POSTED 13.03.2024

Text: Adel Kim

Image: Tavrida.ART

Free interpretation of art residencies

While going through search results for "art residencies" in the Russian search engines, it is highly probable you will find  something that is not technically a residency, such as residential buildings, that can also be called "residencies" in Russian. The reason for this, however, is more complex than just the name. As has been repeatedly stated in various texts (1) on the topic of Russian art residencies, one of their key faults is the lack of a clear framework and criteria for the organizers, as well as in the understanding of residencies by art and cultural actors. This trend remains, and is reinforced at state level despite the presence of a professional community of art residencies, as well as existence of methodological recommendations and manifestos. 

Of course, there is flexibility in the understanding of residencies in an international context; depending on the cultural policy of the state, art residencies acquire specific characteristics with certain types being  more common – for example, short-term or self-funded residencies. In Russia, however, laboratories for young artists, spaces for co-working, online spaces for creative professionals, exhibition spaces, youth centers rooted in Soviet organizational models, and other things that are far from a residency in the conventional sense – a place of temporary residency and work for professionals in the field of art, culture, and science –  can be called residencies. 

The number of applications submitted to the Presidential Foundation for Cultural Initiatives (an organization which grew out of the Presidential Grants Foundation and is currently the main source of grant support for Russian non-profit cultural organizations) directly reflects how commonthe use of the collocation "art residency" has become. Since the establishment of the initiative in 2021, the Foundation received 141 applications for "art residencies", 28 of which were supported. Although some funding was awarded to professional residential initiatives, most projects had nothing to do with residencies, for example, interactive spaces for the study of traditional crafts, an ecological art park, educational courses for talented youth, and even launch of a tram or "artbus" were among the “art residencies” that also received funding.

Ambiguity of the concept of art residencies is nothing new: in the mid-to-late 2010s, art residencies could refer to online platforms of creative professionals or even hotels. In some particularly odd cases, art residencies were seen as a way to revive traditional folk crafts in small towns: Ekaterina Borovskaya, an expert in the pro-government public organization "All-Russia People's Front", suggested the concept be defined legally: "It is necessary to have a definition on the legislative level – either "art residency" or "сreative center". This will greatly contribute to the efforts of reviving old enterprises, preserving traditions, and transferring unique knowledge to young craftsmen." However, the understanding of a residency as a cultural or youth center has recently become widely accepted mainly due to the operations of the network of art residencies of the "Tavrida.ART" project. This example of a state initiative in the field of youth cultural design is disturbing in its resourcefulness and complete lack of understanding of the subject matter.

Youth forum in annexed Crimea

"Tavrida.ART" originates from the "Tavrida" forum launched in Crimea (Sudak) after the annexation of the peninsula in 2015 (however, it did not take place until 2019). The forum, presented as a platform for active, creative youth and supported by Putin, stemmed from the traditions of an earlier camp "Seliger". The key speaker at the first forum was Sergei Kiriyenko, who, at the time, was the deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration known for his commitment to technocracy and his allegiance to the very controversial methodological doctrine of Georgy Shchedrovitsky whose followers "aim to change the reality around them and are confident that society can be programmed."

"Tavrida" is listed as a project of the federal agency “Rosmolodezh”, which in turn, is part of the federal project “Youth of Russia” of the national project "Obrazovanie" and is carried out with the support of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. "Tavrida" is run by the autonomous non-profit organization "Centre for the Development of Cultural Initiatives" that has a landing page as its website. Their projects include the Tavrida.ART Festival, educational trips to Tavrida, a grant competition, and the Academy of Creative Industries "Meganom".

In the context of the project, art residencies were first mentioned at the forum in 2019. It was announced that an "art residency will be running for 5 days", while training, technique mastery, performances, and workshops were listed as its main activities. It was during this forum that a strategic session on the "development of cultural art residencies" took place. Kiriyenko, who was presiding over it, coined a preliminary understanding of art residencies that was soon picked up by other cultural representatives of federal and regional authorities. He described art residencies as "spaces where "Tavrida" participants and other creative youth could meet with established art and culture professionals, organize educational events, and implement mutual projects all year round."

Following the strategic session, it was announced that "in the future, the plan is to create an educational center, the "Art Residency Tavrida" in the framework of the forum for young cultural actors to carry on the learning process". Thus, the art residency was equated to the youth forum’s educational platform. The start of an actual construction process was announced a year later, and began in 2021 – in the same place, Cape Meganom in Crimea. The construction was met with protests from local activists due to the dangers of developing a protected area. However, it neither stopped the process nor led to any reconsiderations. This is not the only cultural construction project carried out by the state on the annexed peninsula – another cultural, educational and museum center is being built in Sevastopol with similar projects planned for Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, and Vladivostok. These centers will become the home to the branches of state museums, theaters, and educational institutions.

Federal network of "Tavrida" representatives

These new "art residencies'' are not geographically limited to Crimea. According to news reports, regional governors in Russia were encouraged to implement "art residencies'' on a regular basis after the strategic session’s introduction. Over a short period of time, representatives of a number of federal subjects announced their plans to open art residencies. In 2019, governors of the Tambov region and the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug discussed creating such initiatives in their regions. In 2020, it was announced that an art residency would be opened in the Nizhny Novgorod region, bringing together a number of existing organizations into a single "ecosystem". In 2021, a residency in Khanty-Mansiysk was launched. It had lecture halls, coworking spaces, areas for work and relaxation, a cafe, and an auditorium. The same year, "Russia’s first creative art residency "Art Station" (there is no information as to why it is branded as the "first one") opened in Ivanovo with a programme including exhibitions, concerts, and art projects. The "art residency" project of "Tavrida" involves grant support (with financing from Rosmolodezh): for example, art residency "KubanArt'' in the Krasnodar Krai received 4 million ₽ to create a "creative youth space"  with "studios, workshops, coworking space, a cafe, meeting rooms, a cinema, along with concert and exhibition halls." There are other sources of funding: 12 million ₽ was allocated to the development of the art residency "Yadro'' in Nizhnevartovsk by the deputies of the local Duma.

In recent years, the actual number of "art residencies" has increased significantly, particularly due to existing organizations changing their names, or to the emergence of "art residencies" as a popular activity for an institution to pursue. According to the "Tavrida.ART" website, as of today (March 2024), the federal network includes 67 residencies from 39 regions of Russia. However, only 18 of those are called "art residencies", the rest range from "youth centera" to "coworking spaces" and "art clusters." According to the website, 700 residents have undergone free training (however, there is no information on what type of training it was). 

It is clear that "art residences" are independent organizations, not branches of the "Tavrida" or each other. However, according to Sergei Pershin, the head of "Tavrida", they are its ambassadors: "We are building mini-Tavridas in the regions of our country. […] We do not have infrastructure – instead, we have a team that we are coaching, and they, together with us, disseminate our ideas, and work to ensure that the creative economy starts to thrive in the regions."

Art residencies as "multifunctional creative spaces"

According to the information available on the website of the federal network, residencies are "multifunctional creative spaces that promote the development of creative initiatives and industries in the regions of the country." On the same webpage, there are announcements about funding calls (no active ones at the moment). Eligibility criteria for becoming a residency include proper premises, functioning team, as well as activities focusing on creativity and "opportunities for creators to implement their projects." This means that according to the standards of the federal network, any organization involved in cultural activities or the creative economy that has its own space and production resources can be considered an art residency. The federal network of "art residencies" itself is defined as an ecosystem. This information is also included in the official statement (undated and unsigned) posted on the website.

This concludes the description of the network and its activities on the website. More information about the operations of specific "art residencies" can be found on their websites (even though not all the residencies have them) or social media accounts. For example, art residency "Na beregu" in Khanty-Mansiysk describes itself as a place designed to "bring together under its roof the brightest representatives of creative professions and entrepreneurs in the field of art, music and crafts." Among the events they organize are screenings, yoga lessons, amateur theater performances, exhibitions – simply put, everything that fits the description of the activities of the regional community center. The "Art Station" in Ivanovo, which I already mentioned, looks more professional. However, judging by the information available on their website (their social media channels have not been updated since 2022), they only organize exhibitions at their venue. The "TAG" art residency in Yakutsk describes itself as a group of talented artists and performers who support emerging actors in the field of art and culture. In the organizers’ words: "Currently, we have 11 permanent residents working for us. Alongside the residency programme, we host art parties, workshops, exhibitions, lectures, and other educational events for local residents." The activities of "art residencies" are very diverse. However, they have very little in common with the work of residencies in the generally accepted sense of the term.

In the local media, there are some curious pieces of information: for example, in an interview dedicated to creation of the "Mayak" residency on Sakhalin island, its curator Alexander Muschenko directly states that art residencies are an established format for working with art professionals, but "what is happening on Sakhalin today does not exactly follow this model. It is more of an art cluster, a group of creative units that are mutually beneficial for each other and that bring some added value when working together." Apparently, the organizers are aware that what they are doing does not fall under the category of art residencies, but they choose to turn a blind eye.

"Workshops for creative actors were incorporated in the design of the "Mayak" from the very beginning. They will be allocated based on the results of an open call. We will then provide the studios, equipment, and materials on preferential conditions – easel, right lighting, paints. Come in, create. We are also working on a dance studio and theater rehearsal room. There will be a certain number of residents who can access these facilities. These residents will pay the rent and offer training according to the schedule agreed on, in advance." This is how Muschenko describes the logic behind the project: an artist comes to a place where local actors help them in the "promotion" of their work, for which the artist is expected to pay interest, in the spirit of commercial endeavors and creative industries. The project looks commercial and does not correspond to the goals and logic of art residencies. Off-the-record feedback from the residents about "Mayak" is disappointing.

Professional art residencies in Russia

Meanwhile, art residencies that correspond to the international definition of the concept (and standards, in some cases) have been operating in Russia for more than 15 years. In 2019, when the “Tavrida'' initiative was launched, the first forum of the Association of Artistic Residencies of Russia, took place at the Museum of History of Yekaterinburg, bringing together more than 20 initiatives. By the time the second forum took place, it was a part of an international conference "The Art and Practice of Hospitality" in Vyksa in 2021, there were more than 30 operating residencies. Some of them have already celebrated, or will soon celebrate a decade of operation –   sufficient time to accumulate some experience in the field. There have been a number of articles published on the state of Russian residencies over the past years. However, this information was not taken into account, or was deliberately ignored, when launching the federal network.

Regardless, it is important to note that a dialogue between residencies from different "worlds" does exist. For example, some of the representatives of the federal network participated in the second residency forum in Vyksa – the library and art residency "Shkaf" (St. Petersburg), "TAG" (Yakutsk), and "Polaris" (Salekhard). The latter one hosted an exhibition curated by the chairman of the Association of Artistic Residencies, Zhenya Chaika, based on the results of a nomadic residency. The "ARKA" Centre for Contemporary Art hosted curated an art residency in the Arkhangelsk Youth Centre (part of "Tavrida" network) in 2021-2023, providing an opportunity for many professional artists to work there. The Centre was closed after the  director and curator made statements against the full-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

The devil is in the details

As becomes clear from the information provided above, that the concept of "art residency" in relation to youth policy was initially borrowed and then interpreted freely, leading to a broad understanding of the term and its meaning to include almost anything that has to do with creative economy and youth. The experience of existing international and Russian residencies was ignored, although local professional residencies had existed for a decade before the "Tavrida" was launched and kept contact with each other. The representatives of the "traditional" residencies were not present during the strategic sessions of the first years (co-organisers of the Association of Artistic Residencies of Russia first participated for the first time in the federal network meeting in 2022).

In all honesty, if the "Tavrida" founders would have chosen a different title for their regional expansion project, as a researcher of art residencies, I would not have even written about it, since it has almost nothing to do with the residencies of my focus area. "Art residencies" of the federal network do not have any limitations when it comes to the duration of a typical stay for professional residencies; they provide neither accommodation nor work grant; they do not cover the cost of materials or offer curatorial support. Most of these projects offer workshops and studios for "residents", as well as educational programmes, and creative competitions. An important element inherent in both formats is the creation of a space for communication though, obviously, this is very different depending on the residency type. "Art residencies" are shifting their focus from supporting professionals in the fields of  art, culture and science, to youth, children, and wider (not always professional) audiences, in addition they also have, to some extent,  begun to perform educational functions. The organizations that have emerged or undergone changes within the federal network represent an autonomous interpretation of the format that pursues the goal of providing opportunities for the  "realization of creative talent" on the federal level. At the same time, "Tavrida" provides financial resources for regional youth and culture initiatives that professional art residencies could only dream of. The logical assumption here is that at least some of these youth and culture organizations changed their names to "art residencies" and joined the network having made  only minor, or no changes to their activities  simply to get access to funding. With this financial support, organizations update their infrastructure, programming, and find new audiences. Active youth are interested in the development of the creative economy, and industries support and nurture the existence of  "art residencies".

It is undeniable that projects for young people are very important and, apparently, quite popular. It seems we can avoid confusion and misunderstandings if we simply take into account the different contexts and target audiences of professional residencies and "art residencies" of  "Tavrida". In practice, however, this is not so easy. Professional residencies, "Tavrida " “residencies” and other "alternatives" not only use the same title, but also similar language and programme descriptions. This can be very confusing for professional artists and creative workers, especially those who are looking to apply for their first residency programme. 

While professional residencies strive to support the activities of their residents on a non-commercial basis (although there are certain issues and exceptions here, such as the practice of residencies keeping artists’ work for their collection after the end of the residency period), the "Tavrida" residencies offer work on contractual commercial terms, among their offered services. Creative professionals and contemporary artists in particular,  work in precarious conditions and can end up in vulnerable situations if they do not know their rights. Working with the representatives of the "creative industry" can result in artist exploitation. 

In the "Youth Policy Implementation Strategy in the Russian Federation until 2030" issued by the Ministry of Education and Science in January 2024, art residencies appear as a synonym for creative spaces. This demonstrates how people with no experience in the residency field, make decisions about the format and define it on the legislative level. There is a risk that this altered understanding of residencies, by analogy with creative industries, will be widely adopted since it is fixed in legislative documents. In the most unpleasant scenario, they can turn into organizations supporting the rhetoric of the country’s  "own path", adherence to "traditional values" and other tenets of state propaganda.

It is unlikely that this parallel coexistence and diplomatic silence about the mutual non-compliance to descriptions and goals, with regards to the criteria of these two types of Russian residencies, will last forever. Fortunately, there is no threat to the work of professional residency organizations at the moment, other than censorship, lack of funding and governmental support, brain drain, and other issues caused by the current national situation.

(1) Zhenya Chaika. The General Mapping of Artistic Residences in Russia; Adel Kim. Portrait in Context. General Overview of Russian Art Residencies in 2021