Artist residencies are a win-win situation. As the artist is given time and space to create in new surroundings, soaking in fresh inspiration and making invaluable connections and friendships along the way, so does the community benefit from this creative energy and new perspectives and ideas, as well as the knowledge that is shared through artist talks, workshops and other events.
Currently, Union House Arts (UHA) in Port Union on the Bonavista Peninsula is accepting applications for their artist-in-residence program from visual artists based in Newfoundland and Labrador. The program, which will host artists for three to five weeks between May 2021 and June 2022, provides professional artists with studio space and other supports as they create and make their mark in the historic town. (The application deadline is February 15. Read more here.)
Since 2019, 15 artists have availed of this opportunity. We recently chatted with Jane Walker, Director of Union House Arts, about the wide-reaching value of this program, and how engaging with the arts makes communities stronger.
Business & Arts NL: What have been the greatest successes of Union House Arts’ artist-in-residence program so far?
Jane Walker: We have hosted artist programming since 2018 but our residency officially started in May of 2019 when we opened the doors of our freshly renovated facilities – in a former Fishermen’s Protective Union duplex in Port Union. Our very first residents Michelle MacKinnon and Andrew Testa kicked off our Maker’s Nights, which became a weekly staple in our public programming. Maker’s Nights are a casual way for visiting artists to meet local artists and makers and share their practices and processes with each other. I have found this to be a more natural way of connecting locally than if we were to host artist talks for each visiting artist, where the artist talks and the audience listens.
Business & Arts NL: What kind of impact has the program had on the artists who have participated?
JW: Many of our visiting artists have gone on to exhibit works made or started during their time in Port Union. Emily Jan showed work at the Textile Museum of Canada, Michelle MacKinnon exhibited work in a solo show at Eastern Edge, Andrew Testa published a paper, Robyn Love showed a video piece at Wave Hill in the Bronx, amongst others whose work continues to be influenced by their time at UHA and in Port Union. It is great to see artists continue working with ideas that sprouted at UHA. We are working with some former residents now on some upcoming exhibitions at UHA, so stay tuned for that!
Business & Arts NL: How do these sorts of programs impact or benefit communities?
JW: I think the impact happens on both a micro and macro level, and the macro impact will be seen over time. We live in a creative region – sold-out artist workshops, regulars at Maker’s Nights, and participation in our annual community art exhibition demonstrates that our community sees the value in what we are doing here, and we are only just getting started. Art has the power to move people and ideas, and while we might be a non-profit organization, the “social profit” and community impact is really powerful. Regular attendee at Maker Nights Rhonda Abbott learned how to make felted animals at a workshop with Emily Jan in 2019, and has since made a business for herself selling felted puffins. In 2020 we collaborated with Grenfell Campus to facilitate an experiential learning course, “Community Engagement in the Arts.” The course was delivered digitally and then we hosted the visual arts students for the month of September, providing them with living and studio space and introducing them to local artists. This was a big win in my opinion, demonstrating to emerging artists from small communities that there is space to develop your professional practice right here in rural Newfoundland.
Business & Arts NL: I was also reading about the Family Residency, which is such a great idea! (UHA introduced this residency In 2019, which permits the artist parent to bring their children and partner along with them to UHA, with additional support such as childcare provided by UHA staff.) Do you still expect this to take place sometime this year?
JW: Yes! Sadly our first official family resident was postponed due to the pandemic – it will take place later this year if possible. We are a family friendly space and encourage parent/guardian artists to apply to our program. However, our on-site accommodations may not be suitable for every family. If an artist is interested in bringing their family with them for the residency or a portion of it, we ask that they include details about what supports they would need to make a family residency feasible (e.g. two apartments, space for a crib, baby gates, etc.). If parent/guardian artists have any questions about our facilities, we encourage them to touch base prior to submitting their application.
Business & Arts NL: For those who may be considering putting a residency application together, why is it worth their time?
JW: Sometimes all you need to push your practice forward is time and space away from your everyday life, and that is what we provide at UHA. We approach our residencies as time to research, rest, and re-focus, and while you may have plans for a highly productive three weeks, that production time may come later on after you give yourself permission and space for new ideas to emerge. What we look for in proposals is a curiosity and a starting point, not a finished idea.
Business & Arts NL: For organizations who may be considering putting an artist-in-residence program in place, why is it a good investment?
JW: Making space and opportunities for professional artists in our province demonstrates to artists and communities that creative practice is a valuable and renewable resource worth investing in. It gives artists a reason to stay in the province, and brings ideas and perspectives/experiences into and out of communities. I like to call this “creative ventilation” – it’s like installing a creative air exchanger in a community, a give and take system that benefits artists and engaged community members. The key here is programming artists working with ideas that are relevant to the place so the program does not exist in a silo from the community.
Click here to learn more about Union House Arts’ artist-in-residence program. Currently, Union House Arts is also looking for two individuals to join their Board of Directors for a two-year term (the deadline to submit interest is March 15). For more information, click here.
(Featured photo of Union House Arts building by Heather Nolan.)