Why Artist Residencies

Here’s a post from the early days of the blog, December 2009. It was written at VCCA, where I am right now, though I am typing this in C2, a composer studio, and not in the corn crib. I think it’s as timely as ever and worth reposting. And this one has especially good comments.

Last week I had the honor of being asked by Sheila Gulley Pleasants, Director of Artists’ Services at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, to screen my film Tango Octogenario to the VCCA Board of Directors and say a few words about the value and importance of artist residencies. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this.

A name tag I didn't mind wearing at all.
Here’s one name tag I didn’t mind wearing.

Time and space are the most obvious gifts a residency provides, but just as important is the interaction between artists of different disciplines. I storyboarded Tango Octogenario at Centrum Arts and Creative Education. Could I have done that in my apartment? Probably. But while I was at Centrum I met a choreographer and told her I was making a dance film. She invited me to her rehearsal and asked me to videotape it. As I did, the ideas were buzzing in my head like bees in a hive. Many of those ideas then made their way into the storyboards. Could that have happened in my apartment? Not very likely.

Here at VCCA, I met a poet, Alex Chertok. I told him about A Life’s Work and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and he told me that his father owns a collection of rare jazz films. Did he have any gospel? I asked. Alex put me in touch with his father and sure enough, he does. Will I be calling on him for footage? It’s very likely.

And then there’s the deep stuff. Listening to the readings, looking at the sculptures and paintings, casually conversing in the bucolic setting or around the dinner table about art, travel, food, histories, who knows what’s seeping into our subconscious and how it will manifest itself in our work down the line? And the friendships that develop may be fleeting or lifelong, but they are always significant.

I hope that I give back half as much as I get from my fellow artists at residencies. I hope, too, that I can someday give back to these havens that have given me so much. For now, my screening and talk will have to do.

Thanks again for the opportunity, Sheila.

10 Replies to “Why Artist Residencies”

  1. I’d love to comment on the overall subject of this piece, but I gotta say David, I am a fan of your writing in general. It’s very clean and sharp. No unnecessary fillers. It flows very smoothly and I always love reading it instead of doing school work.

  2. As I write this, I sit in your apartment, ostensibly here to water your plants while you are away. I met you at a residency and you are so kind to offer me an urban fix while you are having your bucolic one.

    What struck me when I read your piece above is that, at a residency, we meet people who don’t think we are odd or weird or think strangely. As an artist, I fit! Because I am an artist, I fit! It’s such a liberating feeling.

  3. Thank you, David, for sharing your beautiful film and such intimate insights on the WHY of artist residencies. Another post might be WHY board membership at artist residencies? WHY would otherwise busy professionals be drawn to serve artists? WHAT is it about artists that is so magnetic to those whose talents lie elsewhere? HOW can they derive satisfaction from the many hours they give in support of your work and that of the VCCA?
    WHY? Because being on the board allows them to glimpse the talent and passion of an artist; because they met a filmmaker who captures life in such a way that simply being alive is an adventure again; because being with you reminds them that you are their eyes and ears to the world. And for that, they are so very grateful. So are we.
    Thanks, David,

  4. Thank you, Suny, for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful (and flattering) comment. It reminded me of something one of the subjects in the film said. Here’s Jill Tarter on her early SETI observations with radio telescopes designed for non-SETI research:

    ” … it was the start of what you should call commensal observing. Commensal is a biological term. It roughly means eating out of the same dish. So there’s no parasitic nature, there’s no host that suffers as the result of a parasite. It’s being able to use the same instrumentation to use two different things to the benefit of both. It’s a win-win situation.”

    (Commensal comes from the Latin commensalis, from com- “sharing” + mensa “a table.”)

    It was a pleasure to share a table and break bread with the VCCA Board.

    Thank you, Suny, and everyone associated with VCCA.

  5. David, found your name above the door of the corn crib at VCCA; feel as if this studio is full of everyone who has stayed here. I’m writing into the night (again), mindful of all the good company on the door jamb. Good luck with the film.

  6. Bunny,

    How nice it is to know who is in the corn crib now. Naturally I tend to think of it as “mine” but of course that’s not so, I just occupied it for a little while. The names on the door frame kept me company as well, and now you, a resident of the same space, have added your name to the door frame that is this blog and film. Thank you.

    The corn crib was very good to me, and I certainly would welcome the opportunity to stay in it again. I hope it inspires you and treats you well.

    Good luck with what you’re working on. I look forward to hearing about it. And I hope you feel like stopping by and writing your name here again sometime.


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