Ross Head, “Artist Residencies. An examination into current artist-in-residence models within UK organisational frameworks and the impact upon artistic practice. “, September 2010, Text

Ross Head worked at Arts Council England 2007-2011 and is currently working at the National Portrait Gallery. Ross originally trained as an artist, graduating from Brighton University in 2006 and has over 5 years experience in arts management. He has previously worked for Artangel, Pump House Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and as Visual Arts Editor for the University of London Student Newspaper.

This research was conducted in September 2010 as part of his Masters Award in Arts Management at Birkbeck College, University of London.

For further information Ross can be contacted at:

Follow the links to the full text: artist-residencies-dissertation or scroll down to read an excerpt: a chapter relating directly to the Creative Space programme and Arlington residency.

Partnerships and collaboration 

As reviewed in previous chapters, in considering the structure of residency models, partnerships play a key role in the structure and enable organisations to pool resources. But do these partnerships add value to artistic practice, or do they give rise to difficulties for the artist through inclusion of an additional level of expectation? This chapter will examine this question, using the case study of the Creative Space Programme[1] (CSP), a pilot residency programme organised through SPACE at Arlington House in Camden in which artist Ania Dabrowska[2] is current participating. To aid the research for this chapter I conducted a semi-structured and in-depth interview with Dabrowska in September 2010. It is important to acknowledge that the research used here represents one artist’s experience and that partnerships can take many different forms within the public, private and voluntary sectors. This case study has particular value as it represents a current example of a programme of a socially engaged nature in its pilot stage, thus providing insight into how community-based residencies can impact upon an artistic practice development, while focusing upon partners involved.

Partnerships are essential for SPACE to fulfil their mission of “providing support and resources to artists to make the great art of our day” (SPACE 2010). One such partnership is with a not-for-profit housing association, One Housing Group, which has recently redeveloped Arlington House, a hostel supporting ninety-five homeless people. It adopts an alternative institutional approach to homelessness as it integrates community and learning support for residents (SPACE 2010). This is the first time that One Housing Group has worked with artists, wherein a number of artists’ studios and the artist-in-residence CSP have been incorporated into its structure, to support its approach.

When considering an application to the CSP, Dabrowska was initially resistant because of the year-long commitment. However the socially engaged themes identified in the residency’s call for submission attracted her to apply for the programme; Dabrowska’s past experience centres around designing and facilitating programmes for many different groups of people including vulnerable women, sex workers, released prisoners, disabled people and young people affected by HIV, and young people from conflict zones in Uganda, Belfast and Cyprus (Dabrowska 2010). Dabrowska was also attracted to the CSP by the opportunity it provides to interact with fellow artists who were due to be housed in neighbouring studios when Dabrowska’s residency commenced.  Dabrowska described creative input from other artists as adding great value to her own practice, however, due to administrative delays only one other artist has so far occupied one of the other nineteen studios spaces available (Dabrowska 2010). In addition to this, Dabrowska was presented with various physical and social barriers whilst setting up the space to function as a studio.

Ania Dabrowska Studio, Arlington Residency, SPACE, 2010

The studio space allocated for the residency is located in the basement of Arlington House. Upon arrival it was empty and lacked facilities such as internet connection, which is essential for Dabrowska to continue her practice. Dabrowska explained, “One Housing Group aren’t used to working with artists”. Counter to Dabrowska’s comments, Jack Fortescue (2010) Communications officer at Acme studios argues that, “Central to successful partnership projects is the understanding that being an artist is a profession.” Dabrowska explained how it had been a challenge to set up the studio and that she had to overcome discrepancies regarding the transportation of her equipment and getting internet connection set up within the space, all of which were delayed. As is demonstrated here, working in partnership necessitates dealing with difference of opinion and requires an understanding of how artists operate (Nicol 2007). Dabrowska continued, “I had to explain to the owner that I’m not doing community based work with collage, that if I’m going to do it the work is going to be more meaningful. I want to be proud [of the outcomes of residency programme], as well as the residents” (Dabrowska 2010b). Here, Dabrowska has expressed her own ambitions to ensure the owner fully understood her position from the outset. Building strong and interactive relationships from initiation is crucial when working collaboratively on a project. Continuous dialogue built upon a strong foundation allows problems encountered along the way to be addressed (Nicol 2007). Furthermore, for successful collaboration, artists should keep their attention predominantly on supporting this on-going relationship, instead of defining any possible outcomes. Artist David Patten suggests: “build the relationship first, then identify the differences, and then create the space” (Nicol 2007).

At the centre of collaboration is the making of a relationship, not an object (Nicol 2007). Dabrowska explains the contact that she has had with SPACE so far: “SPACE have been intelligent, smart and supportive throughout the residency. Fiona [Head of Learning and Participation] has talked through ideas with me on a regular basis and has also aided in the process of trying to secure funding for an external show after the residency” (Dabrowska 2010). Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly the relationship that has formed between SPACE and Dabrowska appears to be more fruitful than that between Dabrowska and One Housing. In its pilot phase, the success of the residency will impact on each of the parties involved and therefore any additional support that is provided financially or pastorally, the latter evidenced above, will potentially add value to the success of the programme. On one level, both SPACE and Dabrowska have specialist knowledge of the arts sector and therefore a common ground to understand each other’s aspirations for the programme. In addition, their shared ambition for the success of the project may drive both parties. Dabrowska’s experience, knowledge and skills will also contribute to the continued development of SPACE’s framework and understanding of good practice in future collaboration, learning and participation. Such collaboration has potential to generate creative friction and critical tension which is required to drive real collaboration. Nicol (2007) expands on this notion, “Creative collaboration is not intended to be an easy process, neither are its results easy to realise” (Nicol 2007).

The CSP does not explicitly address the development of Dabrowska’s practice, yet Dabrowska is able to dedicate the remainder of her time to her own practice, with access to the studio 24-hours a day. For the workshops with the residents of Arlington House Dabrowska uses her own practice as a starting point. Dabrowska explained the experience that she had with residents so far:

“It has really exceeded my expectations how interesting these people are. One of the residents worked as a photojournalist in the 70s in Lebanon and has kept a suitcase full of over 20kg of negatives with him which documents his whole migration to England” (Dabrowska 2010b).

Ideas, Ania Dabrowska, Arlington Residency, SPACE, 2010

Dabrowska described her role in the CSP as very much a curatorial approach, working through critique of residents’ work and their personal projects: “It’s not just about teaching and supervising but more about developing a body of work in response to the building, people and place” (Dabrowska 2010b). Dabrowska broadly discussed the residents’ approach to engaging with the CSP: “Some residents just want to spend time taking ‘pretty pictures’, others want to push themselves and investigate homelessness and art in a deeper sense” (Dabrowska 2010b).

Complications have arisen regarding the amount of time Dabrowska spends on the CSP. On occasion the workshops have overlapped into Dabrowska’s personal studio time. To address this Dabrowska has developed a schedule of committed days to the programme. This indicates that clarity of communication and clearly defined responsibilities from the outset are needed to ensure a smooth residency experience and successful collaboration.

It is apparent from this case study that if there are different partners involved in the implementation of an artist-in-residence programme, then each party needs to have clearly defined roles from the outset and understand the processes involved. If all partners have a clear vision of the goals and have shared objectives, they can feel more confident that they will fulfil their ambitions for the project. As demonstrated here, partnerships are a valuable way of sharing resources and bringing different skills and expertise to the residency experience. However, in this instance heavy administration processes have impinged on the time that is available and consequently caused delays.

[1] The Creative Space Programme was formulated to provide homeless residents with artistic and creative learning opportunities to challenge perceptions of the homeless as well as give a voice to homeless people at a time of transition and change in their lives. As part of the CSP, one day workshops are held in the studio on a weekly basis for residents at Arlington House to be a part of, should they so wish.  The remit of the programme is towards a socially engaged enterprise for the local community with specific outcomes including exploring creative skills and personal projects, teaching basic rules of photography, exploring ideas of advocacy and online networking, developing transferable skills, and producing exhibitions of the residents work.

[2] Dabrowska works with photography, film, sound, and installation through which she explores personal and public notions of identity and narrative.

Full Text: Ross Head, Artist Residencies Dissertation

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