The program design and the open call of New York City’s Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) demonstrate refreshingly pro-artist principles.
It all boils down to trust and transparency.
Artists are Leaders
Inspired by an artist-led initiative, PAIR supports artists to step outside of the cultural sector into municipal collaborations.
PAIR is based on the premise that artists are creative problem solvers. To that end, DCLA embeds socially engaged artists in New York City municipal agencies to utilize their creative, collaborative art practice to offer innovative solutions to pressing civic challenges. Launched in 2015, the PAIR program takes its name and inspiration from the pioneering work of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the City’s first official artist in residence (1977), with the NYC Department of Sanitation.
This is a unique residency. What a wonderful legacy for Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ iconic work.
Let Artists Be Strategic
The open call describes necessary characteristics of successful applicants.
Artists who are able to be flexible, adaptable, and can maneuver through different situations and populations are encouraged to apply.
Many open calls are intentionally vague. They want to cast the widest net possible and let the jurors decide. Or, some open calls are transactional; the gallery wants to generate income via the entry fees, so they are disincentivized from stating their curatorial interests out right.
Applicants and jurors benefit when calls result in quality over quantity.
The call clearly states the budget.
PAIR funding per residency is $40,000: $20,000 for the Research Phase and $20,000 for the Implementation Phase. Funding is inclusive of related project expenses (e.g., printing, fabrication, equipment rental, wages for collaborators, video production, etc.). The selected artist(s) are responsible for managing the project budget and submitting invoices. No additional funding is provided….
Sometimes institutions like to be coy about the total budget available—it gives them more wiggle room to move funds around as needed. Or, they’ll say, “up to [X amount]” is available, and then artists have to justify what they ask for.
When everything is up for negotiation, artists—honored to receive an opportunity and unsure how much is available—can get the short end of the stick.
Trust Artists to Manage Budgets
They will just disburse the funds to the artist. Artists don’t have to explain or justify every expense.
All funds ($40,000 total) are paid directly to the artist, who manages all program costs.
This is, hands down, my favorite way to handle funds. Just give artists the money!
If a city agency can do it, then I have hope everyone else can find a way to do it too.
The alternatives—submitting reimbursement requests with receipts and line items—can add up to a lot of administrative labor and stress. (For example, one institution refused to reimburse me for expenses for which I submitted scans, rather than hard copies, of receipts.)
Since they advocate for artists to be paid fairly, they encourage solo artists rather than collaboratives.
DCLA advocates strongly for fair artist wages. Given that PAIR awards are fixed, we strongly encourage individual artists to apply for PAIR, rather than artist collectives that would have to share the award. Collectives are still welcome to apply, knowing the financial restrictions.
They’re acknowledging that $20,000 for a year-long project is not enough of an artist’s fee for multiple artists.
This call recommends that the artist’s fee be 50% of the total budget.
We encourage artists to take a $20,000 artist fee and use $20,000 for the project budget. However, it is up the to the artist’s discretion to use the fee as they see fit.
Stating the proportion, and making it a generous proportion, are radical. Many artists are unsure how much to pay themselves, because they are often expected to underpay themselves.
(When I was an undergrad, a teacher told our class that his grant application was unsuccessful because his artist’s fee was too much of the total budget. The message was: “Don’t pay yourself too much, or else you won’t get paid at all.” In fact, underpaying myself and using my own capital to subsidize ‘opportunities’ has been part of most—but not all—of my experiences.)
The message here is: “We value artist’s labor”—and not just in theory, but in practice.
This program was created by Tom Finkelpearl, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
There’s a lot that I don’t understand about politics. One thing I know: New York City is worse off having lost two top talents: Tom Finkelpearl and Andy Byford.