From a conversation with Nathalie Anglès on 10th November 2016 in Brooklyn, New York.
Nathalie Anglès is co-founder and executive director of Residency Unlimited (RU).
RU is a Brooklyn based not for profit arts organisation that fosters customised residencies for artists and curators and yearlong public programs. She studied political science and history at Brown University and Institut d’Etude Politiques in Paris and is a graduate of the École du Magasin Independent curatorial program (Le Magasin – CNAC Grenoble) Nathalie worked previously in NY as Director of Location One’s International Residency Program (2000-2008). Previous positions also include: Sotheby’s (London) Impressionist and Modern art department, cataloguer. In Paris, American Center, Director of the Residency Program; curatorial assistant, Ecole des Beaux Arts (ENSBA) followed by curatorial assistant at Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs (UCAD). In 2008, Nathalie received the title of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government.
I call myself a super secretary. That’s what I am. After having done curatorial studies, whatever, I’m a super secretary. That’s what I’ve evolved into sending hundreds of emails each day and responding to requests. (Laughter)
Previously to the founding of Residency Unlimited, I was working at Location One which was an international residency programme based in Soho, New York. I had arrived in New York in 2000 from Paris and I was lucky to join a new organisation more or less as soon as I arrived to build an international residency programme with a studio program. My assistant at the time was Sebastian Sanz de Santamaria who then left Location One in 2008 with me to co- found RU in 2009.
With RU I decided to develop a different model to the conventional studio programme, taking into consideration that in in New York City there were other studio programs in place that had existed for a long time. I envisioned a new residency model that would respond to the context of the City where there are so many overlapping networks. The name Residency Unlimited results from the unlimited possibilities that New York City as a context offers.
RU was founded in July 2009. We are a small not for profit arts organisation with four full time staff. In 2010 we moved to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn which is our current location, in a space inside the knave of a deconsecrated church building. Our workspace is a shared one and also functions as an event space where we host two to four monthly public programs. As part of the residency experience, each resident receives an exposure opportunity showcasing new work by being part of a group exhibition or an event.
In 2017 we hosted residencies for59 residents. On average there are15 artists and one to two curators at all times for ten months each year from February until end of November, the remaining months are dedicated to preparing the following year. Residencies generally last 2 to 6 months and the selection process varies from open calls, mainly issued for American and New York based artists to panels that select international artists,which are set up by the international institutional funders (who do an open call in their country from which we select a finalist). Artists are also invited to apply to RU directly. We work with artists with a wide range of practices and at all stages of their career. This diversity is essential particularly in a context like New York City where there is not only a concentration of galleries and major art institutions but also a great many spaces that are dedicated to experimental practices. New York is definitely not just about the art market – quite the contrary.
When we first founded RU our priority was to think creatively about infrastructure in the context of a city where studio programs as I previously mentioned already existed. Questions we raised were:
– Is it necessary to have a permanent site or even to own one?
– What kinds of facilities are necessary within a residency framework?
– Is it possible to work collaboratively within a residency program framework?
– How can resources be shared with other institutions?
RU’s mission is defined by two core features – Customising the individual residency experience and an actively led strategy of resource sharing through partnerships we set up with local organisations (and beyond). Both are central to the RU working methodology.
Customisation begins prior to the artists’ arrival. We contact each artist before their residency starts to identify goals and objectives and who they want to meet. This tailored approach is shaped by the residents’ individual needs, which are generally project driven and or research based, network and/or production focused – and sometimes all of the above. Last year we invited 180 guest visitors to meet each artist individually and to provide critical feedback to participating artists– this is a remunerated service, and in each case our aim is to match artistic and curatorial interests. Our curators in residence also come with very specific requests not only to meet artists but curatorial peers and organisations. Each resident shall meet at least one person per week and sometimes more.
The type of project realisation assistance we offer varies in complexity and ambition from organising a performance of 13 musicians on the High Line, making a film of an artist riding a horse on Broadway in New York, to video workshops for artists who want to expand their practice, or project for new work featured in our group exhibitions. Exhibitions generally are organised in partnering venues and we invite local curators to come up with a concept each time. The curators we approach are asked to come up with a concept once they have met the artists so in a way it is a reverse process to how curators generally proceed Lastly the RU staff organises multiple activities to foster community building activities amongst our roster of artists with monthly welcome breakfasts, happy hours, curatorial lunches, field trips etc.
RU’s second core feature is our partnering methodology. Through collaboration, we are able to access resources other than our own such as individual studios and exhibition spaces but also content driven resources. Our collaborators include other residency programs, academic settings such as the Dept of Art and Design at Montclair University, SVA, community based organisations such as Casita Maria Center for Art and Education in the South Bronx, Visual Aids, Kings County Center Hospital and Charles O Dewey middle school. Each partnership is unique. Many of them are ongoing but we are constantly on the look out for new possibilities.
We support many different types of practices and projects and many of these projects are realised within an unconventional residency setting, where project assistance and community engagement are closely intertwined and often overlap.
Another good example of what we do isa daylong symposium that RU organised in February 2017 at the New School/Parsons in New York. Each year, we organise a panel that investigates the state of the field of art residencies You can find audio and video recordings about these panels on our website under the section Dialogues- a platform that intends to collect information about the state of art residencies worldwide. This year’s symposium was titled “Embedding, Embedded: Artist Residencies, Urban Place making and Social Practice”and examined current models of artist residencies that are embedded within non traditional settings such as governmental and municipal agencies, corporations, prisons, hospitals and other. RU is developing initiatives of the kind amongst its residency activities. We invited the curator Livia Alexander to organise it and worked closely together to invite a representative array of speakers.
Whereas conventional residencies are typically viewed as spaces of retreat where artists focus on creating art in their studio away from everyday life, unconventional residency settings such as RU generally require artists to break away from isolation, participate in daily praxis and actively deploy agency and talent to address problems that are pressing. In this case artists are generally sought after as problem solvers.
It is fair to say that such a partnering strategy requires flexibility and mobility on the part of participating artists as well as effective administrative skills on our part. In some cases RU artists will navigate between RU and a collaborating institution (if they need their own studio space for example, we outsource it in another studio program with whom we have established formal partnership, in exchange for services we render). This collaborative methodology simultaneously activates the multiple layers that exist in New York city and benefits all parties involved, artists and organisations involved In our 8 years of existence, we have generated an incredibly wide footprint, reaching out to different communities well beyond RU’s primary audience of artists and art professionals.
When I look back I am amazed how much we have grown since 2009 when we started our residency with one brave artist (our mascot) and a budget of $10,000. The international art community tends to think that our organisation is much larger than it really is and although our budget has grown it is still considered very small ny American non profit standards.
The residency benefits vary tremendously and this is another conversation we can have. For a young artist, often what they say is that this residency gives them confidence because they have to show their work to so many different people with varying positions that they learn how to present their practice. Mid-career artists on the other hand are interested in the possibility of getting access to specific art professionals.
Residency Unlimited supports the creative process and promotes exchange through its unique residency program and year-round public programs. Moving beyond the traditional studio model, RU forges strategic partnerships with collaborating institutions to offer flexible and customised residencies designed to meet the individual goals, needs and visions of local and international artists and curators. RU is particularly committed to promoting multidisciplinary practices and building lasting connections between residents and the broader arts community.
Image: Residency Unlimited building in Court Street, Brooklyn