Photo courtesy of RES.
Anyone who has ever tried to find an artist residency to apply to online knows it’s a difficult task. Despite the fact that there are dozens of online aggregators of residency programs, none claim to be comprehensive, most if not all are updated manually, and artists are hard-pressed to narrow down the multitude of opportunities to reflect their personal needs and preferences. On top of that, artists must monitor a plethora of open calls and application deadlines. On the other side of the table, the arts administrators who run these residencies are challenged with gaining online exposure for their programs and, of course, reaching great artists, which means frequently updating a myriad of online bulletin boards, social media channels, and email newsletters. Seeing the need for a digital solution, three young art world professionals recently got to work. Billed as “a unified search tool for residencies,” their forthcoming project, RES, is a web-based platform that will help facilitate artist residencies for artists and administrators alike.
The RES co-founders—Katrina Neumann, Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria, and Kira Simon-Kennedy—have considerable experience in the field. In 2013, Neumann founded Rate My Artist Residency, a Yelp-like platform for artist residencies that she runs alongside her own artist practice and a full-time job as a gallery director. In 2009, Sanz de Santamaria co-founded Residency Unlimited, a New York-based residency program and creative hub, which also hosts a robust page for residency open calls. And in 2013, Simon-Kennedy co-founded China Residencies, a nonprofit offering advice and information about residencies in China and Hong Kong.
Given the close-knit nature of the New York art world and the artist residency community (conferences are regularly held across the world), the trio were already in contact prior to this year. But it was only this past spring when they first started discussing the idea for RES. After identifying the redundancies and pain points in their own platforms and many others, they were accepted into the 2016 residency class at New Museum’s NEW INC—an incubator to foster developments in art, design, and technology—where they began working on the project in earnest.
Photo courtesy of Cabin Time via Rate My Artist Residency.
“From our three perspectives—of regional platforms, an actual artist residency, and as an artist—we realized that we’re all dealing with the same units of information: a page for an artist residency and deadline information,” Simon-Kennedy said when I spoke with the trio late last month. They explained that they’re keenly aware of the tedious data entry and upkeep—usually by hand—required for running an aggregate site, especially given the incessant flow of deadlines. Crucially, they’re also familiar with artists who applied to and experienced such residencies. So, based on the vast, shared data points, the trio devised a proposal that would cover all the bases. RES will be a system to aggregate residency information and disseminate it via social media, with email reminders around deadlines, all while giving artists the ability to filter programs by eligibility.
“When we first did our proposal, there were some 50 different businesses out there that were perpetuating deadlines,” Neumann said, noting the various organizations, municipalities, and universities that are trying to help artists apply for residencies. “But it’s just tidbits of information, and most of the information goes out of date very quickly.” Sanz de Santamaria added, “For the residencies, when you have an open call, you put it on your website, you send it out to your email list, you put on four or five different other platforms.” That’s a lot of info and a lot of avenues to maintain. As all the co-founders discovered in running their own sites, the hours spent entering and updating that data will inevitably take away from the core mission: helping artists.
To mitigate the problem, RES will focus on automation and efficiency. “With RES, the idea is not to make a system that’s better than everything; we’d like it to function as an engine that all these platforms could essentially tap into, taking from the database and essentially using that for their platforms, like a plugin,” Sanz de Santamaria said. He likened it to the way you might embed a tweet on a website: The plugin will sync with RES, reflecting info and changes—like, say, the date of an open call—across all platforms. “All these other platforms could essentially maintain their own identity and still serve their own audiences. It’s more about collaboration.”
Photo courtesy of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts via Rate My Artist Residency.
Artists would benefit from the streamlining, too. “By signing up for RES, an artist can say I have this passport, I live in this country, I do this kind of work, I need this much funding—what’s out there for me?” Simon-Kennedy said. “Right now, outside of two platforms that allow for slightly more detailed filtering, artists can only really search by country and discipline, but not by amounts of funding (which, based on our research, is the criteria that matters the most to them).” The efficiency and convenience of RES would relieve artists of the immense time commitment currently required when searching for residency opportunities.
It would also geographically expand artist and residency communities. For now, most artists find out about residencies through their art-world networks: artist friends, galleries, collectors, and art school career services. Artists outside these communities may not know about the numerous opportunities available to them; likewise, new residencies may not be aware of the funding opportunities and successful operations strategies that have been implemented by more established programs. RES would help facilitate interactions that could educate artists and help newer programs succeed.
In later stages, the trio told me, RES will also automate the creation of social media posts and send notifications to artists about deadline reminders and new open calls (users will be able to calibrate the frequency of notifications). The site will also eventually offer a rating system and an opportunity for artists to share their experiences and feedback.
Neumann, for her part, recalled her own disappointing experience in a Berlin residency a few years ago. “I was paying too much money and the mission statement wasn’t aligned with what they gave me. I thought, Isn’t there any kind of accountability for residencies out there?” RES aims to develop a vetting system whereby artists have accurate expectations for the residencies they apply for, and, after completing their residency, they’ll be able to give feedback and criticism in an impartial manner.
Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Works via Rate My Artist Residency.
Recognizing that they don’t come from tech backgrounds, the RES founders emphasized the vital exposure they’re gaining through NEW INC. The team is also working with a programmer to develop the site, and they’re collaborating with existing residency networks around the world to help collect data. They’ve also put out an open call for artists and residencies to submit information about their programs and experiences. By the team’s estimate, a prototype of the site will be up and running by early 2017.
“We’re probably not the best people to be running any of these platforms, but there was a void,” Simon-Kennedy said. “The biggest eye-opener when all of this started was that with all of these platforms—us included—the people who created them are artist-centric. They’re not developers, they’re not from the tech world; they’re primarily either artists or arts administrators, with nonprofit backgrounds,” Sanz de Santamaria added. “It’s clear that this is something that’s lacking in the entire industry.”