Tafterjournal n. 86 - GENNAIO FEBBRAIO 2016

Playing the Networking Game: Why You Should Know That Artist Residencies Matter


Rubrica: Reti creative

Parole chiave:



Aspiring professional artists must undergo a tough struggle for the world to recognize them as such. Artists are increasingly required to follow qualifying
academic and working career paths and are pushed to prove the originality and the necessity of their work, while demonstrating its consistency and
feasibility. Also, not only resources are scarce, i.e. the dimension of the market is still restricted, adequate spaces for exhibition and productions are
few and pricey, art production itself is very expensive – but also a great number of artworks saturates the art market. Despite being little known,
sometimes entirely mysterious, to the non–?specialized public, artist residencies play an essential role in the artistic and professional
development of artists today. As institutions, they are deeply entangled in a network of formal and informal relationships which build up what is called the
art world. The benefits residencies generate by taking advantage of such networks have a great impact on artists’ career and is an important reason to
know why they matter in the art system.



The society of the 21st century has long been defined as the information society, the knowledge society, or the networked society. Those definitions
emphasize the importance that information and communication structures, networks, have assumed, both at a local and a global dimension. This is the
result of the ever–?growing efficiency and effectiveness of information and communication technology, a process that started fifty years ago, and that
reached its peak with the beginning of the digital age in the Nineties. The term network has entered the everyday vocabulary, appearing in almost each
branch of knowledge. In fact, it does not relate exclusively to communication and interpersonal relations but also to science, technology, and the arts. The
net economy has emerged, alongside with its more recent development sharing economy, which has become more and more the pondered lifestyle of millions of people in all over the Western(–?ized) world.



The creative field has been largely affected by the increasing expansion of  the so–?called networked information society (Benkler, 2006; Dokic, 2011).
Communication and interaction, inclusion and collaboration, diversification and democratization have always been natural tendencies (and goals) of actors
in the creative field. The networked information infrastructure of our age has supported, facilitated and accelerated this process at a further level. Social
science researchers have much discussed on their side on how networks of relationships play an essential role in the functioning of the creative
industry. Many claimed how the sector radically differentiates itself from other industries because its functioning heavily relies on a complex system of
‘diverse units linked by informal understandings, contracts, or other flexible connections’ (Scott, 2004). Crossley (2009) added that it demands ‘a pooling
and organization of resources and enthusiasm that can only occur when actors are connected’. However, not only do networks facilitate pooling and
coordination of actors and resources, but also the dissemination of innovative ideas and identities. According to Crossley, being creative products the
result of a collective action, the field is marked by the presence of a critical network, rather than a mere critical mass.


Paralleling considerations by social science researchers, art professionals also drew similar conclusions. One for all, British art critic and curator
Lawrence Alloway gained everlasting popularity in the field as the author of  the essays Art and the Communication Network (1966), and Network: the Art
World Described as a System (1972). Alloway wrote that the contemporary art world can be described as a ‘distributed system in a complex network of
communication,’ demonstrating his theories by using his own professional inter–?relational experiences as an original and down–?to–?earth template.
One decade later, Adler (1985) talked of density–?dependence phenomena as a determinant of the functioning of the art system and more specifically, the
selection of young artists. Sacco (1998) claimed that ‘artists’ success depends in the end on the power of mobilizing in their own favor an increasing
share of actors in the environment. This can validate the artist’s reputation and offer further and better opportunities.’ Accordingly, Moulin (2009)
presented a study that ranks a sample of international artists according to their ‘social visibility’ [1] within the system. He then clarified:


The choice of the ‘reputation variable’ as a principle for the ranking does not imply disregarding the artistic quality of an artwork in favor of the
social recognition of the author. […] Artistic élites appear to have nothing in common but to be positioned at the highest rankings of a socially
recognized hierarchy for a variable amount of time.


Undoubtedly, artists are single pieces in the big puzzle of the art system. Their achievements greatly depend on others.


There is no single model for artist–?in–?residence program today. They span all fields of the creative research and production, and there is not a unitary
recipe for establishing a residency because it generates from a unique combination of time, place and people and responds to different needs to
connect with art, which is respectively different from those of exhibitions, biennials and festivals. Thus, the residencies world is characterized by a
wide variety, with each program that differs in size, target, goals, working periods, specializing in one or more disciplines, and each with its own
background and atmosphere. They can exist on an ongoing basis or tied to a specific occasion. There are also differences in financial resources and
services provided, application and selection procedures. Additionally, some are incorporated into larger institutions, being a part of a museum, an art
school or more, in general, a space fostering art and culture, whereas others exist independently as standalone organizations. Nevertheless, together with
shared objectives and values, some common features can be identified, leading to a general definition.


Artist residencies are a moment in time and space for artists to reflect, research and develop their own artistic research. This is at the very core of
the existence of all residencies. Depending on the type of program, a different sort or amount of tangible and intangible resources is offered,
ranging from studio space to production materials, technical and artistic expertise and food and accommodation. Thus, artists choose mainly to take part
in residency programs because they allow to focus time and resources on the development of an original and personal artistic research, providing not only
material resources but also creative stimuli. Professional development is also very relevant in their choice, as the experience implies a great amount of
technical learning and a significant line to add to their CVs. Professionalization means, in fact, the accumulation of several technical and
creative skills and experiences, and this is increasingly important to distinguish among the thousands of wannabe professional artists.


However, there is one additional reason pushing artists to participate into residencies: the potential of new professional opportunities. A 2013 report by
the International Federation of Arts Council and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA) shows how the majority of funding governmental agencies (41%) considers
residencies as a professional development opportunity for artists. This is because artists are not just technically supported in their research while in
residency, rather organizations ‘develop networks for artists, help to launch international career, promoting themselves internationally and fostering
opportunities.’ This is true not only at a local and regional level but also at an international level, as residencies tend to join into inter–?
organizational networks worldwide, such as the Res Artis, the Alliance of Artists Communities and the Inter Asia network. Xiao (2012) suggests that
‘making new connections,’ together with getting time and space, is the main reason artists should participate in residency programs.


At the moment, artist residencies are facing times of change, and administrators are gathering together to discuss issues and challenges and
collectively come up with innovative solutions. Examples are the Re–?Tooling Residencies Conference in Warsaw (2009) and the New York–?based Rethinking
Residencies collective (2015).

Increased mobility and the need for professional networking in the contemporary art world are the phenomena the most urgently are having an
impact on such organizations. The growing number of artist residencies during the last decades has allowed artists to travel all over the globe easily. Most
importantly, travelling through residencies allow artists to enter different worlds (social networks) by a preferential door (the expertise of the staff,
the resources provided by the organization, the involvement of the local community), without the worries of common travellers (money, accommodation,
communication). Especially in peripheral countries, artist–?in–?residence programs have become catalysts for artistic production at a local and non–?
local level, and platforms for international creative exchange.

The case of Finland is exemplary. To enhance international mobility for Finnish artists some residency programs were initially established. If 13
Finnish residencies belonged to the Res Artis network in 1995, the number amounted to 44 in 2005 – it resulted that between 2002 and 2004 Finland
registered a surplus in outgoing Finnish artists of +135, the highest among Baltic countries, followed by Denmark with a + 33. Residencies around the
globe now serve as the structure of a network of creative people and other arts professionals in transit. On the other side, artist–?in–?residence
programs have become more and more platforms for the gathering of the local community, including art world outsiders.


In the first place, this is the result of recent trends on the social and cultural dimension, which reflect into art practice, and which demand the arts
to step outside a élitarian private space. Also, it is the reflection of the need for the organizations to seek material (fundraising, spectators) and
non–?material (bilateral active participation, openness, mutual understanding) support to their activities.


A recent survey [2] conducted among New York artist residencies’ administrators revealed that networking is at the core of the services
provided. In fact, residencies function as a liaison3 between one given resident artist (and the social network he or she belongs to) and other
residents, members of the art community and other artist–?in–?residence programs. However, depending on the type of service offered, residencies do
not limit to the selection, connection of different actors, and the allocation of resources from its ‘alters’, yet they also support the production of
original artworks which stems from resulting collaborations: organizations operate in this sense with a synthesis function. By borrowing terms from
social sciences, it descends that artist–?in–?residence programs are brokerage nodes within the art system.


Residencies’ brokerage action has significant implications for the main aspects of artists’ career, namely creativity generation and finding
professional opportunities. When navigating the art system, artists are indeed affected by uncertainty, as they find extremely difficult to place their
“products” and most of all, to individuate the perfect match with a scouting agent, a collector, a curator. On the other hand, those professionals are also
hesitating and distracted as they struggle to select a great number of artworks, whose value is difficult to objectively estimate.


Social science studies demonstrate that once an industry operates on products whose value can only be ambiguously evaluated (as in the art world) social
interactions among a variety of different actors become of the essence. This is mostly because relational networks help to access a larger amount and
variety of resources and information. They facilitate the selection of partners, the coordination of project–?based products and the individuation
of all potential market opportunities (Boari and Corrado, 2010; Foster et al. 2011), with the result of reducing the risk of failure. Hence, when in
residency, artists manage to decrease environmental uncertainty thanks to a combined action of:

– Networking–?in–?residence, that is by meeting and establishing connections with artists currently in residence and other arts professionals from the
local art scene;


– Residence hopping, that is by taking part to many different residencies,  often in different parts of the world, often one after another, and thus meeting and    establishing connections on a global scale;


By taking part in artist–?in–?residence programs, artists’ uncertainty decreases as they gain a larger perspective from which scanning the potential
opportunities. On the other hand, buyers’ uncertainty diminishes as they gradually get to know artists by directly meeting with them.


As to creativity generation, if researchers claim, on the one hand, that sparse and diversified relationships help artists not only to leverage the
number of professional opportunities but also to spur creativity, on the other they might face an ‘action problem’, that is actual execution requires trust
and strict collaboration. Thus, a variety of connections and ideas exchange might not directly lead to actual collaborations. Conversely, dense social
networks would be more suited for mobilizing people to pursue an objective (Long et al., 2010). In this sense, residencies provide the opportunity for
such variegated connections to flourish, but also they establish a ‘family–? like’, trusting, supporting and informal environment with their artists. Such
environment would thus be optimal for artists to experiment new unique ideas and putting them into practice. Thus, on the one side, they act to provide a
stimulating environment, whereas on the other they also recreate a supportive, cohesive environment, which results to be ideal for the actual implementation
of groundbreaking ideas.


We discussed how researchers consider formal and informal networks of relationships essential in the art world and why it is important for artists
to rely heavily on them to gain success and recognition. Residencies operate a  subtle yet fundamental role by acting as brokerage nodes in the system,
favoring the uncovering of new professional opportunities and enhancing creativity generation. Artists must be aware of the benefits that residencies
still provide today, which go well beyond the offer of a quiet studio in an idyllic location. On their side, art professionals must look at residencies as
catalysts for innovative social and intellectual capital in the art world and understand them as a pool of new ideas and resources.



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