Arts residencies are a growing ecosystem across the world

 Arts residencies are a growing ecosystem across the world

Saurabh Tankha

Though not many are aware of the concept of art residencies, these are organisations that support artists, which are hosted either privately or by a not-for-profit organisation. There are several programmes that many artists can apply for or are invited to throughout the course of the year in which artists spend time – anything between a week to a few months – away from their studios.

Residencies are not a new phenomenon in India. However, they are still limited in number and restricted to a few cities. Contemporary urban arts residencies, such as Dharti, are a rapidly developing ecosystem within the arts. While each residency has its specific aim and purpose driving it, the larger idea behind residencies in general is to provide space, infrastructure, and support for artists outside a formal institutional framework. They allow for more practical education, and an opportunity to engage with a network of artists and cultural practitioners, while reflecting on their own practices.

In India, residencies are naturally more appealing to artists because infrastructure is scant. Sales of contemporary art are weak compared to most other countries, even those in West Asia, despite a vibrant tradition of art education. As a result, residencies become an invaluable resource for artists.

Serendipity Arts Foundation is conducting the second edition of Dharti Residency with artist Manisha Parikh, curator-artist Riyas Komu, curator and associate editor, Marg Latika Gupta and PHOTOINK director Devika Daulet-Singh as jury members. The highlight of the curriculum include a walk to Old Delhi and around the Lodhi Art District, studio visit to Thukral and Tagra, two weeks of internships is offered to the artists and the artists get to display their work for the audience in the last two weeks of the residency. spoke with Serendipity Arts Foundation/ Festival director Smriti Rajgarhia on how art residencies are changing the art scene in India, their success and their future


How successful have art residencies been and how many exist in India?
It’s difficult to ascertain the “success” of residencies, apart from the fact that a number of them have managed to survive for years. Similarly, many others have shut down. Being a space of respite – to literally stop and think – the market-oriented success model doesn’t apply to residency spaces. A majority of them do not insist on an “outcome” from artists. Thus no sales figure or exhibition footfall can help quantify their impact. Residencies aim instead to provide a space for artists to pause, consider their practice, enter into discussions with peers and experts, find fresh perspectives. It is these non-quantifiable elements, crucial for an artistic practice to flourish, that make residencies significant and mark their difference from galleries and other commercial art institutions. It is difficult to pinpoint a number of residencies in India – there are many of them, including some better known ones such as KHOJ Peers Residency, Pepper House Residency, Piramal Artists’ Residency and CONA among others.

How can art residencies help in changing the art scene in the country?
Arts residencies, particularly those that are for younger/emerging artists, provide a space for art practice to flourish outside of a structured educational institutional framework. Also, residencies are not necessarily about skill-based learning; rather, they allow artists to interact with their peers, as well as with senior practitioners from their field, and establish a support system while becoming part of the art network, and develop their art practice in unconventional spaces.

Tell us about Serendipity Arts Foundation and how it works?
Serendipity Arts Foundation aims to promote new cultural partnerships, creative strategies, and artistic interventions that are responsive to the social and cultural milieu of South Asia. Committed to innovation, the Foundation intends to support, promote, and create platforms for creativity, providing the wider public with a unique source of contemporary art and culture. The Foundation’s programmes are designed and initiated through collaborations with creative partners across a multitude of fields, and are aimed at using the arts as a means to impact education, social initiatives, and community development, with a strong focus on interdisciplinarity.

How was the response to the first edition of Dharti Residency?
The first edition began as a surprise success since it was a creative experiment from our end. We created a structure based on advice from our curators and collaborators, and secondary research about other residencies from across the world. Even after it began, it was an immense learning process and continues to be one – we got some constructive feedback from the artists, which have been incorporated into the second edition.

Do art fairs, being increasingly held all over India, help in promoting arts and artists in India?
Art fairs are commercial in nature – they are meant to be a space for galleries and museums to promote the artists they represent, and for the artists’ works to be sold. The audience, therefore, is also very specific. So commercially speaking, art fairs definitely occupy an important space in the art world. SAF, on the other hand, is a not-for-profit organisation, so Serendipity Arts Festival does not have the same nature as an Art Fair would – it is free, and its intent is not to be a platform for selling art. However, all platforms, be they commercial or non-commercial in nature, do help is promoting artists and their work.

Why is it that despite producing world-class artists who are revered globally, we are unable to help art reach the place it should have had?
For the Indian art scene to make a mark internationally, it needs to fit within a framework of sustainability, which we believe comes from continual patronage. This is a long process, and requires systemic change in mindset – people need to see value in the arts. The culture of patronising the arts is one that needs to be developed further, and the public and private sector need to work together to support the arts  – whether monetarily, educationally, or infrastructurally.

Future of art residencies in India…
Arts residencies are a growing ecosystem across the world. The fact that they are developing in India, slowly but surely, is a great step in the right direction. They are being seen as legitimate alternate spaces for artists to work. We hope that more residencies develop across the country, especially across the arts – for performing arts, culinary arts, writing, criticism, film – all creative disciplines.


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