Last week I attended the Alliance of Artists Communities annual conference in Portland, Oregon, with my organization, the Rauschenberg Residency, a program of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation*. The Alliance is an international association of artist residencies who gather annually to share advice, network, and advance the field together. I’d like to share what I learned as a residency administrator, but also as a contemporary craft artist and metalsmith and how it can be applied to our field.
The conference opened with what would become major overarching themes of the week – seeking out balance and equity in the field; redefining “excellence”; and highlighting the gap between access and inclusion. The Alliance’s new Executive Director, Lisa Hoffman, began with a call to all of us to improve the inequities still thriving in the residency field as a whole. Elizabeth Woody, a Native poet from Portland, opened with an acknowledgement of the people on whose land we were gathered – including the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, and Chinook Indigenous people who were colonized and displaced by Europeans. This introduction was repeated frequently throughout the conference – something I think we should all strive to include in the gatherings in our own towns and cities. Writer Lidia Yuknavitch followed with a moving reading about the talented students she has worked with as a professor at the Mount Hood Community College. She shared a message that excellence can come from the “bottom” up – from people who have spent time in jail, from the homeless, from illegal immigrants – and that it is our responsibility to keep an eye out for their talents and not to pass everyone through a lens that only celebrates those from a certain background, a certain level of education, or a certain aesthetic. We, as human beings, are all pieces of each other and it is our responsibility to lift each other up.
Over the next several posts, I will work through what were for me the highlights of the conference, thematically: Redefining the Residency, Community Engagement & Social Practice, and Diversity Versus Inclusion.
*This article was written by Jessica Todd in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Rauschenberg Residency or the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.