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Artist residencies in Rochester

ART: A separate piece 

Artist residencies in Rochester

I don't know how many artists in Rochester make their living solely from their artwork, but life being what it is, it's certainly not the easiest endeavor. So working artists cram their passions where they fit, between day jobs and second jobs and perhaps parenting duties, and amid all of the little details that must be attended to. But depending on your craft, set up and clean up may take a chunk of the time you had reclaimed to make art. And there's the consideration of space to work in, and having access the proper facilities, such as a kiln, or even good lighting. In this story, we peek into three local institutions that host artists-in-residence, providing creators the time, space, and resources necessary to simply focus on creating.

While researching this story, I found evidence of some now-defunct residencies, and the odd visiting-artist programs hosted by local universities, but it seems only three true residency programs currently exist: Visual Studies Workshop hosts artists regularly; the Genesee Center for the Arts and Education has a very structured program for ceramicists, photographers, and book artists; and The Yards Collaborative Art Space just began experimenting with a residency program this summer.

How the residencies benefit artists is fairly obvious, and they can be particularly attractive to artists who have just emerged from the university setting into the wide, expensive, competitive art world, sans facilities or space to work. Almost unanimously, sources for this article spoke of artists "exploding" at the residencies, their production surge reflecting the ideas they had welling up for god-knows-how-long. But residencies also serve the institution in a variety of ways, particularly if the institution has students who can learn from the working artist.

The Multi-Residency Center: Genesee Center for the Arts and Education

Genesee Pottery's ceramic-artist residency program has been in action for about 15 years, says Director Kate Whorton. The center advertizes the opportunity by placing an ad in Ceramics Monthly magazine, and selects residents from a nationwide pool of applicants. Considerations include the caliber of the artists' work, and what they will need in terms of space and facilities.

The Genesee Center currently hosts three ceramics residents at Genesee Pottery. The center's Community Darkroom hosted its first resident artist in photography this past year, and the Printing and Book Arts Center will host its first residency this year.

Ceramics residents receive free work space for one year (September through the end of August), materials at cost, and 24/7 access to the building. In return they are asked to commit 15 hours of work per week at the studio, including three hours of teaching, five hours of watching the gallery, and studio duties such as mixing clay, mixing glazes, mopping, and firing work.

Many applicants are candidates in fine-arts programs who require space and time to develop a serious body of work with which they will apply to increasingly competitive graduate programs. Candidates for a masters of fine arts programs "are often a different breed of animal," says Whorton, "because they really are assured artists, they are ready to go out in the world and create work. And that's really where Andrew [Cho] was when he came here. He was fully fledged, ready to launch himself," she says.

Cho is a recent graduate of the Genesee Center's residency program. "After graduate school, I needed a new studio," says Cho, who in the previous few years had moved from the University of Florida, to San Diego State, to Georgia State. "I wanted to move to a smaller city, something with old bones, and somewhere way far north since I had exclusively lived in the South." Cho says he heard positive things about the center from friends who had been resident artists there.

"Genesee Center offered me unfettered access to all of the facilities and equipment," says Cho. "Ceramics requires a lot of toys and a lot of space, so starting a home studio, especially straight out of college, is prohibitively expensive. Our arrangement let me skip over that part. In return, the pottery received a grateful worker who helped to keep the place running smoothly," he says.

Cho resolved to be self-employed in order to devote his full energies to developing his skills. "I branched out into functional ceramics, which previously played second fiddle to sculpture, and I learned oodles because of it," he says. "I also met a fantastic lot of people who became not only close friends, but also provided the artistic and conceptual support which all-too-easily can evaporate outside of school."

The constantly changing line-up of artists brings fresh blood to the local art community, in terms of technical expertise and creative practice. Cho did two back-to-back residencies at Genesee Pottery, and one of the three current residents, Hannah Thompsett, is beginning her second residency this month. Thompsett says she has enjoyed being around people who are constantly creating. Her body of work, "Potentiality," took ephemeral forms from complex geometric-patterned drawings, to a wall made of connected folded paper forms, to jewel-like geometric forms slip-cast from different shapes made from the folded paper. The artist plans to use this fresh session to further explore the body of work she developed this past year. (The Genesee Center is located at 713 Monroe Ave. For more information visit geneseearts.org or call 244-1730.)

The School House residence: Visual Studies Workshop

Visual Studies Workshop has been holding residencies since the 1970's, says Director Tate Shaw. The Prince Street graduate school and publishing house offers an MFA in visual studies, as well as other classes and exhibitions, and also boasts an apartment and workspace for resident artists. Over the years, many renowned artists have been VSW residents, perhaps most notably photographer Robert Frank, who made a 16mm film with students that was funded by New York State Council on the Arts. Other past residents' projects have been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Nimoy Foundation. VSW sometimes also receives support from private foundations.

For the past several years, Shaw has invited artists with intriguing projects to participate in residencies that range from two weeks to six months long, depending on the nature of the project. VSW looks for artists interested in experimenting with visual form, typically in the media arts fields of photography, film, video, and books.

Resident artists receive varying levels of funding, and space to work and live. They work with students, may exhibit their work, and often engage with the wider community through a lecture or a public forum. Very commonly, a book project comes of it, says Shaw. Most recently, VSW hosted Brenda Ann Kenneally, who worked at the Workshop from November to May on her "Upstate Girls" project, which seeks to document and tell the story of a specific group of impoverished people eking out an existence in Troy.

Hosting national or international artists who see Rochester with fresh eyes has the potential to alter the way we see our own city, and ourselves, and the way we live and work. Students also benefit from this critical engagement — current MFA student John Lake was Kenneally's assistant during her residency. (For more information on Visual Studies Workshop visit vsw.org or call 442-8876.)

The DIY residency: The Yards Collaborative Art Space

October marks the two-year anniversary of The Yards Collaborative Art Space, a two-room studio tucked above the Flour City Bread Co. at the Rochester Public Market. The Yards initiated its residency program when co-founding artists Sarah C. Rutherford and Lea Rizzo realized that they wanted the spot to operate more as a makers' space. And having benefitted from two separate residencies at the Vermont Art Center, Rutherford knew how crucial these kinds of programs can be. "Residencies, just like grad school, are all about what you bring to it," she says. "It's not something that's handed to you, it's all about you, it just provides you the time to focus."

The Yards transitioned smoothly from its second year of serving as mission control for the Wall\Therapy street-art festival in July to hosting the first of its two back-to-back, two-week residencies. "Actually, [Belgian artist] ROA was technically our first resident artist," says Rutherford. The Wall\Therapy muralist stayed for a week after this year's festival, using the facilities to paint his piece for the Wooster Collective's 10-year anniversary show to be held in New York City's Jonathan LeVine Gallery.

Because The Yards doesn't offer room-and-board accommodations at this point, the hosts selected fairly local artists for its first residencies. Abstract painter Nate Hodge of Brockport, illustrator Dylan Staib of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, illustrator and painter Shawnee Hill of Canandaigua, and spray-painter Mr. Prvrt of Rochester made up the first residency group, working alongside one another from August 1 through August 15.

Organizers sent a basic application around their network of friends and supporters, calling for potential residents. A $200 sliding-scale donation in support of the space was requested, along with a minimum of 25 hours spent creating in the space. In return residents received a key and 24-hour access, exposure during Public Market hours, a small-group, intimate critique night, and feedback from guest visitors, including Jessica Marten, curator of American art at Memorial Art Gallery, and Rosa Arnone, Director of Art & Vintage on Main in East Rochester.

Painter Kristina Kaiser, who interned at The Yards last summer, served as director of the residency program, and took a turn as a resident the second round, which ran August 18 through September 1. Both Staib and Hill stayed on for the second session; Hill is working on finely detailed, haunting portraits of beautiful women for her first solo show, which opens at St. John Fisher's Laverly Library in October. The second group also featured woodworker and metalsmith Davya Brody, a nurse practitioner and former full-time artist who has been inching back into creating by using the woodshop at The Yards once a week since February. The organizers at the Yards are considering hosting writers, musicians, dancers, and others in future residencies. (For more information on The Yards, visit attheyards.com.)

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