Thursday, September 2, 2010

Residency Program Case Study: Victoria and Albert Museum

Janet Petitpas, Senior Associate, London 

Many museums host residency programs as a means of connecting the public with working local artist, scientist, and crafts people and also as a tool for breathing life into their collections. For example, a collection of stained glass is animated through the presence of an artist creating or repairing a window in the gallery and causes visitors to view the collection in new ways. 

Residency programs have the potential of myriad positive rewards. Successful residencies can link the museum to artisan populations and have the potential of grounding collections and displays within working professionals and hobbyists in the community. Creating a residency program also involves careful planning, including the process of developing program goals, developing the selection process for residents, monitoring process against goals, and thinking carefully about the components of the resident contract, including their interaction with the public. In general, residency programs involve a professional (artist, scientist, writer, etc.) spending time in the galleries and being accessible to the public, running a number of public programs, explaining their craft, and frequently working with the public on a piece that will remain in the Museum’s collection. It is important that the resident have a dedicated place to work and that there is something (beyond putting the residency on their resume/CV) of benefit to both the resident and the institution. 

The Victoria and Albert offers a rich residency program that we find particularly interesting as some residents work on the exhibit floor in public studios, which provides a public interface between the artist and visitor. In effect, the resident becomes an exhibit themselves and their work becomes a dynamic changing component on the exhibition floor. 

In order to learn more, we’ve conducted a question and answer session with Juliette Fritsch, Head of Gallery Interpretation, Evaluation and Residencies, about what it takes to conduct one of these programs and what the costs and benefits are. 

Q: When did you begin your residency program? A: June 2008 

Q: What types of residencies do you have? A: The residencies are selection of artists, designers and makers who work across a range of disciplines, for example jewellery, graphic art, ceramics, architecture. The Residents are usually mid-career although we do have a Ceramics strand which is specifically for newly-emerging makers, and we have also welcomed Residents who are well established and respected in their own fields if not widely. 

Q: How many residents to you have per year? A: Up to 6. 

Q: What is required of the residents? A: They are asked to spend 6 months at the V&A where they can research the collections for inspiration and skills development, of this they spend about 25 days working as an artist educator with the V&;A's visitors through innovative events and activities and a rolling programme of open studios. 

Q: What does the Museum provide? A: A studio for 6 months, digital resources, training, mentoring, a budget for equipment and materials, access to curators and the collections, access the Museums resources and behind the scenes, such as the stores, free entry to UK museums and galleries and special exhibitions, access to the wider museum resources including workshops and the National Art Library. Specialist support from our Learning department in developing skills working with particular audiences. 

Q: What has been your biggest success story? It's very difficult to identify specific successes as the programme is new and you can only really start seeing the clear outcomes of the residencies about a year later. One of our first Residents, Jo Lawrence (digital media) went on to make a short animation inspired by her time here in 2008, which was short listed for the Short Film category of the British Animation Awards 2010. 

Q: What are the biggest challenges? A: Managing the expectations of the artists who are used to working very freely. The museum is a very large public organisation with many processes and formalities in place. Artists often find this challenging and frustrating. On the flip side, the artists find the wealth of opportunity exciting and inspiring, and sometimes difficult to choose from all the avenues of adventure they could follow during their time here. 

Q: What advice would you give a colleague who is thinking about starting a residency program? A: Go for it - the outcomes and the experience is fantastic for everyone involved. Plan ahead for administrative purposes and try to make things happen for creative outputs. Flexibility is key. 

Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest benefits of having a residency program? A: - Connecting with the Creative Industries / contemporary artists and designers. - Inspiring visitors to work with artists and to better understand the creative process. - Seeing artists make a great success of their time on and after the programme. - Working closely with curatorial departments. - Seeing how the collections might be used for research in a wide variety of ways. 

Q: How has the program benefited the organization and helped to achieve overall organizational goals? A: - Working with artists and designer / the creative industries. - Making the process of creative thinking more transparent. - Establishing a network of high quality artist educators for learning programmes. - Supporting creative learning through design. - Inspiring visitors through innovative events and activities working directly with the artist. 

As programs that offer many dividends, residencies are popular and can be found at many museums. For inspiration about starting your own residency program, see the following links: Corning Museum of Glass Performance Residencies at the New Museum and the Hammer Museum 

Other Resources: Art Journal Article about Residencies

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