Art Worlds

Commendations: NYC’s Public Artist in Residence (PAIR) Open Call

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.

Budget Transparency

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.)

Don’t Overstretch

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.

Pay Yourself

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.

Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Center for Book Arts’ Artist-in-Residence Workspace Program

The Center for Book ArtsArtist-in-Residence Workspace Program received approximately 150 applications for 5 AIRs in 2014.

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Participants comprise about 1:30, or 3.3% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

Art & Development

pet peeve: mark-ups

I just paid $20 for a pad of vellum (Borden & Riley #90 Sheer Trace Vellum, 9×12 inches, 50 sheets) at Sam Flax in midtown Manhattan. Why? Because I received the materials list for a class 46 hours before it starts, and I haven’t got the time to take the trip to the art stores downtown in the next two days. So Sam Flax it was, and whatever Sam Flax wanted, I paid. Apparently, they want $4.50 over the list price (other stores, like Blick and Utrecht, charge less than the manufacturer’s list price of $15.54—respectively, $12.39 or for a comparable product, $13.99).

I want to support the little guy. I understand that mom & pop shops can’t offer the same pricing that chain stores dealing in much larger volumes. But it’s not like their staff were any less aggressively apathetic. (Three customers waited to checkout as a staff member giftwrapped something, while three other staff stood around; one of them clipped his fingernails. Gross!)

I dislike being so negative, but not as much as my distaste for feeling ripped off. I’ve learned my lesson.

Art & Development


This blog is not meant to be a personal diary, but a major change is coming, and I must explain the circumstances.

I started this blog three years ago, in April 2007, with Four Reasons Why I am Writing a Blog:

I think of this as an exercise in Research + Development as an Artist, Citizen, and Art Community member.

1. To promote professionalism, rigor and generosity–values I hope to reciprocate within the San Francisco Bay Area art community and larger world.

2. To demystify the life of an artist. To share my enthusiasm for contemporary art.

3. To consider ethics and politics–the artist as citizen.

4. To think about what it means to be an artist, and the process of becoming the kind of artist I would respect and admire.

I’ll be sharing experiences, event listings, reviews, quotes, links and reflections. Though this writing will be grounded in my experiences, rather than writing about me, I look forward to thinking about larger issues through a localized investigation.

Since then, when I was on the cusp of finishing my graduate studies, I’ve had many wonderful art experiences. I feel like I’ve got a really strong, solid community here. There is certainly more I could do in the Bay Area, but I feel like I’ve made a respectable effort to look at art, visit new spaces, partner with diverse institutions, push my practice, contribute, and continue developing as a participant in the art community.

For the most part, my optimism was not unfounded. When my high expectations have been dashed, it ultimately strengthened my commitment to professionalism, ethics, and integrity, as well as my gratitude for friends and colleagues with shared principles. Being an artist is challenging, but without the support and generosity of like-minded friends and colleagues, it would be impossible.

Now, I’m on the cusp of a new transition: I’m moving to New York for family reasons. There are, as you can imagine, a rash of mixed emotions—of the Bay Area, sadness and gratitude; of NYC, excitement and anxiety.

The list of things to do, replace, explore, find, or restart in NY is overwhelming, but as it concerns this blog, I can say this:

I’ll continue to post musings, links to points of (art) references, information and resources. I foresee two opportunities for correcting the course of this blog, however.

First, publicizing worthwhile projects in the Bay Area seems like a community service, because there’s far more deserving projects than critical arts coverage here. NY, with its countless shows, spaces and publications, might take a different tack.

Second, I’m only one in a long march of artists who relocate to NY. This presents a conundrum for me—my coming-to-New-York, artist-in-the-big-city story is cliche, yet that doesn’t change the fact that my experience in the near future is going to be one of discovery. I’ll continue to strive to be accessible, relevant, and honest about my observations.

That said, I’m looking forward to connecting with like-minded artists, curators, writers and thinkers with strong commitments to rigor, excellence, community and ethics.

I’m excited to nurture my ties to the Bay Area: friendships, writing projects, art projects and other collaborations. I’m open to suggestions. Send me a note!