belonging, Meta-Practice

Residency Wrap-Up: Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Program 2018–2019

The Who, What, When, Where, and How of my Haas residency

To help other artists interested in residencies, I usually write residency wrap-ups that give an inside look to my residency experience. I find that there is only so much information one can glean from the organization’s web site. The more you know about the residency, the easier it is to tell if the residency is for you and what to expect.

No two artists will have exactly the same residency experience. This is especially true when I’m writing about inaugural residencies, which may be seen as pilots by the organization. Regardless, I’ll share my experience for the sake of transparency.

Screenshot of Haas Institute's webpage announcing Artist in Residence 2018-2019

Who

Haas

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society is a research institute at UC Berkeley that explores many different areas related to inequity. One of those research areas is othering and belonging. You can learn more at Haas’ website, their section on othering and belonging, and on their YouTube channel with videos of past Othering & Belonging conferences.

AIR Coordinator

Evan Bissell is the Haas Institute’s Arts and Strategy Coordinator. He was my primary contact person at Haas. I met with him regularly and he conveyed Haas’ expectations to me. I think Evan is uniquely positioned to coordinate this residency program. He is a longtime community-oriented artist in the Bay Area who holds a Master’s in Public Health and City Planning and teaches on art and social change at UC Berkeley. I’m not an academic, and I was a little intimidated about partnering with a think tank. But Evan is fluent in art and research. His feedback on formal concerns and artistic process was helpful. And, his input on how the work fits or intersects with Haas’ work was reassuring and complementary. In many ways, he was like a “fixer,” who helped me figure out what kinds of support he or Haas could offer. In some aspects, such as in parts of the book, I thought of Evan more as a collaborator.

 

What

Haas invited artists essentially “to create original work… to illuminate and advance our understanding of belonging… [in projects] that explore practices of dialogue.”

The residency included:

  • a $10,000 honorarium
  • a platform at the Othering and Belonging conference (1,500 attendees)
  • amplification in the Haas Institute news magazine and digital media (here’s a link to an interview in their newsletter)
  • support from Haas staff

Additional funds for materials were considered. (I asked for about $6k to cover travel, materials, studio rental, printing, etc. Though I reside in NYC, I did not have to pay for accommodations since I could stay with family in the Bay Area.)

My Project

You can learn about the Belonging Project at Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com.

 

 

When

November 1, 2018 through May 1, 2019. (The webpage says it’s a year-long residency but it’s technically only six months—or only about five months leading up to the conference.) I was interviewed in early October and notified in mid-October.

The residency culminated with a display of the work at the Othering and Belonging Conference in early April.

My Time Line

I traveled to California three times for this project, for a combined total of about three months. I did two five-week stints. The first was for outreach; the second was for production. The third trip was to prep and attend the Othering and Belonging Conference.

The generous stipend allowed me to focus on this project for 30–50 hours per week from mid-November to late February.

The schedule was tight; I’ve encouraged Haas to allow future AIRs more time. It wasn’t just that six months is a short time. It was also the timing around the winter holidays. I found it challenging to schedule workshops and find volunteers since semesters and organizations’ programs were ending, and students were doing finals. I also happened to start my project right when the Bay Area was suffering extremely bad air quality days that disrupted school and work routines.

 

Where

Haas is located on the UC Berkeley campus. The program is actually more akin to fellowship in that you aren’t provided with a space. The Haas office is small, and not set up for an AIR. In fact, many Haas staff and researchers work remotely in far-flung locations.

Where I worked

For one month, I printed at Kala Art Institute. I was previously a Fellow at Kala, so I was familiar with Kala’s studio, staff, and rules. I asked them if they would barter studio fees for conference admission; they agreed. Going back to Kala was a great experience. The staff and community of artists wholeheartedly welcomed me. They handed over keys and letting me get to work right away. A sense of belonging and interdependence are tangible there. It feels like those values are in the DNA of the place. I spent many 10- to 12-hour days working there.

 

Aside from Kala, I worked at my family’s house and did offsite workshops and meetings all over the Bay Area, from Benicia to San José. Fortunately, I could borrow a family car. I transcribed, edited and designed in my apartment in NYC.

The conference

The conference was at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland. Haas gave me two columns which were 6 to 8’ wide each to display my project on. I created an interactive mapping activity, launched the book, displayed the bandannas, and showed a slide show of certificates on a video monitor they arranged for me.

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The columns inside the Oakland Convention Center where I presented my project during the Othering and Belonging Conference.

 

[Photos above: Courtesy of Lee Oscar Gomez.]

A bar chart titled "Which two qualities of belonging are salient to you and your place of belonging?" Responses from 104 attendees of the Othering and Belonging Conference 2019. Connectedness: 66. Authenticity: 23. Family: 22. Well-being: 22. Accepted: 19. Growth: 19. Familiarity: 13. Meaning: 12. Self-worth: 9. Agency 8. Safety: 8. Access: 7. Autonomy: 4. Confidence: 3. Continuity: 1.

In the mapping activity, I asked participants to pick two of the 15 qualities of belonging we identified in the book, 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. Participants selected connectedness almost 3x as often as the second-most selected quality, authenticity.

How

Application

Haas held an open call for applications for the AIR program. I can’t remember how I heard about it. The application was refreshingly streamlined. All you had to do was email a short letter of intent, a CV, and a link to a website (or 10 images, or 3 minutes of video). There was no fee to apply (hooray!)

From the pool of several dozen applicants, some were interviewed via video chat, and one was selected. I was honored to be selected, and doubly honored to learn that the jurors included Brett Cook (whose murals I’d admired for years) and Roberto Bedoya (who has written seminal essays on creative placemaking).

Process

First, I met with Evan and we started by self-organizing: I came up with a timeline, a budget, and a draft of outreach materials (I wrote my “dream” budget and a “get-by” budget, they opted for the “get-by” budget and I made it work). He gathered feedback from Haas staff, and I made amendments.

As anticipated, the outreach phase was the hardest part. Fortunately, I lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, I worked with many organizations, and I knew a lot of artists and art professors. Evan helped by connecting me with groups, reaching out to his own networks, and hosting a dinner. Some groups reached out to me after seeing Haas’ announcements, or individuals submitted their story after seeing the call in Haas’ newsletter. Evan also helped out by having materials translated into Spanish.

All the submissions made a 170+ page Google doc. When I was working on compiling, reading, and editing the submissions, I got caught colds, twice in four weeks.

I was happy to be back at Kala and to enter the production stage. Printmaking is very humbling. You have to be methodical and plan thoroughly. I learned a lot.

Lessons and tips

The experience made me adopt some principles that systematically prioritize patience over productivity:

  • Never skip steps.
  • Don’t overbook your schedule.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks.

This makes for better results, a more sustainable pace, and a healthier and happier attitude.

From past residencies, I’ve learned:

  • Taper off production the last few days of a residency.
  • Leave a whole day to pack and ship projects and materials.

Administration

This is going to sound extremely boring and unsexy, but I think administration, communication, and organization were crucial to a successful partnership. This is an unusual residency in that Haas is most interested in belonging and dialogue; they leave you tons of leeway in how you structure and execute your project, who you choose to work with, what you ask for, where you work, and when you accomplish benchmarks. Being self-directed and having self-management skills are critical. Again, it sounds banal, but in my wrap-up phone call with Evan, we realized that since we’d kept each other informed along the way, there were no major surprises or changes we needed to debrief.

Getting reimbursed in the UC system involves a lot of paperwork. I recommend that future AIRs learn about the documentation requirements, be diligent about keeping receipts (especially anything related to travel), and expect that check turnarounds will be lengthy.

Afterword

This is a really amazing opportunity for any artist who wants to tackle a self-directed project around belonging in the context of researchers interested in city planning, public health and more. I’m so honored and grateful to have been the inaugural resident. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to realize this project, to partner with Haas, to collaborate with many supportive community organizations, and to be entrusted with so many contributors’ stories. I feel that the seeds of this project were planted in 2016, and the fruits of this labor can be nourishment for the future.

 


A Postscript

Years ago, I had the chance to be considered for a residency at a very large tech company in California. I declined because I knew I’d regret it (money comes, money goes, but regrets haunt me for years.) Later, when I learned that their residency came with a $10,000 stipend, I didn’t second-guess my convictions, but I couldn’t help but think about what I would do with that much money.

It just so happens that the Haas honorarium is the same amount as that tech company’s. I did this project for so many other reasons beside the money. But this coincidence reaffirms that I did the right thing saying no. I garnered the same amount of financial support without compromising my values. And I did it partnering with a deeply ethical organization that actively promotes values and social justice. This helps me feel a sense of self-congruence for me as an artist, the projects I make, and my greater purpose as a human. It gives me a sense of maturity and self-assurance about what I am doing, and that being true to my principles is always the right choice.

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Meta-Practice

An Eye-popping Application Fee

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a $50 application fee for an open call for a group exhibition until now.

I’ve encountered $45 to 65 application fees for residencies, and $35 fees for open calls for three slides and $5-10 extra for additional slides, which could add up to more than $50 if the artist chooses. In any case, paying $45 for any fee seems expensive to me.

In principle, I think it’s an organization’s job to review slides of artists who are being considered for their programs. Reviewing entries is part of the cost of running the program. For galleries, looking for artists and viewing their artworks is part of the work of curation.

I get that the amount of entries can be overwhelming, that a lot of labor goes in, that jurors should be compensated, and that organizations want to offset those costs. (I’ve been a juror and I have worked at a gallery organizing submissions.) I also get that NYC is an expensive city to live in, and that open calls are a way small organizations generate income.

But, I also know that jurors may spend only a few minutes reviewing each entry. It’s up to individual artists to decide if having their work reviewed by unnamed jurors for the chance to exhibit in a group show is worth it.

Criteria I consider:

  • Who is the gallery? Where is it located? What is its programming like? What is their track record or reputation? What is their level of professionalism?
    • Will they handle my work with care? Will they properly care for, install, invigilate, deinstall, and pack my work?
    • Is the website well-designed, well-organized, and up-to-date, with a useful archive of past shows? Do captions properly credit artists and link to their websites? Or is there only a Facebook album of snapshots from the opening, where the primary message is “Look how many guests attended” rather than “Here are the artworks that form the content of the exhibition”?
    • Are past shows well-conceived, consistently high in quality, well-staged, and well-lit? Is the gallery in good, well-maintained condition?
    • Does the gallery double as an events space, increasing the chance that the work will be damaged?
  • What is the potential benefit of participating? What is the gallery’s location? Who is its audience? What are their hours? In other words, who will see the show and will they be interested and likely to support my work? What else is included in the exhibition? Will the make a catalog, host an artist’s talk, etc.? What is the value of that amplification?
    • Who are the jurors? What is their track record? Are they ethical? How aligned are their interests with my work? What is their institutional affiliation (sorry to have the institution validate the individual; it’s one consideration), and how aligned is that institution with my exhibition goals?
  • What is the potential cost of participating? What is the fine print? Do I have to frame unframed artwork? Do I have to pay for outbound and return shipping? Will I have to travel to install the work, attend the opening, and pick up the work? Will they assume any liability for damaged artwork? What is the split in any sales?
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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: A Blade of Grass 2019 Fellowship

A Blade of Grass’ 2019 Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art received 571 applications for 8 fellowships.

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Selected artists comprise about 1:71, or 1.4% of applicants.

Source.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Research

A Reminder to Practice and Savor Gratitude

Keeping a gratitude journal and writing gratitude letters have been shown to elevate mood.* 

That’s why I keep incorporating gratitude in my projects (Give Thanks, 2011; Ways and Means, 2016; the Belonging Project, 2019).

Do It!

Even if people know gratitude can boost subjective wellbeing, they can come up with all sorts of reasons not to write gratitude letters, according to “You Should Actually Send That Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write” by Heather Murphy (NY Times, July 20, 2018).

They are afraid of being judged for spelling or grammar mistakes. The more I learn about belonging and vulnerability, the more damaging judgment seems to our relationships, our actions, and ourselves. Being judged weakens bonds. Gratitude strengthens bonds. If the fear of weakened bonds through being judged inhibits someone from strengthening their bond through expressing gratitude, it’s like different means to the same end: a lost opportunity to foster connectedness.

People can underestimate how meaningful a gratitude letter will be to recipients (i.e., “She’ll probably just throw it away”). Don’t assume inaction won’t be noticed. A longstanding pillar of the arts community recently told me that a student never said thanks for writing a letter of recommendation for them. He’s too nice to take my advice (“Next time, just tell her she’s dead to you”), but we agreed that administrative skills are the most important skills to have. Along the same lines, if you’re asking someone to coffee to “pick their brain,” show your gratitude by being conscientious. As experts in their fields, an hour of their time is worth a lot more than a coffee and a pastry.

Using Gratitude to Find Balance

Sometimes I feel a little down after finishing a big project. There’s so much work and energy leading up to a project culmination. There’s often an event with a lot of interactions and emotions. Then the high wears off. The days or weeks afterwards can feel sort of empty in comparison. Even if you are lucky enough to receive validation at the event, it can feel fleeting.

In large, participatory projects, I send and receive tons of emails and texts. There are notes of gratitude scattered throughout them. Maybe they gave me a little serotonin hit the day I received them, but I probably soon forgot about them wading through the tide of other messages. I think recovering that feeling of validation, of mattering to someone, is a hunger that social media exploits. But instead of finding it from others through a digital platform, here’s one way to self-organize it in a more lasting, analog medium.

This morning, I combed through my messages and transcribed notes of gratitude by hand into my journal. This reminded me that people want to participate in my project, are happy they did, and are eager to see and share the results. People took the time to tell me how participation and inclusion in a project matters to them. This means a lot to me on a personal level. And it’s helpful for me to understand as an artist in the social realm. (If you shared your gratitude with me, in this project, or at any time, THANK YOU!)

The act of condensing words of gratitude, enthusiasm, validation, and positive emotions into a few pages gave me a huge boost today. And in the future, if I start to question myself or what people think, I can re-read these pages. In moments of anxiety or self-doubt. I’ll have a piggy bank of gratitude to tap into.

* Source: Sonya Lyubomirsky, The How of HappinessA gratitude journal can be as simple as writing down three good things, as described on  The Science of Happiness podcast, produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

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belonging

New Book Released: 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area

Book cover: 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area, from the Belonging Project, by Christine Wong Yap & contributors. with a foreword by Evan Bissell

I’ve been working hard the past 3.5 months (that’s why I haven’t posted lately) finishing up the Belonging Project as an artist in residence at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley.

Check out Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com to learn more about or to purchase 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. The bandannas and the certificates of belonging are featured in the book, and I’ll post more photos of them on the website in the coming weeks.

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belonging

…art is—or should be—generous. But when working with place, artists can only give if they are receiving as well. The greatest challenges for artists lured by the local are to balance between making the information accessible and making it visually provocative as well; to innovate not just for innovation’s sake, not just for style’s sake, nor to enhance their reputation or ego, but to bring a new degree of coherence and beauty to the lure of the local. The goal of this kind of work would be to turn more people on to where they are, where they came from, where they’re going, to help people see their places with new eyes. Land and people—their presence and absence—makes place and its arts come alive. Believing as I do that connection to place is a necessary component of feeling close to people, and to the earth, I wonder what will make it possible for artists to “give” places back to people who can no longer see them, and be given places in turn, by those who are still looking around.

Lucy Lippard, “The Lure of the Local” (New Press, 1997)

Points of Reference: Lucy Lippard on “The Lure of the Local”

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belonging

Six days left to contribute your story to the Belonging Project

In the Belonging Project, your perspective is one of the “potential versions … that will be made concrete and visible” if—and only if—you share it. 

An atlas is a collection of versions of a place, a compendium of perspectives, a snatching out of the infinite ether of potential versions a few that will be made concrete and visible….

Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas(University of California Press, 2010).

Contribute your story! There’s only six days left until the January 2 deadline.

Maybe you feel a sense of belonging on a soccer field, at a health facility, or on your block. Maybe you carry your sense of belonging with you, and you feel it when you make new friends or are with a group of like-minded people. Maybe you don’t feel a sense of belonging—what circumstances would help you feel belonging?

All these stories are welcome! Please submit. Contributions will inform a book with essays, maps, and bandanas that I’m going to start printing next month! But I need your stories to start…

Think outside The City

So far, contributors have shared many places of belonging in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. That’s great. I love all the stories. But I also want to hear about places of belonging in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Solano, Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties.

Sketch of a map of the 9-county Bay Area, with counties highlighted where I could use more stories.

Maybe you have felt belonging in these places? Maybe you can share the call for participation with people you know in those counties? Thank you!

 

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