Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Elimination Tournaments

What would happen if you visualize an art competition as a tournament?

Though the tournament model differs from how artists’ submissions are usually juried, it seemed worth experimenting with it for understanding art competition odds.

In Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Updated Tips from a Juror, I shared this data visualization:

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The organization requested that I submit my top five picks.

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications.

In this open call, only the top five of 116 submissions were awarded residencies. The points distribution reveals how even submissions that received pretty good scores of 12 or 13 still fell short. It also shows how receiving an average score of 9 or 10 is not even close to being competitive.

Here’s a visualization of a single-elimination tournament with 116 competitors. Every competitor has a chance to become the champion. But the champ will be the only one who wins seven increasingly competitive, head-to-head matches.

116 tournament2

A model of single-elimination tournament bracket with 116 competitors. The highlighted area is shown in detail below. // Source: Challonge.com

116 tournament detail

Detail. Note the two stacked grey bars represent two competitors in a match. The match at the right is a quarter-final. 

If this tournament represented the residency call cited above, in order to rank in the top five and receive a residency, a competitor must:

  • beat four increasingly tough opponents,
  • get to the fifth elimination round—the quarter-finals,
  • advance to the semifinals or have the best score among four losing quarter-finalists.

If you think about these two models together, you can imagine that about half of the applicants—including those who received 10 points and under—never made it out of the first elimination round:

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Speculative visualization of competitors eliminated in first round.

Then, all but the top five competitors were eliminated in the second, third, or fourth elimination rounds:

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Speculative visualization of competitors eliminated in later rounds.

So to visualize it another way, the top five competitors’ advancements through the tournament might look something like this:

116 tournament2

Speculative tournament showing the top five competitors’ journeys through the brackets. All grey boxes represent eliminated competitors.

Artists’ submissions are practically never judged head-to-head as in an elimination tournament. But perhaps this model is useful as another way for seeing how competitive an applicant must be in order to see rewards.

What makes athletic tournaments so scary is the live performance—fear of failure, embarrassment, and disappointment. At the same time, even losing athletes gain experience that can’t be replicated. Eliminated artists, on the other hand, are cut out of that part of the process. Spared the anxiety of performance, we lose opportunities for evaluation. Artists scoring 3 or 13 points may receive the same rejection letter and generic encouragement to re-apply next year. When a staffer informs the applicant they were a finalist, or shares even a tiny amount of feedback, it is meaningful.

What can artists do? Espouse deliberate practice. Ask for feedback. If you can’t get feedback from juries, ask trusted colleagues to review your application. Make the most of professional development courses.

What can jurors do? Note remarkable artists. Ask for studio visits. Keep them in mind for exhibitions. Invite them to stay in touch.

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Art & Development

art competition odds: CUE Art Foundation’s 2018 Open Call for Solo Exhibitions

CUE Art Foundation received over 500 applications for its 2018 Open Call for Solo Exhibitions. Only two artists were awarded solo exhibitions.

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or 1:250, or 0.04%

The call has gotten more than twice as competitive since the program was inaugurated in 2011. That year, they received 120 applications and awarded one applicant, or odds of 1:120, or 0.8%.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Uncategorized, Meta-Practice

Goals and Deliberate Practice

How much progress are you making towards your art goals?
Are you strategically improving weak areas?
How do you stretch out of comfort zones?

DELIBERATE PRACTICE

In “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” (London: Vauxhall, 2016), psychologist Angela Duckworth shares Anders Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice:

  1. Set a stretch goal.
  2. Apply full concentration and effort.
  3. Get immediate and informative feedback.
  4. Repeat, with reflection and refinement.

This is different from going through the motions, or drilling what you already know or are good at. This is focusing on a weak area, and setting out to do something that is beyond your current skill level. Then you fail, ask what went wrong, reflect, and try again. It’s frustrating, uncomfortable, and painful, but Duckworth says you can learn to tolerate the discomfort and find gratification in the struggle.

GOALS & COMFORT ZONES

When I read about deliberate practice, my response was of simultaneous intrigue and resentment. I recognized that I need to be more strategic, and to stretch out of my comfort zone more often.

I usually set my one-year goals in the summer, so I’m about two-thirds of the way through my goal-year. I’ve made good progress… on the things I don’t mind doing. For example, I’ve applied to 5 residencies, and submitted my work to 6 open calls for exhibitions. I feel really good about that!

However, when it comes to tasks I dread, I’m excelling at avoidance. For example, to stretch out of my comfort zone, I set a goal of applying to three major grants, because I need to push myself to do more ambitious projects. In the past 8 out of 12 months, I’ve only completed one grant application.

STRETCH

Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game is now featured on playtime.PEM.org, the Peabody Essex Museum's site accompanying their current exhibition on play.

Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game is now featured on playtime.PEM.org, the Peabody Essex Museum’s site accompanying their current exhibition on play.

Coincidentally, “stretch” is a tactics card in Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game, now playable online at playtime.PEM.org.

Sarrita Hunn (my collaborator) and I invited artists Torreya Cummings (Oakland, CA), Malcolm Peacock (New Brunswick, NJ), and Ronny Quevedo (Bronx, NY) to play with us, and are posting the transcription of the dialogue-based gameplay weekly.

In Round 3, Torreya drew the tactics card, “Stretch” and shared how stretching, for her, is often a matter of asking for support from partner institutions. It followed after Ronny discussed the most significant form of support he received, and I gave an example of Ronny connecting me to Working Classroom in Albuquerque.

While getting out of comfort zones can be stressful, it’s a  trade-off for opportunities for improvement and support.

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Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Updated Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

This past week, I served as one of three jurors for a residency program. Over the course of 7–8 hours, I reviewed 116 applications and selected my top five picks. The odds for being one of my picks were one in 23, or 4%, of applications. (The organization will consider all three jurors’ picks and make final selections.)

I am sharing my notes as a reminder to myself—I fall short, wait to the last minute, and submit underwhelming applications—as much as it is an attempt to offer transparency and feedback to fellow artists. It’s also a win-win: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient. Obviously, this is highly subjective; different jurors and programs have different approaches.

I’m incorporating these notes into a similar article I wrote two years ago, when I was a juror for another residency program.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. In 2015, I spent about 16 hours reviewing 65 submissions, and rating and submitting scores. I did not receive a stipend.

If jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby and find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying. In fact, this week, I noticed that being annoyed by bad applications made me happy to reward well-prepared applications. I tried to be objective, but the emotional relief of reviewing clear, organized, compelling applications may have swayed my favor.

The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!

The best applications are well-oiled machines.

I was most excited to see a clear artistic voice: an intangible whole that is the sum of smaller parts working together:

  • Well-documented bodies of art that demonstrate consistency and an advanced practice.
  • An artist’s statement that jibes with the work samples and speaks to intellectual engagement (in other words, that you’ve been thinking clearly and rigorously about what you make for some time).
  • Work samples that show that you can pull off what you say you want to do in your proposal.
  • A proposal that is ambitious and considered, demonstrating an accurate grasp of your capacities, areas where you need support or are taking risks, and program offerings.

CRITERIA

In this week’s jury process, the organization sent a link to their Submittable account. They didn’t send any criteria, so I came up with my own based on my experiences as a past artist-in-residence there and former juror elsewhere:

  • Clarity and strength of proposal: up to 3 points
  • Ability to make the most of the opportunity: up to 3 points
  • Work samples: up to 10 points
  • “Diversity”: up to 1 point

I awarded one bonus “diversity” point for artists whose work, either in content or execution, provided a perspective that isn’t often seen in the art world. It was not awarded purely on demographics. In the end, though, that bonus point mattered little.

This Is a Competition: Be Competitive!

Generally I prefer cooperation over competition, but applicants should embrace a healthy sense of competition in order to make your application rise to the top.

With a total possible score of 17 points, only two applications received 15 points. Four received 14 or 14.5. Eleven received 12-13.5. Many pretty good applications plateau’ed at 10-11 points.

I’m including this chart to emphasize: This is a competition. 

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The organization requested that I submit my top five picks.

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The top five applications scored 14 to 15 points.

Most of the applications scoring 10 or 11 points didn’t achieve excellence across the three primary criteria. Their proposal, fit, and work samples were just all right, but nothing special. (A few were just uneven: one application disappointed when great work samples were paired with a very low-ambition proposal that didn’t warrant a six-week residency.)

Applications that scored 7 points or less generally were not competitive across the basics—work samples and an artistic voice and vision—to garner a merit-based award. Fortunately these are all improvable with effort and dedication.

Overlook the written portions at your peril. For efficiency, jurors may start looking for reasons to eliminate applications. When I started seeing the points distribution, I realized that my top five picks would score at least 13 or 14 points. That meant that applications that scored low in the first two criteria didn’t have a chance of catching up in the third criteria, work samples. In these cases, I viewed at least three work samples out of due diligence and principle. Applicants should be aware that jurors only have time to skim their applications, which may extend to their work samples.

Sometimes applications are exercises in getting better at applications (which is worthwhile). To improve one’s competitive edge, try matching or exceeding the time, effort, focus, rigor, and work that competitors are investing—in their applications and their practices.

WRITING

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, propose specific projects, goals, outcomes, and benefits. Discuss materials, techniques, scales or area of inquiry that distinguish your practice. Why are you interested in this particular program? How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Try to show how your goals fit with the program’s unique qualities or equipment. This requires you to research and understand the program, and synthesize it in your proposal. Misalignments result in lower rankings.

Don’t rehash truisms about life for many artists, like:

  • Wanting more time or freedom from day jobs.
  • Wanting a change of scenery, or to travel or network in other cities.
  • Wanting a community of artists for feedback.
  • Passion from a young age.
  • The high cost of living in your city.
  • Not having space in your apartment to make larger work.

Plenty of deserving artists need support! General artists’ needs don’t speak to this specific program, and what you offer in return.

If your proposal includes an interactive or relational element, demonstrate a capacity for collaboration and some thoughtfulness about exchange. Why are you asking people to contribute to your project? Why should they?

Writing proposals is challenging. It’s one of my least favorite parts in the application process. It’s hard to tailor a project you’ll feel passionate about in 12-24 months that aligns with the organization’s goals and program. But proposals matter because they help jurors identify who will make the most of the opportunity. Many organization’s worst nightmare is to award an artist who squanders the program.

Convince jurors that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. If your conceptual intent involves word play, keep it short—don’t list noncritical allusions. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Minimize jargon, personal asides, and creative brainstorming (save that for your sketchbook). Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “Good art can speak for itself.” I don’t believe that you can truly understand an artist’s practice by seeing 10 JPGs, even if their work is primarily visual. That’s why up to 37% of the possible points I awarded this week were based on ideas and intent.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Proof-read and edit.

Make every word work. If a word is not adding anything new, omit it. If you can shorten long sentences, do. Know that jurors are skimming. Make it easier by summarizing main points, preferably at the start of every paragraph.

WORK SAMPLES

Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Reviewing images this past week, I enjoyed the inclusion of well-done exhibition photographs. They revealed scale, ambition, and a higher level of professionalism.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Technical tips for linking to images and videos.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption.

Special notes for project-based, performance, or social practice artists. Be sure to give context and explain what’s going on. What is process? What is product? For social practitioners, articulate the relational aesthetics at work. Explain how these projects relate to any 2-D or 3-D work samples.

If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Harpo Foundation’s Grants for Visual Artists

The Harpo Foundation’s Grants for Visual Artists received over 1,300 applications for seven awards.

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Selected artists comprise 1:185, or less than 0.5%, of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Little Paper Planes’ 2017 LPP+ Residency

For their 2017 LPP+ residency program, Little Paper Planes received 107 applications for 5 selected residents.*

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Selected artists comprise 1:21.4, or 4.6% of applicants.

*Two residents were invited, for a total of seven residents in 2017.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art & Development, Travelogue

Sanitary Tortilla Factory Residency Wrap-Up: What, Where, When, Why, How, and My Experience

I was the first artist-in-residence at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque, NM. Here are the residency basics and reflections on my personal experience. 

WHAT

Studio on Residency Day 24: Hand-lettering signs.

Studio on Residency Day 24: Hand-lettering signs.

Sanitary Tortilla Factory houses over a dozen artists’ studios, a sign shop, a wood and metal shop, a gallery, and, now, a five-week artist-in-residency program. I came across the call for proposals on NYFA. It solicited proposals around social practice and/or sculpture. There were two residents selected: Alex Branch and I. (Coincidentally, we both happened to be female NY-based artists who also daylight as art handlers.) I was the first AIR. Alex’s residency is scheduled to start in mid-August. The residency entailed:

  • The use of the 500 s/f gallery as my private studio.
  • Access to the shop.
  • On-site living quarters.
  • A $2k stipend ($1,500 materials and $500 for travel).
  • An exhibition in the gallery following the residency.

The gallery/studio: My project was not studio-oriented, so it sometimes felt like an embarrassment of riches to have a 1,100-square-foot gallery to work in. I was grateful, though, to address the gallery early on, when I had more slack time as I was waiting for submissions to come in. I drew oversized maps and hand-lettered questions for a response wall. The public could interact with them at an artist’s talk in the beginning of the residency, as well as throughout the exhibition following the residency. This was helpful since a major component of my project was located at various sites around town.

Studio 360: The STF gallery/ my AIR studio on Day Four of my residency.

Studio 360: The STF gallery/ my AIR studio on Day 4 of my residency.

It was very helpful to have a large space for two workshops with a local youth arts organization.

A participant's contribution on the response wall.

A participant’s contribution on the response wall.

STF was very kind in not asking me to open my studio to be public outside of scheduled events. I really appreciated the flexibility to work when and where I saw fit: in the gallery, in the apartment, or at other locales.

 

The shop. The wood shop has a table saw, and a chop saw with 16’ fence with measuring tape and adjustable stop. There’s also a band saw, a drill press, a belt/disc sander, an air compressor with brad and construction-grade nailers, a table router, and a joiner. There’s also a forklift. There’s welding equipment but my knowledge of metalworking is so limited I shouldn’t attempt to describe it. I borrowed sheri’s Makita impact drivers and drill on an as-needed basis. I brought my own small hand tools and PPE. Getting the dust collection system up and running is sheri’s next project.

Hitachi chopsaw with a real long fence.

Hitachi sliding compound miter saw with a real long fence.

sheri trusted my self-assessment of my skills, and we didn’t do a shop orientation. Sometimes orientations are welcome, and sometimes scheduling them can become a hurdle to getting your work done.

 

The apartment is a beautifully appointed studio, with a full kitchen, WIFI, a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. (I donated an exercise mat for yoga and stretching.) The apartment is located on the side of the STF building with a private entrance off an alley. They installed a cute sculpture/cactus garden in front.

Apartment 360, on Day 1 of the residency. They added a flat-screen TV after this photo was taken.

Apartment 360, on Day 1 of the residency. They added a flat-screen TV after this photo was taken.

Just across the alley is a beautiful patio shared by Sidetrack Brewing and Zendo Coffee, both quality purveyors. Their spaces became a mini-extension of the residency—they’re great places to read on cool mornings, and meet up with local artists in the evenings.

Just two blocks away is grocery store with a pretty good selection for its size. I was happy to find almond milk, organic carrots and kombucha there. They had really cheap (conventionally grown) cherries and cantaloupes during my visit.

Alternatively, you can get pricy but farm-fresh produce (including great salad greens grown in ABQ), eggs, and fancy bread at the Downtown Grower’s Market on Saturdays and the Railyards Market on Sundays. Both are within walking or biking distance.

Friend of STF Rebecca lent a red girl’s bike (I brought and donated a helmet and bike lock). Coming from NYC, I found Albuquerque to be bike-friendly. Nobody honked at me or drove too close. The North Diversion Channel Trail is a neat bike path (where I spotted a roadrunner) that runs between a channel and the I-40.

sheri provided transportation as needed in her capacious cargo van, to the lumber yard, to/from the airport, etc. She also spent a day driving around and installing signs with me. It was possible to install these signs alone, but I was very grateful to have a buddy.

 

The exhibition. My project had three components: story collection, the offsite signs, and the zine—and the timeline and budget just covered them. I didn’t plan an elaborate a solo show for the exhibition. The exhibition showcases the zine, and has a looped slide show about the process, with photos of workshops, signs, and the sign locations. There are also interactive elements, where the public can post thoughts about what belonging means, and collectively map their roots and their places of belonging in Albuquerque. I’m grateful that sheri was supportive of keeping the effort for the exhibition minimal.

Members of the public connecting their roots and places of belonging in Albuquerque on hand-drawn maps.

Members of the public connecting their roots and places of belonging in Albuquerque on hand-drawn maps.

 

Participants pinned and labeled their places of belonging. The painted numbers indicate locations of commemorative signs.

Participants pinned and labeled their places of belonging. The painted numbers indicate locations with commemorative signs.

Albuquerque’s art scene is highly geared towards First Fridays. There are lots of galleries open, and audiences in droves. Launching the exhibition on the First Friday in July was a great send-off. I left town the next day.

 

WHERE

Sunset from Barelas.

Sunset from Barelas.

STF is located in Downtown Albuquerque. To the north just a few blocks is Central Ave./Route 66, and the main strip for night life and Kimo’s quirky Art-Deco-meets-Southwest movie theater. I was lucky enough to arrive just as a film festival started; I really enjoyed an evening of local shorts.

To the South are the Railyards and Barelas, a historic, largely Latino community that is also home to Working Classroom, and a few scrappy artist-run spaces.

If future residents haven’t spent much time in Albuquerque, I recommend renting a car and visiting Meow Wolf and other cultural offerings in Santa Fe and going for hikes in wilderness areas. I really enjoyed visiting Taos Pueblo and Casa San Ysidro in Corrales. It was a great way to learn about New Mexico history, and experience how places help tell the stories that happened there.

Taos Pueblo.

Taos Pueblo.

WHEN

My residency was from June 1 to July 8. It was hot. The daytime highs were usually in the 90s, and sometimes in the 100s. I was very glad I brought a sun hat. The advantage of summer is the great farmer’s markets. But some resources—like the clay studios at UNM and Barelas Community Center—were closed for the summer.

 

WHO

STF is staffed by the director sheri crider. In addition to running the STF studios, gallery, and residency program, sheri is also a practicing artist and contractor. If it sounds impossible to juggle all three, you haven’t met sheri. She’s an absolute dynamo. She’s indefatigable. I immediately liked her. She’s down to earth and has lived a lot. She is pretty chill, and you don’t get the sense that she likes rules or will enforce boundaries awkwardly. I got the impression that she doesn’t have time for bullshit, but she never made me feel that she didn’t have time for me. Someone assisting sheri is also helping with STF’s social media, and I’d accidentally mistaken them for STF staff. I was initially concerned about lack of staff capacity, as I’ve experienced the impact that good and bad studio managers and/or residency coordinators can have on residency experiences. I think it helped to adapt accordingly, by trying to be more self-sufficient and creative about who I asked for help.

sheri crider and Valerie Roybal made a bee hotel that is installed in an ABQ open space.

sheri crider and Valerie Roybal‘s project-in-progress in the shop: a bee hotel that is now installed in an ABQ open space.

Barb Bell, sheri’s partner, helps out, especially with events. Michael Apolo Gomez is helping me out with photography.

The lines between STF and sheri crider are blurry. I lightly hitched rides on expendables in the studio, shop, and the de-facto STF office—sheri’s studio. Sometimes I asked, sometimes I intuited. I hope that what I gave in return—intangibly via the project, and tangibly with expendables I reintroduced into the shop ecology—is a fair trade.

There was only one resident artist at a time. I was very grateful for the friendliness and welcome of STF studio artists, especially Travis Black, Beau Carey, and Karsten Creightney. Travis and his assistant/studio mate Ani Bea were ever friendly and caring. Beau was nice enough to share his work with Working Classroom interns when they came by for a workshop, and let me tag along when he went to the art supply store. Karsten brought a truckload full of scrap lumber for forthcoming AIR Alex Branch. Tami Abts and Josh Stuyvesant of A Good Sign were instrumental in receiving shipments and getting them picked up, loaning me a grommet press, and also sharing what they do with Working Classroom interns. When you are new to a town and a shared space, being around people who are happy to help is immensely reassuring.

As Lucy R. Lippard was a juror (along with Bill Gilbert, who had to leave for Japan), sheri was kind enough to invite her over for lunch. I’d been reading “The Lure of the Local” and it was tremendously helpful in thinking through the complications and paradoxes of doing work about being an outsider and making work about the local.

 

WHY

I’d heard sheri say one of the goals of the residency is so artists from elsewhere learn about the art happening in Albuquerque. While New Mexico history is incredibly deep and complicated, I definitely gained an appreciation for the art community, as well as various people, culture, and places here. The list of reasons that this place is special is astoundingly long. There is space, physically and creatively, for artists to take risks here.

I heard others express an interest in increasing the production and visibility of social practices and community-engaged art in Albuquerque. ABQ seems to have many drawing-and-painting-oriented artists and community muralists. I think Ellen Babcock’s Friends of Orphan Signs is lovely in it site-specificity and community engagement.

For me, I applied because its offerings matched my goals and interests. I was intrigued because there are few residency opportunities focusing on social practice, and I’d wanted to return to New Mexico since my first time visiting seven years ago. Having my proposal reviewed by Lucy R. Lippard was a bonus. Moreover, it provided an opportunity to realize a new project that merged my interests in participatory projects, research, and community engagement. I really wanted to do something as an artist that formed an alternative to divisive, hate-mongering rhetoric.

My projects often have an emotional touchstone. For this project, the touchstone was the feeling of welcome and pride I find in a newspaper clipping that my mom has kept for over 30 years. It’s an article announcing the naturalization ceremony that welcomed 50 “new Americans,” including my parents. I am not an immigrant, but I identify with immigrants, and I really love how this project encompasses how different people find places where they feel belonging. For example, Zahra Marwan, a Kuwaiti-New Mexican UNM alumni and illustrator, said that when she first heard the cante, or singing, in flamenco class, it reminded her of the call to prayer in the Middle East. Barbara Bell wrote about being of service to her elderly Hispanic New Mexican and Mexican neighbors. (You can read excerpts from all the stories in the Belonging zine).

 

HOW

This residency cycle was supported by the Fulcrum Fund in partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The FUNd at Albuquerque Community Foundation. Without funding, I couldn’t have done the residency or project. I wouldn’t even have applied to it. (Some folks in ABQ danced around the question of if I have a day job. I do—in fact, more than one: art handler/crew lead, freelance designer, and artist’s assistant.) As you might have guessed, the residency is also subsidized with sheri’s labor, resources, and generosity.

 

MY EXPERIENCE

I had a rough start—I flew in from NYC with a woozy-making head cold. The 5,000-foot elevation, sun, and dryness took a toll, too. I was a mess. Thankfully, Travis, Ani, and sheri checked in on me, and cued me in to the prevalence of local allergens, and I switched from cold meds to allergy meds.

As I’ve written before, residencies offer new resources while removing you from many of your own. That includes the emotional support of people who love you. Setbacks can test your resilience and how you bounce back from self-doubt, isolation, and uncertainty. It really makes you appreciate people who offer genuine care, encouragement, help, and enthusiasm.

This was my first residency project in which social practice and community engagement were key components. Soliciting participation for this project was challenging, and at times, frustrating. There were many factors: I have few connections to Albuquerque, and the residents of a place nicknamed “The Land of Mañana” can be noncommittal or slow to respond. Quite a few contacts were away on vacation, and some services were closed for the summer. A service organization scheduled a workshop but did not show up. I’d emailed refugee groupsw and attended their events, but didn’t receive any stories from them. I posted an open call to which people responded with enthusiasm online and at the artists’ talk, but few followed through with submissions. Sometimes I was frustrated with the small returns in light of so much outreach effort. Other times, I rolled with the city’s leisurely pace. Perhaps one social practice skill is mono-tasking being patient.

The lifeblood of the project became partnerships with Working Classroom, an arts and education program for young artists from historically ignored communities; and Saranam, a two-year housing and education program for homeless families in Albuquerque. My connections to these organizations were quite happenstance. I mentioned going to ABQ to Ronny Quevedo, an artist who I rarely run into in NY. He connected me with Working Classroom. I was connected with Saranam via Erin Fussell.

I also suspect that the topic of belonging is both sensitive and uncommon—identifying your place of belonging may take time and be uncomfortable. You have to risk exposure and vulnerability.

As a result, I kept the story submission open until three weeks in to the residency.

This left two weeks for production—painting 13 signs, installing most of them, having a hand in 6 of the 7 activity sheets, building and painting 5 boxes, and writing, editing, and designing the 24-page ’zine. There were many late nights. I was pretty exhausted by the end.

In past residencies, I learned about the need to simplify, let go of unnecessary details, and not make myself crazy. I took that to heart, using it like a mantra. It was helpful. For example, I made mini signs for the oversize map in the gallery, and then I started making miniature activity boxes… How cute would it be to make an actual mini box with a hinged lid with mini activities inside? I wondered. But with priority components still in progress, I knew enough not to fall down that rabbit hole.

Though this project was similar to past projects involving a survey and zine, it also involved a higher degree of social practice and public art. I’m satisfied with how the project came out, yet I still look forward to more critical distance and feedback from participants and audiences. On one hand, I aspire to be free of the need for external validation. On the other, validation is gratifying, and moreover, this is a community-engaged project, in a new place. How it goes over is important. I was really moved when one audience member said, “using art to give people a voice, to start a dialogue, to ask questions and most importantly to listen” is “most relevant today.” I suppose this comes back to patience as a social practice skill: how the zine will be read, if and how the signs live on, and if participants and places are affected—these all will play out over time. The residency has ended, but project’s new phase as a publication and public artwork is just beginning.

Overall I had a wonderful residency experience. I’m especially grateful for sheri and her easygoing manner, her openness to my project and suggestions, and her help and encouragement.

Find the zine and activities at BelongingABQ.com. Photos will be posted soon.

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