This roundtable is the second in a series of roundtables convened by Residency Unlimited. The concept and leading question was originally posed by Todd Lanier Lester, and convened by Lalita Salander. To read the responses to the first question in the series, click here.
Lalita Salander is a New York based independent curator, educator, and artist. Salander is pursuing a cross-disciplinary doctoral degree in the field of contemporary art and cultural studies through the University of Reading and Zurich University of the Arts. Her research specifically focuses on Artist-in-Residence programmes in the 21st century. Salander is the curator for Residency Unlimited’s Dialogues platform and co-founder of Frontview for Art & Architecture. Salander has organized exhibitions in a variety of institutions in the United States and abroad; her curatorial practice aims to transport viewers on adventures throughout the galaxy. Salander was a 2014-2016 Curatorial Fellow at SVA’s MA Curatorial Practice program, and received her BA in Art History from Washington University in St. Louis.
In 2017 Residency Unlimited (RU) organized a day-long symposium entitled Embedded, Embedding: Artist Residencies, Urban Placemaking and Social Practice. Hosted by the New School/Parsons MFA Fine Arts Program and curated by Livia Alexander, this symposium examined the connecting and diverging points between the needs of communities, artists’ requirements for materials and professional support, and those commissioning and underwriting such initiatives. To further this line of inquiry, RU Dialogues and ArtsEverywhere are collaborating to present five online discussions that take their cue from the topics explored at the symposium. The first roundtable examines the topic of artist residencies and the city. This second roundtable discusses the issue of artist safety, shelter, and the contested notion of the artist residency as a potential site for safe haven hosting.
The origins of the term “safe haven” as utilized in this roundtable can be traced to the early 1990s when Jacques Derrida, Salman Rushdie, and the International Parliament of Writers initiated a movement of shelter cities, called Cities of Asylum Network (INCA), to stand against the increased assassinations of writers in Algeria. When INCA dissolved, The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) was formed in 2006, which now includes over 60 cities, many of which are located in Europe and more specifically the Nordic countries. In turn, “safe haven” became a common descriptor amongst art councils and ministries for the residency programs set up in these cities for writers and more recently practitioners working across all media, from musicians to visual artists.
Issue #2 Leading Question:
The artist residency field is a continually evolving one. While the purpose of residencies is to nurture artistic practice, existing models have shifted over time from art colonies in remote locations to urban-based programs, socially-engaged residencies, and a variety of new initiatives that respond to present social, political and economic conditions. Within this framework, residencies may serve as sites of shelter or safe haven—a field historically occupied by human rights organizations; ICORN, PEN, and ProtectDefenders are institutionalized examples—for artists in distress, who have fled or been evacuated from another location. Given a notable growth at the intersection between artist residencies and shelter, evident by recent initiatives such as ArtistSafety.net (formerly freeDimensional), Artistic Freedom Initiative, and The Arts Rights Justice Academy, what responsibilities are there for cultural producers, human rights activists, journalists, artists, lawyers, and other actors working in and articulating this “in-between” space? Where do responsibilities and expectations meet and where do they clash? Finally, what practices can be implemented to facilitate a genuine sense of rest and respite for artists that are in flight?
Diana Ramarohetra is currently the Artwatch Africa Project Manager, within Arterial Network, based in Ivory Coast. This project aims to defend and promote Artist Rights, especially Artistic Freedom in Africa. This project covers 19 countries and includes a training component, an advocacy campaign with states, and regional artistic collaborations. Diana Ramarohetra has worked in the arts and cultural sector for a decade. She has worked in Rwanda at the Ministry of Culture and then as General Secretary of the French Institute of Rwanda. She also worked in Madagascar as a cultural journalist.
In 2016, Freemuse registered 1,028 attacks and violations against Artist Rights. This figure may seem minor to some, but these violations represent an increase of 119% from 2015 to 2016. In Africa, as well as all over the world, artists are vulnerable due to the political climate, social pressures, and cultural values. These issues need to be addressed and urgent measures need to be taken as artists will increasingly be at risk over the next few years.
Currently, there are different options of support available for artists at risk:
- SAFE HOUSES: When an artist is harassed, putting him/her in a safe house and under the radar for a certain period of time is the first action. In our experience, it is not easy to find reliable partner organisations on the ground who will assist the artist in this way due to social pressures or fear of retribution from authorities.
- RESIDENCIES AND FELLOWSHIPS: A lot of organisations and cultural centres provide spaces to artists where they can be creative in a safe environment and get support from the artistic community. These opportunities for sharing creatively help the artist to grow, to not feel alone, and to become more convinced of their chosen vocation and role in the society. Unfortunately, this is not a long term solution, as when the artist returns to his or her country, the situation will remain the same. He or she might face more harassment or be arrested. International residencies and fellowships allow artists at risk to temporarily borrow their freedom of creative expression, but at the end of the residency, this freedom cannot always return with them to their own country. Residencies and fellowships are unable to guarantee what happens after the artist’s time is up.
- RELOCATION: At the moment, most of the relocation cities are situated in the Global North, and sometimes adaptation and integration can be very difficult for African artists. First of all, artists find their inspiration from their own societies, their environment, and from things they know. They have their public. Leaving their country and their continent means pulling away from their sources of inspiration. They have to restart from the beginning, find their place in this new society, and gather a new audience. They are required to adapt to different weather, food, ways of life, and languages – all of this requires mental and physical stamina to overcome. Relocation also means facing permanent status as a refugee, a migrant. This is an uncertain life with many questions: how long will you stay? When will you get your visa? Will your family be granted visas as well? When artists leave their country due to forces beyond their control, they always hope to be able to return one day. Activist and artistic spirits go hand-in-hand, so artists who must leave their country due to forces beyond their control will always hope to return one day to have the opportunity to make changes in their country.
These solutions should not be rejected outright. Despite certain shortcomings, they remain good temporary options. However, what we need to focus on are the long term needs of the sector. Evacuating artists will not solve the prevailing issues in the field, as an individual solution cannot hope to serve the entire sector. We need to establish more sustainable solutions for artists:
- In terms of relocation of African artists, being relocated within the same region or remaining on the continent allows for an easier adaptation or integration to the new country. This kind of relocation would also serve for artists to share experiences with their peers and build artistic networks at the same time. As we know, solidarity is important. As the African proverb goes, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In order to make a real, sustainable difference, the movement needs to comprise and be led by people who share similar realities and backgrounds.
- Advocacy and lobbying with authorities is the final point. We need to build conducive environments with comprehensive legal frameworks that will guarantee the protection of freedom of creative expression and protect artists from these violations. We need to follow and encourage governments to establish bills and policies for Artistic Freedom. This may be a longer process, but it is one we need to go through if we hope to make any real change. Governments are accountable to their citizens, and artists are their citizens.
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, also known as Tutul, is a publisher, writer, and editor from Bangladesh. In 1990, Chowdhury began publishing and editing Shuddhashar (“Pure Voice”), a magazine that soon became a platform for young and unconventional writers in Bangladesh. In 2004, Chowdhury opened his own publishing house in Dhaka under the same name, where he published open-minded and progressive Bangladeshi writers. From 2004 to 2015 he published more than 1000 items. In 2013, the publishing house was awarded the Shaheed Munir Chowdhury Award for publishing the highest number of best-sellers in Bangladesh and is considered one of the most important publishing houses in the country. On October 31st, 2015, Chowdhury was a victim of a coordinated machete attack on publishers of secular authors. Chowdhury had received direct death threats from Islamists and was among the main targets of the attack. Despite these threats, Chowdhury continues to publish, including books written by Avijit Roy, who was murdered in February 2015. In 2016, Chowdhury won the Pinter International Writer of Courage Award and the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award. Chowdhury currently lives in exile in Norway.
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury
When a writer or an artist loses his home, when he becomes a refugee, he becomes just as helpless as anyone else who is overcome with such disaster. This helplessness becomes even more profound when the writer or artist is forced to live in complete isolation, when his creativity becomes stifled, and when he loses contact with his friends and loved ones.
I think this painful situation that plagues many creative minds across the world has led to the creation of the Artist Residency. There are some specific traits and perspectives in the creativity of the writer and the artist. These traits and perspectives are created and nurtured through observation, listening, empathy, reading, research, and careful practice. The entire process stems from the freedom and spontaneity of the writer’s emotions, understanding, and overcoming of obstacles. And it is deeply connected to the environment he is in, his situation and his companionship. So, when a writer is under any suspicion, faces any threats, or is under attack—it is only natural that his work and his industrialism is obstructed. As a consequence, he has to live a life of captivity, to avoid injury or even death in the fight for free speech. In such cases, only a few are fortunate enough to escape and seek refuge, and still feel the embrace of freedom in the wind and the light. They then need to consider how to resume their usual routines and how to earn a livelihood again. In these circumstances, they begin to suffer from various physical and emotional traumas as well. Fatigue and depression are likeliest to hit a writer/artist and severely affect their work. The writer/artist not only requires medical treatment, but emotional support and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere too. By reintroducing the writer (or the artist) to an environment that is favourable for their craft and creativity, and bringing them into circles of like minded people, it is possible for the depressed writer to find the strength and courage to overcome any adversity he may face. If the authorities in the refugee artist’s new home are able to organise events that exhibit the artist’s work locally and presents him to the creative community, he is able to draw from a deep well of inspiration. The same applies to a poet, a writer, and a filmmaker as well.
A refugee artist is often drawn to silence, to loneliness; he is fully immersed in his creativity alone. But he may also prefer company, someone to talk to. He speaks with peace of mind, writes, works. Both circumstances are vital for the writer. From both of these places, the artist or writer works for the betterment of his own country and for progress around the world. However, it is imperative that the writer receives adequate support until he is financially stable and socially established in his new environment. The relevant political and non-governmental institutions need to be vigilant and careful when working in these areas. And they must support those groups that fight for artists’ rights, refuge, and rehabilitation in their new homes.
Generally speaking, the local administration is in charge of securing a refugee artist’s residence, food, medications, and welfare needs. There is another person who fulfils the responsibilities of the Guest Writer Coordinator. In some rare instances, one person is in charge of both roles. Research has shown that a city where one individual takes charge of both duties tends to have a more efficient and effective system in place. Moreover, it is much better to make sure that whoever is acting as such a coordinator is sincere and passionate about this work, and remains committed to the role – this is something that needs to be reiterated to organisations that work for artists’ rights and to the residency authorities in local administrations.
A writer or an artist largely creates his own persona and self, prepares himself independently, and nurtures himself likewise. On this journey, he becomes involved with various groups and people through education, professional work, personal development with friends and family, social and cultural groups, and even state organisations. It is akin to a musical composition; it is created like a harmony. Thus, it is natural that if there is a sudden break in the music, the entire tune can be lost. An Artist Residency must work hard to ensure that the music that carries through the life of a writer, an artist, is not abruptly cut off. A poet, a writer, an artist – he must be sustained in both mind and soul.
Abazar A. Bagi Hamid grew up in the cultural belt between Sudan and the Gulf. His music is both rooted in traditional Sudanese and African music characteristic of the Gulf area, and heavily inspired by reggae and Afro-Latin music. Abazar Hamid’s songs confront a wide range of topics from peace, friendship, and unity, to genocide, the loss of loved ones, and songs of lament for towns wrecked by the Sudanese government.
Abazar A. Bagi Hamid
Composed in Cairo in 2011, “Hello Juba” is an example of an artist in residency production. “Hello Juba” was produced in 2013, in cooperation with the Africairo Musical Network, led by Egyptian musician Ahmed Omar. It was recorded in Wust El Balad Studio, through the Music For Peace Project that was funded by the Arab Coalition for Sudan and the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists. The song’s premiere performance was held at the Saad Zaghloul Museum in Cairo.
When my family and I lived in Cairo we were in exile, having fled from the conflict zone of our home country of Sudan. Cairo was an intermediary homestead which eventually became too dangerous because of the music I was making. We then fled to Norway, which offered my family and I a safe-haven as the International Cities of Refuge Network’s (ICORN) first musician in residence. I refer to these different locations of our journey as levels of transmit, levels of my family’s movements from a conflict area, to exile, and eventually into a safe-haven.
Fatemeh Ekhtesari is an Iranian poet, writer, and a freelance filmmaker. Fatemeh has published three poetry anthologies in Iran and two books while in exile, one of which is a collection of short stories. The other is a story based on her prison memories. In 2013, Fatemeh attended a poetry festival in Gothenburg, Sweden (Göteborgs poesifestival); upon her return to Iran she was imprisoned and later released on bail. In 2015, Fatemeh was sentenced to 99 lashes and 11.5 years imprisonment. Fatemeh currently lives in exile in Norway as a guest writer.
The most important role the individuals who work in the “in-between” space can play is finding people who deserve the residencies and then helping them to use these facilities. This job is not being done well today. My experience from Iran tells me that many under-pressure artists or individuals that could use these residency opportunities are not aware of such opportunities or centers, or do not know how to connect with them and apply for them. Information about artist residencies do not always reach those who most need them, so we sometimes see that the person chosen for a residency has come from a limited pool, or from a select pool of artists who were able to access information about the residency. Even if he or she is an artist at risk, there may be other individuals at great risk who must be considered a priority.
This field’s activists can find information on various residencies by using the internet, knowing the communication tools of the country (such as social media which are not filtered and are popular), and by choosing mediators who have just left the country and still breathe in the country’s art atmosphere.
To have a proper plan for the present and future of the invited artists is the other point. The invited person should be able to use the opportunity of the residency for cultural and artistic affairs, and the working conditions should be clearly explained to him or her. For example, I have to attend a Norwegian Language class. If I am not present at the class, the payment I receive for being a refugee will be discontinued. How can I start writing my new novel when I’m spending more than a half a day in class, and the rest of my day doing the assignments and overcoming the problems I am faced with in a new country? Moreover, I did not have access to the internet or satellite channels for a month after I entered Norway. These facilities might seem like small things, but they are essential for an artist to connect to the world, especially when living in a small town.
Planning for the artist’s future is more important than considering his or her current situation. Many residencies are short-term opportunities, and artists have to come back home afterward. In countries with dictatorships, such as Iran, participation in such events could be considered a crime and lead to terrible sentences. If the artist publishes some artworks without the censorship rules of his or her country, the result could be worse. This situation causes the artist to face strange problems which waste a great deal of time and energy, if it does not force him or her to come back. On the other hand, the artists who do not come back to their countries, do not have less problems than others do. The residency center suddenly stops supporting them, so they suffer from many financial and emotional problems. We must remember that artists, especially those that come from countries ruled by dictatorships, are often faced with many mental problems and may need more emotional supports than financial ones.
Last but not least, we must consider how an artist who is at risk leaves the country. For example, in my country, many artists are banned from foreign travel or their passports are seized in the cases of arrest. Therefore, an artist that is really at risk must leave Iran illegally. Finding reliable human smugglers, paying money to them, and passing borders illegally is a very dangerous and stressful process. In my view, residency centers can help artists by taking them out of the country safely, in cooperation with other human-rights organizations.
Some suggestions could be offered here: choosing connecting persons who are somewhat familiar with the culture and language of the artists, accommodating the artist in cities which have the minimum facilities needed for art, hiring psychologists and analysts familiar with art to support the artists mentally and emotionally, and creating and supporting channels of communication for invited artists so that they can communicate with their compatriots as well as with people and artists in the new country, in a balanced way (so that it does not lead to forgetting language or a culture or identity crisis, nor does it cause lack of communication between the artist and the society).
Ivor Stodolsky & Marita Muukkonen
Perpetuum Mobile, co-founded by Marita Muukkonen and Ivor Stodolsky (in alternating order) in 2007, is a curatorial vehicle which brings together art, practice and enquiry. It acts as a conduit and engine to re-imagine certain basic historical, theoretical as well as practical paradigms in fields which often exist in disparate institutional frames and territories. PM has worked extensively in the Nordic, European and international field.
Ivor Stodolsky & Marita Muukkonen
Artists at Risk (AR) at AR-Safe Haven Helsinki
Artists, writers, curators, critics and scholars are targets of politically motivated threats and persecution in great parts of the world. Since its inception, Perpetuum Mobile (PM) has been working both with residencies and artists from regions with histories of authoritarian repression. Starting with its first major thematic project on Perestroika in 2007 and continuing with the Re-Aligned Project (from 2012, ongoing) PM has worked with artists and intellectuals whose of freedom of speech and artistic expression has been limited or violated. Quite naturally this led to a concern for the safety of artists which PM worked with and hosted at partner-residencies. The development of dedicated residency-programmes for artists “at risk” was a natural development.
PM has run dedicated short-term residencies for artists at risk since 2013. Working through the “On the Move” programme, run in partnership with HIAP — Helsinki International Artist Programme, PM received the first artists “at risk” understood as such. PM and HIAP developed a network of partner institutions called “Nordic Fresh Air” composed of Nordic and Baltic art actors who work with art practitioners at risk. This work, funded by the Nordic Cultural Point and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture was gradually developed and expanded. This culminated in the establishment of a long-term programme financed by the City of Helsinki under the title of “Safe Haven — Helsinki” (SHH).
The “Helsinki Model”, as it has come to be known, stands as as the key example to other municipal nodes of Artists at Risk (AR), the new global institution of Safe Haven Residencies anchored in Helsinki.
Safe Haven Helsinki is — with Artists at Risk (AR), which grew directly out of it — a new type of project at the intersection of human rights and the visual arts. AR develops new physical residencies for contemporary art practitioners at risk, enabling funds and opportunities, while providing a wider network and curatorial framework for their artistic practice. It was the first such institution at the intersection of the visual arts and human rights, and continues to be unique in its scope.
Art practitioners are often among the most prominent voices in oppressive societies, and authoritarian governments often turn to forms of repression of freedom of expression, imprisonment, and even torture or murder to silence dissenting voices. For these reasons, art practitioners “at risk” are often in need of either a short-term break or a longer-term stay in a safe and supportive context. They often need to “take a breath” to gather their forces, collect their thoughts and prepare for the next step in their careers.
Artists at Risk (AR) Safe Haven Helsinki is a “stepping stone” which enables art professionals to do just this. They arrive in Helsinki as art professionals — not as refugees or asylum seekers — and usually wish to return to their countries of origin to continue their art and engaged practice. AR/SHH provides them with a base from which to continue onwards with new strength and to new achievements, and even, as with several past AR-Residents, to international recognition.
Take an artist such as Issa Touma, the photographer and filmmaker from war-torn Aleppo who was honoured with the European Short Film Prize, as well as the London/BFI Short Film Prize, among many others. Or consider Erkan Özgen, whose video art work “Wonderland” was shown at the AR PAVILION — an exhibition with works by AR-Residents launched by PM at the Athens Biennale in parallel to documenta 14, with further iterations in Istanbul and Madrid — and which has since been acquired by Tate Modern.
Filling a Gap in the International Human Rights Sector
AR fills a gap for creative intellectuals “at risk.” It works to help the several fields of endeavour that fall outside the remit, competences or resources of renowned international organisations such as PEN (writers and journalists), SafeMuse/FreeMUSE (musicians) or Scholars at Risk (academics and researchers).
Visual artists is a primary focus of AR, but other creative intellectuals such as musicians, filmmakers and theatre practitioners are considered for AR-Residencies. Unlike many other institutions, it also works directly with the artists — from facilitating their safe exit from their countries of origin, funding their travels and residencies, hosting on a day-to-day basis, as well as, crucially, producing their artistic work. To give just one example, PM is currently co-producing the next album of Ramy Essam, the famed “singer of Tahrir Square” — one of the first artists hosted by Artists at Risk (AR) — to be released on his return to Egypt.
David Maggs carries on an active career in both the arts and academia. As an artist he continues to perform as a pianist, has written several works for the stage, and led the development of the interarts ensemble Dark by Five (darkbyfive.com). He has co-developed a largescale augmented reality experience in Vancouver, B.C. and is developing a digital immersion lab with partners from across Canada. David is the founder and artistic director of Gros Morne Summer Music, a year-round interdisciplinary arts organization in Eastern Canada (gmsm.ca), he is the founder and publisher of Old Crow Magazine (oldcrowmagazine.com), and the founder and director of The Graham Academy, a performing arts academy for youth. As an academic, David’s focus is on forging a more robust engagement with cultural dimensions of sustainability. His doctoral thesis Artists of the Floating World laid the foundation for the SSHRC Insight funded Sustainability in the Imaginary World (www.imaginesustainability.today) During this time David was a SSHRC post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, UBC, working with John Robinson. A deeper interest in applied dimensions of academic practice led David to found the Liminus Institute, bringing together themes of Arts, Health, Sustainability, Indigeneity, Technology, and the Natural World. Having launched research initiatives in arts-health intersections, and artist safety hosting in rural communities, Liminus is currently developing a ‘Regenerative Marine Spatial Planning’ strategy for the Gros Morne region. Recently David has instigated and co-produced a CBC documentary film about indigenous identity in Eastern Canada and has been named one of three emerging ‘stars’ of the Environmental Movement by Granville Magazine.
I will address these questions from the perspective of one team member from within the Gros Morne National Park context. We have been spending the past two years preparing our region as a safe host destination and we are now looking to place an artist as early as this January. Addressing these roundtable questions from our perspective will largely focus on the motivating ideas behind safehosting arts residencies and the larger themes we are hoping to capture through a research initiative.
I will, for a moment, address this question beyond its individual human rights, human safety dimensions, beyond the dimensions of artistic freedoms, and freedoms of speech, to an aspect that has captured my imagination and motivated my own involvement in the intersection between shelter and artist residencies. This response is particularly relevant in a place like Woody Point, Newfoundland, a rural, high ethnically homogenous place, not xenophobic in the ways of some rural contexts, but certainly isolated.
A highly present theme in geopolitics today, as we are all too aware unfortunately, is the struggle with pluralism and all the dimensions this presents—existential, political, spiritual, linguistic, economic, etc. Whether we are coming to this struggle from a nationalist or racist or spiritualist perspective, defining any of those elements—nation, race, or spiritual practice—beyond the gathering principles of homogeneity is a relatively new challenge, one with moral dimensions, aesthetic dimensions, linguistic dimensions, etc. However, because this challenge has been charged with the stark and often violent outcomes of racist and religious persecution, the conversation has polarized sharply, hardened into uncompromising, and uncommunicative positions on both sides, those demanding immediate comfort with maximalist accommodations of difference at all social levels, and those struggling to find that comfort.
In other words, I am looking for a place of exchange around pluralism and its challenges that allows elements of discomfort, uncertainty, and questioning to come to the surface without the immediate shaming of bigotry. Where can we go to talk about difference and cultural pluralism in ways that are more open, exploratory, conjectural, and safe? My sense is that artistic spaces are a great candidate. Finding such an ‘in-between space’ that is essentially charged with the challenges of safety, shelter, and intercultural exchange, but has as its dialogical mode the languages and idioms of aesthetic practice, strikes me as essential for deepening the roots of participation in, and identification with, pluralism.
White people need help getting off their colonialist pedestal. Maybe we look foolish up here; maybe we are aware of that more and more every day. Certainly we have no one to blame for ending up here other than ourselves, but unless we find a sense of purpose and meaning behind eroding this global privilege, reactionary politics will be the rhetoric of choice. As a Canadian, I think this is the crucial difference between our national dialogue and the one to our south. As a white, middle-class male, I feel that I have a meaningful role in the challenges of decolonization and cultural pluralism. It represents growth and gain to me personally, existentially, whereas to many people, it represents only compromise and loss.
I don’t know exactly where this difference came from. Indigeneous pluralism is a very old theme in pre-contact Canada, so I have read (J.R. Saul). French-English bilingualism prevented the nation from fully convincing ourselves there was only one-pot in which to melt difference down (although we have a long and difficult history of doing exactly that, via residential schools, language policies, cultural bigotry, etc.). Yet somehow, it feels like an important possibility survived in enough of the Canadian psyche to open this opportunity more broadly. We are certainly at the front and clumsy end of the challenge, but it’s a more promising place to start than that of our closest nations, the Brexiters and America on its way to being great again.
Into this larger national context enters the localized particular of shelter residencies. I see these residencies as focal points of this most crucial of contemporary issues, structured around an artistic practice that by its nature fosters meaningful cross-cultural communication, and feeds out into the discourse and practice of journalism, law, policy, development, etc. This ‘feeding out’ into legal and policy dimensions needs to be supported by research initiatives that can effectively capture local shifts in perspective around two things: cultural pluralism and global obligations to humanitarian crisis.
The first of these, as described above, is part of a strengthening and evidencing of what I feel is already present in a Canadian context: the dynamics that produce a proactive and meaningful involvement of cultural decentralization in settler communities. The second identifies the impact of shifting relations to the globalized ‘other’ and their relevance to policy-making around global conflict and humanitarian crises.
For example, if we host an artist from the Syrian conflict, we might study perception of the conflict and sense of obligation or motivation in the local community before the artist arrives. Then, after the residency is complete, we can do a post-analysis to see how that residency impacted the variables studied at the outset. The results of this pre/post analysis are fairly predictable. One would expect a great sense of compassion, obligation, etc., as a result of building relationships with victims of that specific conflict. However, here in Western Newfoundland, we are able to work with the same community over a period of time that spans multiple residencies drawn from multiple humanitarian crises. What would be interesting to demonstrate is not a consistent and predictable change from each pre- to post- residency analysis regarding the humanitarian crisis specific to that residency, but rather showing a long-term change in comparable pre-residency investigations. In other words, can we demonstrate a residual impact on both perceptions of and obligations to global humanitarian crises at a general level? That is, before any specific, personal relationships are developed?
If so, then we can identify the value of Safe Host activities for shifting the policy potential around political intervention, humanitarian investment, immigration policy, etc. This research project can be developed as a community-based research initiative working with our community partners. We are currently looking for funding and research partners to develop the research protocols for a long term engagement with these two areas of impacts on the host communities themselves.
One final point: As we are yet to host (first candidates set to arrive early in 2018), my feelings about the challenge to create rest and respite comes from an awareness of the challenges associated with the refugee community our region has been engaged with more generally. Here the missing link that created such an ongoing sense of continued unrest, that is, a persistent sense of their lives being ‘on hold’, was the general inability to ground themselves in such a foreign context. The struggle to make deep connections with a host region has resulted in most refugee placements moving on after brief periods of residency. The opportunity to go to larger centres where other members of their culture are living proved too tempting for almost all refugees once placed in our region.
Our hope is that adding the arts practice element to this refuge will address this crucial issue. By fostering a connection to the region through artistic practice, and by finding in this practice an articulate voice, to be part of a conversation about identity and place, will do much to create the sense of belonging that proved so crucially absent in previous refugee cases.
Basma El Husseiny
Basma El Husseiny is an arts manager and a cultural activist who has been involved in supporting independent cultural projects and organizations in the Arab region for the past 25 years. Basma had been the Media, Arts & Cultural Program Officer for the Ford Foundation in the Middle East and North Africa, and worked as Arts Manager of the British Council in Egypt. She has also worked as a theater director, script-writer, organizer of cultural events, and arts critic and reviewer. In 2004, Basma founded Cultural Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy), a leading pan-Arab non-profit organization, which she led until 2014. In 2006, she also co-founded, and was a trustee of the Arab Fund for Arts & Culture, an independent regional grant-making organization. She founded Action for Hope, an international organization that works to provide cultural relief and cultural development programs to meet the cultural, social, and psychological needs of distressed and displaced communities.
Basma El Husseiny
I’m more interested in the conditions that lead to artists being threatened. I’m also very interested in conversations between human rights organizations and activists on one side, and artists and cultural organizations on the other side. I think that these conversations are not happening in a way that would help each of the two sides to fully understand the challenges the other side faces, and the potential connections and avenues for collaboration. Human rights organizations seem to focus mostly on freedom of the press and media when they talk about freedom of expression, and cultural organizations have very little knowledge of human rights frameworks and how to interact with them.
Laurence Cuny is a human rights lawyer who has worked on issues related to human rights defenders, cultural rights, and artistic freedom for twenty years. She is currently a member of the Observatoire de la liberté de création, the French monitoring body on artistic freedom, and the European platform Arts Rights Justice. She is also co-founder of Lisière residency based in Dieulefit, France, and International Art Rights Advisors (IARA).
One should treat a guest well as long as he is in the house and speed him when he wants to leave it.
– Homer, The Odyssey
Under international law, artists remained a relatively invisible community until the adoption of the first UN Report on Artistic Freedom in 2013. This created a long expected and welcome bridge between the arts and human rights work. The bridge is there but few are yet to cross it. I recently traveled to Algeria to assess projects on democracy and human rights. I met very committed and knowledgeable individuals on the human rights situation in their country. When asked about artists, they could not give names or contacts. They simply did not feel they belong to the same community. They would not consider artists to be human rights defenders.
When this new category emerged through the UN declaration in 1998—which resulted from a realization by the human rights community that in order to defend human rights in a country it also needed to defend those who were denouncing violations, be they journalists, lawyers or more recently artists—I was working for a human rights defenders programme. We did not consider artists and we were not yet ready for temporary relocation.
Fifteen years later, we have international and regional mechanisms acting on artists’ cases. What was obvious for writers and for some very visible cases is now extending to painters, dancers, musicians, film makers and others. It is the result of the dedicated work by some organizations and a better understanding and acknowledgement of the role of culture and artists as actors of change for democracy and freedom of expression. We are gaining experience in hosting, even though we are still struggling with the idea that relocation in a culturally different country is an adequate step. Alongside well established initiatives such as The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), art residencies and cultural spaces are increasingly willing to contribute with smaller scale and often artist-run initiatives. Our best commitments are not yet sufficient. The issue of responsibility is crucial and understanding expectations and needs is part of the answer.
In 2014, when we created Lisière Residency, we thought we should balance the human rights and art components. It seemed obvious to us that we should do this right because our community was made up of artists and human rights workers. We also had the support of the authorities and we had been around for five years developing a good community mapping. But we have faced many challenges: being in a rural area, high expectations by the authorities that the artist will foster community sense of belonging, tensions over professional/voluntary work, questions on responsibility for what happens after the stay, and questions over asylum rights. We have found we do not have enough capacity to respond to the needs and expectations and we need to connect to larger networks to be able to do so. We feel it is our responsibility to do so. It is also our responsibility beyond the individual case to understand the situation of the cultural sector in the country.
We also need to be clear on the role of artists when we discuss hosting with the authorities that support us and acknowledge that they too have expectations. I remember Tania Bruguera expressing this contradiction when she participated in the UN event on artistic freedom in June 2013. As an artist in exile you are accepted because you are defending freedom of expression and denouncing the situation in the country of origin but not in the country that hosts you…
– Kagiso Lesego Molop at the 2015 Malmo meeting.
From my experience and from the initiatives I have seen in recent years I think that accepting the idea that the host also has expectations—and that it is fine to address them—has helped me a lot. We too, no matter how much we would like to help, operate in environments with specific constraints. We have a culture of professional work and we need this professionalism to work with artists in safe havens. We also need voluntary work but we have to be clear on were we draw the line. There can be an imbalance in the level of commitment, a fact we must accept. I also believe that planning space and time to express needs that were not foreseen in the preliminary phases of organizing the residency is a useful tool to deal with potential issues of gratitude/disappointment.
We now have a wealth of experiences and training tools for cultural actors and human rights organizations. This makes it possible to embark on critical thinking about our actions without feeling lost. I found very useful information and good practices in Safemuse’s assessment of Ramy Essam’s first year in Malmö, such as holding an information meeting for all interested actors upon arrival of the artist, or accounting for security issues for the host. I found, again, an expression of the conflicting approaches that can appear between the tools artists use when they are struggling for democracy and the tools we use when we are navigating within our democracies. Feeling censored even in Sweden for the contents of his songs Ramy Essam said: “I don’t have time to talk about rights – I have a freedom struggle to fight!”
- UN report on artistic freedom and side event (June 2013)
- Mapping of temporary shelter initiatives for Human Rights Defenders in danger in and outside of the EU, GHK, February 2012
- Learn to Act: Toolkit & Companion, Arts Rights Justice
- Report on implementing Malmö’s first safe haven programme for musicians
Małgorzata Różańska is a cultural manager, project coordinator, freelance translator and a PhD Candidate at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. She studied German Philology at the Jagiellonian University and Applied Linguistics at the Tischner European University in Krakow/Poland. Since 2008, she has acted as Manager of the Literature Office and coordinator of International Literary Programs at the Villa Decius Association in Krakow. She has coordinated residential stays for approximately 170 writers, translators, and artists from over 20 countries. She is co-founder and editorial assistant of the international literary magazine RADAR, coordinator of the 5th Krakow Days of Literature (2011) and curator of more than 60 cultural events. She was Fellow of the Polish Minister of Culture (2014), CEC Artslink Fellow (2015), Fellow of the Visegrad Academy of Cultural Management (2015 and 2017), and Fellow of the inaugural Arts Rights Justice Academy (ARJA) at the University of Hildesheim, Germany.
When I take up my pen to write, I feel the strength of standing up and refusing to be silent. In an oppressive situation, silence is death.
– Chenjerai Hove, former ICORN Guest Writer
Freedom of expression is not only a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also a crucial aspect of artistic freedom. Writers and artists are all the time becoming targets of politically/religiously/socially motivated threats and persecution because of the art they are doing and/or the values they are living. Therefore, in my opinion, all cultural stakeholders are to some extent responsible for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression on local, national, and international levels. One of the possible tools which can be used for this purpose and which I can recommend from my own experience is the concept of Sanctuary understood according to Oxford Dictionary as “refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution, or other danger.” The Sanctuary concept can be traced back to the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Old Testament, and can be further found in Roman, medieval, and English common law, in 19th century America, during World War II in Europe, and in more recent times, in the form of the Sanctuary Movement and Sanctuary Cities in the United States, Canada, UK, and Ireland.
A successful sanctuary initiative intersection of freedom of expression & art is ICORN – the International Cities of Refuge Network, which was implemented in 2005. The residential network describes itself as “an independent international organisation of member cities and regions, offering safe havens for persecuted writers/artists; advancing freedom of expression, defending democratic values and promoting international solidarity.” For a term of one or two years, each city hosts one artist at a time and ensures a safe residency together with a reasonable stipend. Approximately 60 cities worldwide have hosted more than 130 persecuted Guest Artists under the auspices of ICORN. The structure of the network is both decentralized and coordinated, as each ICORN city manages its residencies independently through local operating institutions, such as the Villa Decius Association and the Krakow Festival Office in Krakow, Poland. However, the whole network is managed by the Administration Centre in Stavanger, Norway. An essential part of the ICORN philosophy is providing the Guest Artists in each city with a City Coordinator, who is responsible for both the logistic and artistic part of the residential stay. Since 2011, I have served as the ICORN Coordinator in Krakow, which is why I would like to share some of my reflections on it.
The challenging, yet very inspiring characteristic of the network is connected with the fact that it is based on a fusion of an artistic and humanitarian approach. ICORN is neither a solely artistic nor a refugee-centred organisation; it is both. From the artistic point of view, one of the biggest assets of the network is enabling the Guest Artists to continue their work without censorship, persecution, or financial troubles, at least for a certain time. What is more, during their stays, the Guest Artists participate in diverse, tailor-made artistic activities carried out in co-operation with the local Operator and partner institutions. Other good practices that respond effectively to the needs connected with the displacement experience of the Guest Artists include providing an engaged and well-qualified Coordinator; diversifying the acculturation procedures for the Guest Artists; providing necessary language, culture, and social introductory courses; keeping the balance between respect for the Guest Artists’ habits and their adaptation to the local communities habits; and using various tools, techniques, cooperation, and teamwork for coping with the Guest Artists’ traumas and psychological problems.
To sum up, I perceive the ICORN idea as a both concrete and symbolic contribution to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, which provides persecuted and traumatized artists with a genuine sense of rest and respite.
Manojna Yeluri is an entertainment and artist rights lawyer based out of Hyderabad, India. She is the founder of Artistik License, a consultancy dedicated to addressing the legal and business needs of creative professionals. She loves music and has recently rediscovered her passion for writing. She believes in the need for greater connection between people, in an effort to make us all better professionals and human beings.
Artist residencies are typically associated with providing a nurturing space for creative expression. Owing to the fact that art and activism share a long and checkered past, it is only fitting that artist residency programs embrace the idea of providing sanctuary to artists in conflict, whether the conflict arises from across international borders or within neighbourhood peripheries. Free speech and expression is still considered a privilege in many countries, especially those from the global south. This implies that there are a number of artists out there, struggling to survive in an environment that is acrimonious to their art, their thoughts and their very existence.
By choosing to work as a creative professional, it must be understood that we cannot escape being a part of the ‘in-between’ space that lies between the realms of cultural expression and socio-political representation. All art is political, as it is social and economic. As creative professionals, we must incorporate this understanding into everything that we do and let it inform our work. Our biggest challenge is to maintain effective and transparent communication between the creative community, our fraternity of creative facilitators, as well as relevant state and non-state actors. Our biggest responsibility is to ensure that we are informed and connected with all parties, thereby acknowledging that the solutions cannot come from a single body of work or discipline.
My recent experience at the ARJ Academy has reaffirmed for me what cultural policy makers and artist rights advocates have been emphasizing for a long time – the need for an interdisciplinary approach. The difficulty in maintaining an interdisciplinary approach to any problem is that it involves a constant struggle between expectations and reality. While in principle, artists in conflict find a place in the discussion on human rights, reality tells us that most policymakers and practitioners fail to acknowledge the same, leading to artists having to look for respite under bodies and measures that might not be best suited for the difficult situations they find themselves in.
Navigation and discovery are exactly what we are trying to do through our rather recent but growing initiative, Artists’ Corner. A series of panel discussions, Artists’ Corner tries to encourage artists and creative professionals to get together and communicate their issues, such that we can help them articulate their priorities and demands for change. We want to make sure that the demands are made by the community because we understand that there is a huge lack of representation of creative professionals at the policy and institutional level. We need to facilitate these opportunities of communication and training, so as to make sure that we all know what we are fighting for and working to preserve. Otherwise, a disconnected set of communities will only end up with a disconnected set of conversations, while artists and expression suffer in the background.
Nforchu Mabelle Ngum
Nforchu Mabelle received a Masters in Peace and Development from the Protestant University of Central Africa. She is a jurist and human rights activist, and works for the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms-Cameroon. She is also the Artwatch Africa Coordinator for Arterial Network. She currently lives and works in Yaounde, where her work involves sensitizing artists on their fundamental rights and defending those whose rights have been violated. She engages with local artists to organize programs that expose their talents.
Nforchu Mabelle Ngum
Artist residencies have a broad meaning, but permit me focus on residencies aimed at artists in distress and artists in flight. An artist, just like any other citizen, is expected to know the laws of the State and the rights and responsibilities that are attributed to a citizen. Nevertheless, most artists have a greater chance to publicly denounce certain human rights violations through their talents, which often puts them against rights violators such as individuals or States. Artist residencies for artists in distress are a bit unlike normal residency programs, because the former is not aimed only at providing space for an artist to be creative, but also at ensuring the safety and long-term sustainability of the artist who is running away from persecution.
Human Rights Activists should often weigh the option of artists relocating to another country or living in their countries for a period of time. In some instances, residencies can be useful when artists receive shelter within their countries of origin. In this way, they can still relate with their fans and practice their arts, even if it maybe in a different manner. Providing shelter for an artist in distress abroad is great, but how many can benefit from these programs and continue to fully exercise their arts and earn an income? Artists have tendencies of longing to relocate but after some time, they no longer see the new abode as a suitable place where they can expand their career. Providing these services beyond a year becomes a bit complicated at times, and only a few artists are able to fully take advantage of these opportunities. In this way, it’s important to consider how such artists can still practice their art even when they are in a new environment.
Some artists who have enjoyed artist residency programs are not always satisfied and a number of factors contribute to this dissatisfaction. As a human rights activist, l have the duty to inform the artist that not all residency programs will run smoothly throughout their duration. There are certain programs that often look interesting at the beginning but once artists arrive, it does not meet their expectations for any number of reasons. It is often good to state the challenges that come along with being an artist (activist), because some of these artists often assume things will go back to normal after passing 6 to 12 months in the programs. Providing a new shelter would definitely keep artists safe but keep in mind that a dictatorial regime will always look for ways to bring down artists, even if they are in another country. This is the reason why some artists, once saturated with their new way of life, end up returning home to face the consequences. Upon relocation, some lose their audience, traditional instruments, and friends and families which had positively influenced their arts in the past. If such situations are not well managed, artist and program managers can both get frustrated. These responsibilities on the part of the human rights activist, and expectations from the artist, often clash, particularly when the latter is not well-informed about the circumstances that await them in the new place. It is critical to spell out the challenges of environmental change, culture shock, and limited decision making that can affect this new way of life. To also avoid clashes, the artists must understand that the solution is a temporary one, and can only become permanent if situations at home don’t change.
Best practices can be applied to reduce the number of artists in flight or distress. It is important for artists to know the system of governance in their respective countries. I am of the opinion that the artist should know when, how and where to display their arts—particularly if they are controversial—so as to avoid persecution by the State. This preventable action might limit enormous losses on the part of the artists if they are not caught; but their loved ones may have to pay the price in their stead. Genuine rest and respite for artist in flight will be difficult to come by because there is always a longing to return back home, regardless of the advantages that the present shelter has to offer. However, psycho-therapy can better prepare the artists, to accept the realities of his new environment.
Ashley Tucker is the Program Director at the Artistic Freedom Initiative, leading planning and implementation of its programs and legal services for at-risk artists. Having lived, worked, and volunteered abroad for many years, Ashley has dedicated her career to international human rights and social justice. Ashley has worked for the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights, and PEN America’s Artists At Risk Connection. She has conducted research and human rights trainings in Haiti, worked on strategic litigation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and worked as a volunteer in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Ashley received her BA from University of Arizona in Studio Art, and her JD from City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. She is admitted to practice law in New York. Ashley lives and works in New York City.
Ashley Tucker – Artistic Freedom Initiative
The New York City Artist Safe Haven Prototype – Design
The New York City Artist Safe Haven Prototype was designed at the intersection of artist residencies and shelter, in response to the complex challenges inherent in supporting artists under threat. Responsibly addressing these challenges requires an understanding of the overarching needs common to many artists at risk, as well as a nuanced understanding of the unique needs born from each artist’s individual circumstances. Further, responsibly addressing these challenges requires a collective effort from a diverse range of organizations and individuals, including human rights activists, cultural producers, lawyers, community organizers, medical and social service professionals, and those who can provide housing space. The New York City Artist Safe Haven Prototype was created with these things in mind.
The program offers residencies to artists experiencing political, gender-based or religious persecution; artists who need a respite from dangerous situations; or artists from countries experiencing violent conflict. Led by a coalition of organizations whose missions champion free expression, human rights, and the arts, each member organization commits to applying a unique skillset that leverages their expertise, experience, and resources. This includes providing housing, legal services, professional development, access to psychosocial support, community engagement, and networking opportunities. The coalition is growing, and currently includes ArtistSafety.net, the Artistic Freedom Initiative, Residency Unlimited, Westbeth Artists Housing, PEN America, and Fordham University.
Within the coalition, responsibilities to and expectations of the program meet in our shared purpose – to offer international artists under threat an opportunity to relocate, at least temporarily, to New York City, thereby supporting important voices for free expression, tolerance, and international understanding. Though taking a coalition approach to this program is critical to its development and success, it is also complex. Building a strong, strategically constructed coalition necessarily takes time, as does the process of learning how to work together most effectively. This reality can often be at odds with the time-sensitive nature of working with artists under threat, whose personal and professional needs are frequently urgent. For this reason, strong leadership within the coalition is vital.
A genuine sense of rest and respite for artists under threat is facilitated through practices that are creative, thoughtful, adaptable, based on need, and ultimately grounded in fundamental human rights. To that end, the Safe Haven Prototype has implemented an artist selection process that considers a comprehensive range of factors, including but not limited to: the degree of threat faced by the artist; any past or recent trauma; the artist’s immigration, marital, and family status; their language proficiency; their experience as an artist; the impact of their practice; the ideal duration of placement; and additional financial resources or support from organizations or individuals. Further, the coalition considers the artist’s ability to engage with the host community, and whether the hosting site has the capacity to support the artist’s practice.
Following an artist’s placement in the residency program, the coalition implements practices that are based on the needs of each individual artist. Broadly, those practices are designed to provide the artist with a strong sense of community, as well as personal, legal, and professional support. The coalition works with selected artists to advance their practice, support their campaigns for social justice, and connect them with New York’s artistic and diaspora communities. Coalition members commit to generating opportunities for artists to present exhibitions, performances, screenings, or workshops, enabling the artists to more successfully support themselves through their craft. Ultimately, the program’s mission is to provide artists with a Safe Haven, rigorously support the development of their practice, and amplify their voices so they can accomplish more when they return home, do so safely, and support others who find themselves in similar situations.
Sebastien Sanz Santamaria
Sebastien Sanz Santamaria has been living and working in New York City since 2001. During this time, he has been closely involved with the artist-run organization and arts collective Flux Factory. He was Assistant Director of the International Residency Program, at Location One. In 2009, together with Nathalie Angles, he co-founded Residency Unlimited as an artist-centered organization dedicated to producing customized artist residency structures to support the creation, presentation, and dissemination of contemporary art. Present key projects include the development of an new information platform called "res" under the framework of NEW INC Incubator program, and the creation of the New York City Artist Safe Haven Prototype, a multi-organizational artist residency program designed to house, integrate, and nurture artists at risk. After completing a preparatory year at the Academie Julien, Peningen (Paris) in 1997, Sebastien received a BFA from the École de Beaux-Arts de Montpellier District in Montpellier, France.
Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria – Residency Unlimited
The New York City Artist Safe Haven Prototype – A Brief History
Conceived in 2012 during freeDimensional’s COL:LAB Collaboration Residency on Wasan Island in Ontario, Canada, The New York City Artist Safe Haven Prototype originated as a concept to address the challenges of supporting artists at risk. Representatives and stakeholders of cultural organizations having a foot in community engagement, activations of resources, and networking, convened to think-tank a new format to surpass the obstacles and complexities in all the stages of supporting artists at risk.
The convening also served as an opportunity to get a temperature reading across the field of actors present in the “in-between” space, the unique intersection between initiatives like artist residencies and the human rights led programs of providing shelter. Like-minded organizations like Residency Unlimited, freeDimensional, Queens Museum, and others, shared mutual interests and expressed needs to define a cohesive solution. The Safe Haven Prototype, as a result, placed the puzzle pieces on a table to begin building a bigger picture.
At the time, as the concept began to coalesce into a palpable format, key pieces of the puzzle remained to be activated. Housing, legal support, and most importantly, funding, were elements not fully present within the circle. While they did exist informally or in the lack there of, substituted by the limited resources of the active partners, the limitations brought on by these missing pieces inherently caused the Safe Haven Prototype to lose steam.
The project was shelved for the next five years until a drastic shift in the world climate resulted in a change of mindset across the cultural sector. The two primary resources holding the project back, housing and legal, presented themselves in the form of additional organizational partners. Westbeth Artists Housing stepped in with the desire and resources to provide housing and the Artistic Freedom Initiative, a recently formed nonprofit with the aims of providing legal / immigration services to persecuted and refugee artists, both joined to make the Safe Haven Prototype a complete and robust initiative.
An important factor to note is that the responsibilities by all the key actors within the prototype–cultural producers, human rights activists, journalists, artists, lawyers, etc–are all implementing skillsets that are natural to their missions and activities. The difference here is where the energy is being focused.
In today’s climate, the shaking or interrogation of our community’s core values to support and care for our fellows and like-minded individuals has caused this redirection. The comfort of not having to pay attention to these conditions is no longer a luxury. Complacency or neglect towards the issue are now dangerous positions to keep.
Julie Trébault is the Director of PEN America’s new Artists-at-Risk Connection project. A highly respected leader in the arts world, she brings skills, experience, and a network to launch a new support system for artists at risk worldwide. Prior to joining PEN America, she served as Director of Public Programs at the Museum of the City of New York, where she built a robust roster of panel discussions, performances, screenings, and symposia spanning New York City’s arts, culture, and history. She previously was Director of Public Programs at the Center for Architecture. Before moving to New York, she worked at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden in The Netherlands, where she built a network of 116 museums across the globe that shared a virtual collection of masterpieces and developed an innovative array of online and mobile applications and exhibitions to make the collection as widely accessible as possible. Trébault holds a Master’s Degree in Arts Administration from the Sorbonne University and a Master’s Degree in Archaeology from the University of Strasbourg.
Artist residencies are vital spaces that highlight the invaluable contributions art can bring to a community, while also acknowledging the hardships and even dangers artists can face just for doing their work. However, given the wide spectrum of residency formats, missions, and even capacity (financial, staff, policy), artist residencies take on extremely different responsibilities towards the artists they serve. Due to these variations, gaps emerge, especially when a residency is working with artists at risk. Despite the amazing and life-saving work that many artists residencies do, they are often built on a model that emerged for artists who needed space and time to create without thought to their personal safety and security. This approach sets limits for artists at risk who are persecuted, forcibly displaced, in need of a safe space from dangerous situations, or even who have come from countries experiencing active, violent conflicts. Resorting to the same model employed by traditional residencies can be detrimental to these artists in the long run.
Some of the biggest difficulties posed by the current model arise from the short and fixed duration of the residency, application criteria that often don’t take into account the outstanding circumstances of an artist at risk, and the additional burden that relocating to a foreign country. Once the residency ends, artists struggle to be fully independent in a country with a foreign language and customs. This issue is even more complex when considering the artist’s family. Most of the time art residencies are not designed to welcome family, so if artists want to move forward with a residency opportunity, they must leave their family behind and face the pressure of supporting them alone. When the family can move with the artist, they must also face the difficult process of adapting to a new environment. Another vulnerable time for artists and their relatives is when they end their residency and can be caught in a liminal period of transition that can lead to isolation. They might face difficulties finding new means of work in a new country or back home.
One possible way to alleviate these challenges would be to focus more on working with local policy makers to create and enhance laws that protect artists in their home countries, such as avoiding displacing the artist altogether and not cutting her off from family, friends or artistic audiences. When this is not possible, however, creating or identifying residencies close to the artist’s original place of residence would be a less isolating option, though only if the correct security conditions are in place. When these kinds of residency options don’t exist, we are compelled to look honestly at the long-term repercussions of residencies abroad. Residencies provide crucial support to artists by offering a safe shelter, a community and network for artists, financial resources, and more visibility. However, this support rarely lasts more than a year and it usually does not guarantee a sustainable next step for artists.
Pragmatically, it is extremely difficult for a single residency program to provide all the resources and types of support that an artist at risk needs. Defining a communal strategy and offering a concrete toolkit to guide art residencies toward welcoming more artists in danger could contribute to a more holistic and long-term effort to support artists. As I have gathered information about more than 700 organizations that serve artists at risk, a list now housed in the online hub Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) website, it is incredibly inspiring to see all the resources that already exist. However, it has also become obvious that organizations need to create synergies and find better ways to communicate despite the many challenges they are facing (lack of funding, staffing, etc.) Most of time, artists who are seeking a residency not only need shelter and community, but also legal advice, post-traumatic assistance, language classes, and much more.
Progress is already being made in this direction. New York City Safe Haven Prototype is a collaborative effort between ArtistSafety.net, Artistic Freedom Initiative, Residency Unlimited, Westbeth Artists Housing, Fordham University, and PEN America (with ARC) that acknowledges the difficulties of providing complete support to artists coming from a variety of backgrounds and types of persecution and/or danger. In response, these organizations created a multifaceted, and collective approach to residencies that include partners with specialized skills and experiences. This initiative has already provided a residency to two fellows at Westbeth Artists Housing.
We need to keep this conversation going. What are the other issues that members of the arts community have faced either when working in art residencies, trying to connect artists at risk to residencies or even identifying other resources they needed? I would love for ARC to be as involved as possible in creating a better model for artist residencies, and it starts with identifying the current model’s “blind spots.”
Born in 1976 in a suburb of Damascus and currently based in Berlin, Khaled Barakeh graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, Syria in 2005, completed his MFA at Funen Art Academy in Odense, Denmark in 2010, and finished his Meisterschueler at the Städelschule Art Academy in Frankfurt, Germany in 2013. During his stay in Europe Barakeh, originally trained as a painter, has developed a stronger focus on conceptual art practices. Today he works in a variety of media, focusing on current and pertinent issues often revolving around politics and power structures in the context of identity, culture, and history. He has exhibited at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart; the Shanghai Biennale; SALT, Istanbul; Kunsthalle Brandts, Dennark; Overgaden, Denmark; Frankfurter Kunstverein; Artspace New Zealand; and many other institutions and venues around the world. Recently, Barakeh started a new initiative called the Syria Cultural Index (syriaculturalindex.com), dedicated to mapping and connecting the Syrian artistic community around the globe and showcasing their work to wider audience.
Residencies and opportunities for artists in flight undeniably give them freedom of speech and of creative expression — something that is out of reach in their home countries. It’s highly important to have this movement going global, so that it can reach more artists and communities.
Speaking from my own experience, if I had known back in Syria that this model existed here, I might have created differently — more freely — with the hope and possibility of obtaining such a residency somewhere outside of my country. Knowing that there’s a place where you could actually get support — not only financially, but most importantly, in terms of safety – might encourage an artist to continue his or her unsafe artistic journey, hoping that doing so will allow him to access these kinds of opportunities.
As positive as it sounds, a critical question arises — by creating this opportunity, are we perhaps encouraging artists from these countries to create a provocative work, so that they might obtain a foreign residency and access a safe haven program? Ironically, in order to get to this safe haven, some artists might intentionally put themselves under threat — and who can say if that would be wrong? Even if it was somebody’s intention to obtain a residency, it also gives safe havens more recognition and creates a model for other artists and cultural institutions. In this case, bravery of entire communities is built through actions started by an individual. That’s why I think we should definitely focus on creating methods to reach artists living in endangered zones, to let them know that these initiatives exist. Lack of knowledge and opportunities are very common in these cases — sometimes, as in my own experience, they are known to artists only after they have already found themselves in Europe.
It’s crucially important to give artists under threat an opportunity to leave, but maybe we should also develop tools and connections with embassies, NGOS, and international lawyers in order to support artist within their countries of origin. This would leave them space for personal choices. Artists can join a safe haven in Europe, but they can also continue their practices and participate in advocacy work within their countries. We shouldn’t be the ones deciding what is better for the artist; we should leave this choice to them. I think the most important part of the conversation and newly found responsibilities for the art world is opening a new dialogue and seeking direction from artists.
As exciting as the opportunity of participating in a Western artist residency is, it raises questions and concerns regarding the future of an artist’s original society and art communities. When we give people a safe place to create, (these instances are inevitably connected with flight), we also somehow leave the countries of origin artless. We can already see rapid changes in the Syrian art market. Original creators and artists are being replaced with people close to the regime, which results in propaganda art and re-creating modern Syrian cultural heritage in a political way.
There is also a threat for the artist in flight, which is a lack of consistency and context. His new art can become artificially westernized, feeding the visions of foreign art markets, if not guided correctly. This situation can destroy original heritages in a way, because the production and creative process may no longer be considered local. If a Syrian artist produces art in Berlin, is it still Syrian art, or is it German? This raises questions of appropriation and of pocketing great talents and the minds of other countries… Can we, without destroying existing art practices, create a connection between local and global?
This leads to the question: couldn’t we just create safe havens within artists’ original countries, serving as places of asylum? As great as it sounds, it’s nearly impossible in countries with oppressive governments. What we can do instead is to create local networks in these places, which can act as a trustworthy focal point, joining art communities and inviting people to join, thereby creating a bigger, international movement. The institutions in these countries should allow artists to be a part of this movement as an ideology, granting them freedom of speech and expression — so we could focus on creating global awareness of this concept and bringing more people in.
New formulas of art residency clearly create some new responsibilities for art producers, artists, and all involved actors. I would say that their roles extend far beyond the residencies themselves. An alarming example that I’ve witnessed is that of artists coming to a new country and somehow being left alone. Feeling of safety is basic and crucial for art production and creative process. There should be some practices implemented in order to give artists in flight opportunities for family reunion, to help reduce the burden and doubts connected to migration to a new place and the hardship of leaving close ones behind. This way, artists would genuinely feel that they are using the residency as a safe haven not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well. We should definitely keep looking after artists far beyond the basics of obtaining a visa, granting residency, and assisting with physical issues of safety. They can, and probably will, face a variety of difficulties connected to their forced displacement, starting with the loss of their network and community, the loss of their communication tools, and by arriving in a new and unfamiliar place. By following up with artists and their careers even a residency is completed, we can create a genuine feeling of a safe haven.