Art & Development

Center for Book Arts Residency Wrap-up

Notes on a year(-and-a-half)-long residency.

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Printing linoleum cuts on the Vandercook letterpress.

WHAT:

I was awarded the Center for Book Arts’ 2016 Workspace Artist-in-Residence Grant. The program offers a materials stipend, 24-hour access to the Center for Book Arts’ letterpress print shop and bindery studios, a group exhibition, and the chance to take nearly unlimited classes in printing, book arts, and related workshops on paper marbling, making bone folders, etc. (Read my Residency Notes, Part 1, penned practically a year ago for more about the classes I took.) The Center also has an exhibition program and weekly events, so there are always book arts to view and new perspectives to be exposed to.

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The steps in binding a pad of Color | Cootie | Feeling | Catcher, a collaboration with Leah Rosenberg. Make a guide to evenly space the holes. Use a pin tool to punch holes (put a weight on the text block to hold it steady). Wax your thread. Start your thread so the tail goes out the side of the block (to hide the knot later). Sew down the length of the book, and back. Tighten each stitch. Tie a knot in the middle of the pad (to hide the knot, see?). Use a bone folder “beat the swell,” which is to smash down any additional thickness gained from binding.

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Steps in adding an endpaper-wrap: Use a triangle and bone folder to score a line in the endpaper. Fold along the score. Mark the depth of the pad on your end paper. Score and fold at the mark. Use pieces of newsprint as a mask to apply PVA only to one half of the end paper. Glue down to your text block and beat down with a bone folder. Smooth the edge with a bone folder too. Flip the book over and apply glue to the last segment of endpaper and smooth with a bone folder. Tada!

WHEN:

The residency is from January to December, theoretically. In reality, it’s looser than that. As a live-out studio program for local artists, they don’t have to enforce strict end dates. In fact, they offer AIRs the chance to continue working in the studios until their exhibitions, which are typically scheduled in April of the following year, affording three ‘bonus’ months of studio access. (I returned my keys for incoming AIRs and thus was keyless those last three months. It worked out most—but not all—of the time.) Additionally, AIRs are required to complete letterpress and binding classes before using the studio, and may be screened additionally before printing unsupervised, so matching schedules is advantageous.

My residency started in January 2016. I had already made a three-month, out-of-state commitment last year, so I tried to make the most of the rest of the year. I expected to be more active in the fall, but my seasonal job sapped my time and energy, and I got sick often. Moving forward, I have a more realistic sense of what I can achieve in the fall.

The Center underwent through renovations in December and January, through the spring. The space is modest, storage is limited, and programming can interfere with studio access. As mentioned in my prior post, flexibility and forbearance are helpful.

I was able to dedicate more time in the lead-up to the exhibition, so the bonus months were critical to my growth.

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In Bookbinding II, I learned how to pare leather to make hardcover books with a decorative cord on the spine.

WHO:

There are usually 5 AIRs every year. Every year’s cohort of artists is different. Some years’ AIRs are very tight, and other years’ are less present and supportive. If you’re thinking of applying, here are some tips (I was on the selection panel for the 2017 program): You don’t have to be experienced in book arts or printing. You should have a well-developed, thoughtful body of work. You should be prepared to make the most of the opportunity. And you should contribute to the Center with your presence and practice.

There are also three Scholars—who have more bookbinding experience and propose specific book projects—who start their residencies in the fall. In addition, there is a community of renters—often artists and bookbinders who produce their own work or work for clients there. The Center also regularly books Stewards to provide technical advice during certain nights of the week (ask regularly, and double-check).

I was very grateful to be able to turn to the Scholars, renters and Stewards for help. They answered questions and provided technical advice and feedback. I couldn’t have made my final project without their help! I also learned from them by osmosis, observing different styles of working, and expanded scopes of what I thought possible in book arts.

The Center for Book Arts is a small non-profit. The staff work hard, pull long hours, and do unglamorous tasks to keep the place running. Renters, teachers, and supporters supplement by pitching in or bearing with inconveniences. I’ve been thinking about how print shops are communal spaces that foster interdependence. I have had opportunities to reflect on the ups and downs, and the boundaries that make for healthy relationships.

WHERE:

One of my favorite aspects of this residency is the great location at 27th and Broadway, in NoMAD (just north of Madison Square). It took refreshingly little effort and time to get there after work. It’s very easy and convenient to get there by subway. I also got a Citibike membership, which was worthwhile. There are ample options for healthy food and groceries nearby. (That may sound trivial, but it amounts to more studio time and focus.)

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Printing a “pressure plate” of cut paper, and wood type.

WHY:

I also really appreciate the way that the residency and access to the Center enhances my skills and capacities. One of my most memorable moments was responding to an evolving situation quickly by printing a poster, and being able to distribute it while still printing to appreciative people. I’ve adapted to having access to printing; my foray into Riso printing while the Center was being renovated was an expensive reminder of printing otherwise.

Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to create my final project without this residency. I greatly increased my book arts skills. Though I’d done relief printing in undergrad, I hadn’t ever gotten very comfortable with letterpresses. By the end of the residency, I’d gotten more fluent at solving problems, and working with, not against, the nature of lead type.

My final project is Working Together: a mix-and-match book of nice and not-so-nice modes of collaboration. It’s inspired partly by investigating collaboration as a subject and a practice over the past two years, and partly by politicians’ disregard for others over the past several months. While mix-and-match books—as well as teaching cooperation—might be associated with childhood, I have come to think that collaboration is not a skill once mastered, but a lifelong series of choices.

I’m very grateful to the Center for Book Arts for this opportunity, and by extension to the NEA, NYS Council on the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, and NY City Council for supporting the Center for Book Arts.

I feel like I’ve worked my way into the rhythms or the fabric of the Center. It’s nice to feel a sense of kinship with the other shop users, and to feel that I have a place I can go to, belong, and do my work. The Center welcomes AIRs to stay on with affordable studio rental rates, an option I’ll likely explore in the future.

Working Together is on view, in the Workspace Artists-in-Residence exhibition, through June 30.

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Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Art OMI’s 2015 residency program

Art OMI’s 2015 residency program received 990 applications for 30 accepted residents.

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Participants comprise about 1:33, or 3.0% of applicants.

This is a higher rate of applications and worse odds from past years.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Art OMI’s 2014 residency program

Art OMI’s 2014 residency program received over 800 applications for 30 accepted residents.

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Participants comprise about 1:26, or 3.75% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Odd art competitions

Artists have to establish their own criteria for discerning valid art competitions from rip-offs. When are the odds are too high? The fee exorbitant? The opportunity measly? We all have different tolerances.

I recently came across a residency that made me question the value of its opportunity. The winning artist receives a free, work-only studio for 8 weeks, with a materials budget of up to $800 depending on the project scope. The organization does not assist out-of-town artists with finding living accommodations. No other funding is included. This means that the artist is responsible for travel, housing, and a per diem, not to speak of an artist’s fee.

Yet the organization expects the artist to:

1. “Produce a new project that explores the history, architecture, aesthetics, or culture of the building site and surrounding community”…

2. … That results in “a public product at the end of the residency period.”

3. Post regularly on a blog.

4. Give one public lecture.

5. Avail themselves for for studio visits.

6. Provide high quality documentation of all work.

These are all things I’d aspire to do at each residency, but written expectations are paramount to requiring artists to do all these things, and that is different. Not everyone is comfortable speaking publicly (due to shyness, but also because of different language and speech abilities), familiar with blogging, or even equipped to submit documentation. Even if artists were willing and able, items 2 to 6 are distractions from studio time. In changing opportunities to responsibilities, it puts too much burden on the artist.

Consider it this way: What is the cash value of the residency?

The studio is 240 sq ft. That’s not huge. If you calculated the cost of studio rent at $1.75 per sq. ft; that’s $360/month, and $720 for two months. With up to $800 available for a materials stipend, that’s a $1,520 possible value.

How might the costs compare?

1. New project: An $800 materials fund could be easily exceeded for a new site-responsive project. Let’s assume the artist does not exceed the budget; the cost is $0.

2. Public program: Installing art for a public presentation takes additional labor and materials.

The Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective recommends a variable fee schedule which would net the artist, at minimum, $40 to $50/hour for exhibition preparation and installation. In addition, CARCC suggests an artist’s fee of $1,441 for a solo project exhibition at a small institution. Even if the project were considered a single work, the recommended fee would be $351.

But that’s in Canada, you say. Well, if an American artist calculated his/her time at $25/hours (a very modest freelance rate when you calculate health care and income tax), and we estimated the installation goes quickly in 4 hours and strikes in 4 hours, and that the organization supplies all the materials, the outlay in labor is $200.

3. Blogging: Say 2 hours/week  x 8 weeks = 16 hours. At the modest rate of $25/hour, the value would be $400.

4. Lecturing: Guest artists usually receive at least $100 for artists’ talks for college classes. The prep and contact time would easily take 3-4 hours.

5. Studio visits: Guests artists are also usually compensated for doing studio visits too. Let’s ballpark this at $100. Again, most artists enjoy speaking with likeminded peers, but mandating an action is not necessarily the best way to achieve the desired result.

6. Provide high-quality documentation: Photographers regularly charge $50-100/hour for their services. Of course artists should document their own work, but again, requiring it means he/she must carry or rent photographic equipment, finish work on an advanced schedule, spend time lighting work for documentation, and conduct post-production on the images. This could easily take 8 hours, or in a modest estimation, $400.

These tasks alone tally up to $1,200. That’s $320 short of the possible value, until you consider the additional out-of-pocket expenses for the artist:

  • Travel
  • Accommodations
  • Per Diem
  • Any materials in excess of the stipend for the project, or exhibition installation/strike
  • Shipping materials and tools to the residency
  • Shipping materials, tools, and artworks back home
  • Exhibition insurance
  • Labor: studio work, administrative work, etc. Artists do the work whether they are paid or not, however, in partnership with an organization which exists to support artists, I think compensating artists for their time is not a revolutionary idea, but a quite logical one.

This could be a really fantastic opportunity for the right artist. (Though, in my informal survey of art competition odds, single-award opportunities like this present the worst odds for entrants.) To me, it looks like the costs implied by the expectations do not outweigh the few benefits.

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