Cook, Director of Programs, Asian Cultural Council
Cui Qiao, President, Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation
Jane DeBevoise, Board of Directors, Asia Art Archive
David J. Diamond, Curator, La MaMa Umbria International Programs
Ursula Eagly, Dancer/Choreographer
Susan Hapgood, Executive Director, International Studio & Curatorial Program
René Lorenceau, Former CEO, Swatch Art Peace Hotel
Jennifer Wen Ma, Visual Artist
Li Mu, Visual Artist
Fito Segrera, Former Head of Research/Creation at the Chronus Art Center
Miho Walsh, Executive Director, Asian Cultural Council
Karen Wong, Deputy Director, New Museum
Mia Yoo, Artistic Director, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club