How did the NAARCA collective come into being?
Leena Kela (Executive Director, Saari Residence, Finland): The NAARCA project stems from a common concern and frustration in relation to the ways in which the environmental crisis is impacting the arts sector on one side, and the ways in which the arts sector is itself responding to the crisis. Artists’ residencies are exceptional institutions within the sector, in as much as they have the opportunity to test, practice and evaluate new types of behaviour and new lifestyles in a controlled environment where private, professional and public life intertwine.
In November 2020, Cove Park’s then CEO, Francesca Bertolotti-Bailey visited Saari Residence in Finland. She was outlining a new inquiry for the residency focusing on the climate crisis. For the past year, we at Saari Residence had been working intensively in improving our ecological sustainability by having a coordinator for an ecological residency programme working with us. Ecological, social and mental sustainability is the focus of our current strategy and our aim is to provide a place and context for finding and sharing sustainable ways of living and working. When we met with Francesca, we immediately recognised that we share a common ambition: we both had been looking for possible collaborators to work with – to share and to learn together – and we also got along really well. The result of our first meeting was that we decided to invite other residencies in the Nordic region to work with us. We were looking for residencies who would share the same ambition, but who are also all unique in their own approach, coming from their geographical location and different ways of operating.
What is the plan for the collaboration?
LK: The main focus of the project is to collectively delineate, practice, monitor, evaluate and further develop a series of practical actions, both internally and externally, for each institution to test and perform. We started working together by defining what each of our residencies is interested in doing and achieving in relation to the climate emergency. Each of us have different residency profiles, where some of us focus on working with our local communities while others produce larger scale art projects or provide the time and space to develop artistic practice. As the network includes institutions of all sizes, with different remits and scopes of action, the partners won’t enforce reciprocity, but rather operate on the basis of infrastructure generosity and asymmetry.
We designed a group of activities of the NAARCA project, which include staff and residency exchanges, new art commissions, new writing and podcast commissions and producing digital resources for learning. Each partner is free to decide, depending on needs, skills and capacity, which elements of the partnership to undertake. We formed subgroups, which took responsibility of the different activities. Sharing knowledge and co-learning are at the centre of the project. We meet online once a month as a whole group and in-between the meetings, the subgroups are progressing with their activities. Once the planning and preparation leads to concrete actions, we start to communicate, share and disseminate our process and findings, so as to positively influence our local communities, transnational communities of interest and the arts and culture sector as a whole.
What do the residencies have in common, and how are they distinct from each other?
LK: What we have in common is a need to act for change. We understand that residencies have specific roles and potential in the art ecosystem – to be sites, where sustainable ways of living and making art can be tested, implemented and reflected as life and art are interconnected in the residency context. Residencies allow time and space for changing one’s artistic habits and thinking and residencies themselves are always shaped by those who live and work there. One can think that residencies are sensors, which collect signals and progress them into new collective knowledge. The NAARCA project is a way to utilise that knowledge and share it between each other.
As residencies, we are different in scale, programmes and, of course, geographical locations. Climate change is challenging us differently, for example in terms of melting glaciers, the landslides caused by heavy rainfalls, floods and the loss of biodiversity in our area. Our specific focuses and interests in relation to the effects of the climate crisis may vary, but the goal of each of our residency activities is shared: to radically and effectively change the ways in which our organisations travel, produce, consume, purchase, reuse, recycle, up-cycle, and dispose.
What are your hopes for the collaboration in the coming years?
LK: I am very keen on testing and learning together with the partners. I am looking forward to our residency exchanges where artists will live and work in at least two different residencies and carry knowledge and new insights between places. I am curious how this project can both act as a source for inspiration and empowerment as we are all dealing with a complex challenge that requires complex solutions. I am especially looking forward to work with our advisory committee, which consists of experts in a multitude of areas – for example, in feminist geopolitics, climate activism, climate justice, climate pedagogy and ecological contemporary art. The advisory committee will work with us to nominate artists and researchers for our residency exchanges and commissions, open pathways to new partnerships and help us to amplify our communication.
What do residencies offer artists that is unique compared with other arts organisations?
Alex Marrs (Programmes & Communications Producer, Cove Park, Scotland): Residencies provide space, time and support to artists, creative practitioners and researchers away from daily life commitments and external pressures. Since people are living and working in the same place, they can be unique test beds for imagination and experimentation around new ways of living. With a defined amount of focussed time to engage in our society’s most urgent issues, artists while in residence can exchange ideas and cross-disciplinary knowledge which can have an extraordinary ripple effect into their own communities and networks – a legacy that extends well beyond their residency experience and can have a tremendous impact on the world.
RESIDENCY programmes bring together artists of different disciplines with other practitioners, be that writers, educators, researchers, scientists. How important is collaboration in response to the climate crisis?
Charlotte Hetherington (Director at Artica Svalbard, Norway): As an organisation based in a remote Arctic location, collaboration is a key element of our infrastructure. Since its founding, Artica has collaborated with partners (Norsk Pen, Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Queen Sonja Print Award) to nominate the residents who then collaborate with the local community. This network then grows into a web of knowledge opening new methods of thinking, dialogue and action. Every resident that visits Artica has met and engaged with someone from outside of their area of knowledge, either because of a specific project where an artist might need knowledge from a scientist or at a social occasion. These exchanges are often the most talked about when the residents leave, because it has pushed them outside of their bubble and not something we get the chance to do very often in our everyday lives. To hear a new viewpoint, to learn or understand a different perspective whether you agree with it or not, provides the possibility for change. This is one of the core reasons why we (Artica) wanted to be a part of NAARCA – this collaboration allows us to be part of a wider network of knowledge. As Leena mentioned, to be able to learn and share resources that will provide actionable goals, to test out ideas through trial and error with the residents and residency staff is a wonderful and unique opportunity. .
Featured Image: Members of NAARCA at Cove Park, November 2021