Hosting International Artist Residencies in Greater Melbourne
An Initiative of the Committee for Melbourne, Asialink Arts and Res Artis.
Ambitious investment is driving cross-sectoral collaboration on a raft of new hard and soft infrastructure projects that are strengthening Victoria’s branding as a Creative State, and Melbourne’s reputation as an international creative capital. However, there remains a surprising lack of dedicated residency space for visiting international artists. On 4 September 2019, a cross-sectoral group gathered at Grimshaw Architects to discuss opportunities to reposition Melbourne as a globally competitive destination for international residencies, grounded in thoughtful hosting. Invited panellists offered provocations around concepts of welcoming and hosting, how exchanges can better support the building of relationships and embed visiting artists within Melbourne’s creative ecology, and how residencies can provide conduits for cross-cultural dialogue and public debate.
Deepening a Culture of Hosting
As a first principle, hosting in the City of Melbourne must be founded in respectful acknowledgment of the Traditional Owners of the land. In the opening panel, singer and songwriter Kutcha Edwards called in Mutti Mutti language to ask permission of the ancestors of the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation to speak and enter sacred ground. Hosting and welcoming visitors to this land requires learning and heeding protocols and customs that meaningfully pay respect to Elders, past and present Residency Projects founder Eugene Howard, who works closely with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Corporation and the Nillumbik Shire Council in the development of the Garambi Baan (Laughing waters) Residency, affirmed the need for the arts and culture sectors to ensure that residency opportunities are meaningful and responsible when welcoming artists to unceded land. As several commentators noted, with the strong tendency for international artists to seek connection with Indigenous communities and histories, questions of how exchange can be meaningful for First Nations communities and artists need to be prioritised. It is also important to consider appropriate orientation for visiting artists, including challenging assumptions around traditional and contemporary First Nations’ artmaking practices.
Miriam La Rosa, who is undertaking doctoral research on cross-cultural artistic residencies, endorsed the untethering of hosting from western concepts and the embrace of Indigenous-led models. She proposed that a residency be conceived as a gift exchange between host and guest, one that is not necessarily material, but oriented towards the building of relationships. Conceiving of a residency as commutative rather than one-directional may require rethinking of the principles and structures that frame and shape an exchange. La Rosa also noted that while residencies are conventionally understood as providing artists space to think, develop, and experiment, some artists may not have an interest in developing new works or skills. They may approach the residency, for example, as a diplomatic act.
Clive Scott, General Manager of the Sofitel, spoke of residencies as potentially offering a moment of self-care and respite for artists. He underscored the opportunity for the hotel industry, which is in the business of hospitality and welcoming, to be more active in supporting artist residencies. The Sofitel artist in residency programme opens the complexity of hotel activity to artists, without pressure to produce creative outcomes. Scott advocated residency structures that challenge artists’ ideas through total immersion in an unfamiliar environment, while promoting cross-pollination of ideas between artist and the host community, including hotel staff and guests.
Phillip Adams, BalletLab, queried the model of residencies as mechanisms for diplomacy, posing the trafficking of artists between institutions as a performance of comfort. He agitated passionately for residencies that promote discomfort, by bringing oppositional artists and communities into creative confrontation within shared space, thus allowing for reflexive learning, and the renewal and recalibration of practices.
Embedding International Artists in Communities
International residencies can be isolating or detached experiences. Mella Jaarsma drew on lessons learned from Cemeti Institute of Art & Society, Yogyakarta, to emphasise the value of engaging a local facilitator to overcome possible language barriers, to connect the resident into local art scene, or to intensify engagement with a research field. Offering a perspective from regional Victoria, Kent Wilson spoke of the need to navigate the sensitivities and potential opportunities of extending trust to local communities to host visiting artists. Treating locals as labour for artistic process must be carefully addressed, but can also open space for extraordinary creative outcomes, and long-lasting relationships and collaborations.
Priya Srinivasan pointed to the colonial erasure from dominant histories of thousands of years of exchange between Australia and Asia. The marginal status of Asian diaspora communities within the Australian arts sector has prompted self-initiated, tactical, informal pathways for collaboration and exchange between Asia and Australia. She provided an example of triangular residencies between villages in Asia, diaspora residents in Australia, and Indigenous communities. This underscores the underappreciated soft power resource of diaspora to embed visiting artists within supportive communities.
Tilla Buden spoke of the artist residency program in Greater Dandenong, the most culturally diverse city in Australia, home to over 2000 asylum seekers. Emphasis has been placed on offering a residency to local artists in an historic government building, however overnight stays are not allowed. The Council has turned to the local community for ideas and resolutions for residency opportunities, what began as ad hoc community consultation has evolved into a monthly meet up in the local theatre. Through organic conversations, artists share ideas, works and opportunities in what Buden described as a “live noticeboard,” from which the council can learn and discover what it can do to support creative practice amongst its residents. This has allowed the council to really reflect the needs of their unique constituency, providing space for local diasporic artists to catalyse discussion around hosting visiting artists from their home countries and cultural contexts. Buden’s positive observations on how councils can best support artists was well aligned with Srinivasan’s comments.
From his work touring sound artists and musicians from Asia, especially China, to Melbourne, Mat Spisbah raised questions around how we define creative communities, and how this can lead to more nuanced models of engagement. Spisbah emphasised the importance of person to person connection in intercultural collaboration and knowledge sharing. There is scope for catalysing or strengthening partnerships between residency providers and local creative studios, which already have the infrastructure and artistic networks to allow impactful cross-fertilization of international and local practices.
Visiting Galecian artist Enar de Dios Rodriguez, who was just completing a residency at RMIT, praised the university setting as a place of residency, which can provide an international artist with facilities, equipment, studios, workshops, professional technical knowledge, and a readymade artistic community where shared interests can be developed. She raised discrete residencies as counter to the development of sustained relationships, but prolonged residencies as difficult to sustain in terms of family, living support, and professional commitments. An alternative model could involve a series of iterative residencies of shorter duration, spread over time.
While questioning the framing of residencies as magic puddings for cultural production, urban transformation and soft diplomacy, Eugene Howard also promoted nurturing the potency of residency opportunities by cultivating strong connections to place through revisitation and long-term engagement: “We’re interested in a symbiotic relationship between the artist, place adn communities, particularly through nurturing philosophies of return, enabling a more complex and nuanced engagement if, say, an artist knows they will return in one, two or even three years’ time.”
Howard called on Creative Victoria to play a greater role in supporting arts organisations and projects to rejuvenate dis-used assets outside of metropolitan centres. He advocated for new forms of non-permanent residency spaces, for example, attached to major infrastructure projects might create opportunities for embedding artistic practice into projects from their inception.
Marcus Westbury, who has driven the development of the Collingwood Arts Precinct, presented the CAP approach to the reclamation of city spaces for artists’ use, which he conceives as a transferrable model. CAP will function as a multi-use space for diverse arts tenants, with paying tenants subsidising not-for-profit entities. Westbury noted the challenge of finding and making creative spaces when policy makers actively remove and ignore the need for cultural spaces in the pursuit of profit-driven development. He advocated for systemic change at the state government level.
Adriano Nunes brought attention to the Creative Spaces website, which operates as a clearing house for local artists looking for places to lease for studios or performance venues. The website lists over 160 spaces of varying availability and cost. He also pointed to the Arts Infrastructure Framework as setting out the future development of infrastructure for the creative sector in the city. Although Arts Melbourne does not incorporate in residencies within the current program, Sophie Travers underscored the role they played in hosting international artists for AsiaTOPA and working to connect those artists locally.
Noting the rapid growth in Melbourne, audience questions were raised around why artist spaces suitable for residency use are not proliferating, and how the provision of residency spaces could be raised with developers and planners, who are required to assign a percentage of space in new buildings for community use under the contribution scheme. Nunes encouraged submitting a proposal to the Creative Spaces team to detail the needs, as a request is required to make space available.
Within the hotel industry, there are opportunities to expand and diversify artist residency offerings. In 2018, 1– 5-star hotels in Melbourne had approximately 85% occupancy, pointing to significant opportunity to release underutilised space for artist residencies. Given the market share of e-accommodation services Airbnb and Booking.com, there is scope to propose sponsorship of a programme of artist residencies across diverse accommodations in Melbourne, as a means to return social benefits to the community.
There is an urgent need to foster continued cross-sectoral cooperation to examine current and imminent potential for international residency space, as well as infrastructure opportunities and zoning barriers. A range of challenges and considerations for increased hosting capabilities in Greater Melbourne were identified that will require further dialogue and co-ordinated action.
For example, how can small organisations be supported by state government and local councils to administer high quality residencies, given soft infrastructure barriers, such as high administration and insurance costs, and a lack of access to cultural capability training or resources? How can arts organisations be assisted to navigate hard infrastructure challenges around building usage codes and safe accessibility? How can a level of cultural competency and safety for artists and hosts be assured? How can home stay offerings and voluntary hosting be appreciated and valued, while acknowledging that professional artists may have specific needs for privacy and flexible living and working space?
As well as a need to follow up on the varied proposals raised during the discussions, including coordinating a request to Creative Spaces to suit international artist residencies, and approaching online accommodation providers for residency support, strong demand was expressed for an online resource. A dedicated web portal for international artist residencies could profile current visiting residents, and also assist in matching the needs of visiting artists with organisations who offer studio facilities or accommodation.
Asialink Arts, Res Artis and the Committee for Melbourne have committed to pursue these next steps, and to deepen collaboration with individuals and organisations towards cooperative action. The Committee for Melbourne’s submission to the Creative State consultation included mention of the Symposium and advocacy for greater residency infrastructure in Melbourne.
The Symposium on Hosting in Greater Melbourne is the first step in a nationwide audit of barriers to hosting international, cross-cultural residencies, a strand of action that will benefit artists and arts organisations across Australia who have identified closer Asian engagement as an urgent priority.
Asialink Arts, Res Artis and the Committee for Melbourne are committed to translating these discussion points into action. If you have any contacts, ideas or thoughts please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Partners
Committee for Melbourne is an apolitical, not-for-profit, member-based organisation that brings together over 150 organisations from Greater Melbourne's business, academic and community sectors who have a passion for shaping Melbourne as a leading global city in the world's fastest-growing region, the Asia-Pacific.
Res Artis is a 26-year old network of arts residency centres from around the globe, comprising over 700 vetted members in over 85 countries. Res Artis operates from three international offices: the Netherlands, Australia and Iran. Res Artis supports and connect residencies, develops and expand residency networks, advocates for the importance of residencies in today’s society, and provides recommendations towards cultural mobility research and policy.
Asialink Arts works as a cultural enabler, capacity builder, and conduit to the Indo-Pacific region for Australian artists and institutions, leveraging a legacy of three decades of practical experience, cross-sector relationships, and trusted connections throughout the region. In 2019, Asialink Arts has been critically examining our impact, and refocussing our ambition and capacity to meet the demands of a rapidly changing region and diverse arts sector. Asialink Arts’ new facilitation model is responsive, agile, and dynamic, shepherding introductions, growing connections, fostering institutional partnerships, connecting artists and arts institutions to opportunities, and creating platforms for exchange. Our new strategies include a shift from outbound residencies towards mutual exchange and partnerships based on reciprocity. We will also proactively analyse barriers to engagement, and convene forums that bring cross-sectoral stakeholders together to identify practical, cooperative action to address barriers. Through our services, we are committed to measurably enhancing the agency of Australian artists and institutions to achieve their respective priorities for engagement with Asia.