US Residency Programs and The Alliance of Artists’ Communities

Tricia Snell, Executive Director, Alliance of Artists’ Communities (USA)
Suzanne Fetscher, Chair of the Board, Alliance of Artists’ Communities, and Executive Director, Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida, USA).

I. History of the Alliance

Highlights of the Alliance’s development

The Alliance of Artists’ Communities grew out of the MacArthur Foundation’s 1990 program entitled “Special Initiative on Artists’ Colonies, Communities and Residencies”. The eighteen recipients of grants under this one-time program began meeting in early 1991, then formed the Alliance in September of 1992 with seed money from the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Alliance has convened eight meetings so far, four of which have been especially significant in advancing the Alliance’s agenda:

  • in early 1991, the Atlantic Center for the Arts convened the eighteen MacArthur Foundation recipients, to explore collaboration; as a result, a “Fairly Loose Affiliation” (or FLA) of the eighteen groups was formed.
  • this FLA held a planning meeting at the MacDowell Colony in June 1992, and became a more formal entity, the Alliance of Artists’ Communities, with a collectively defined mission, list of objectives, membership structure, and working committees; they also agreed to hire a part-time Co-ordinator to centralize communications;
  • in June 1994 Alliance members held a reception in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, met with the program directors of the National Endowment for the Arts, and convened at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Tricia said she thought of this meeting as the Alliance’s “political debut”;
  • in November 1996, the Alliance held a public symposium at Brown University, Rhode Island, open to all by registration, called “American Creativity at Risk”. Tricia said she regarded this meeting as the Alliance’s “public/intellectual debut”.
Staffing History

The volume of work for the Alliance has grown quickly. In December of 1995, the Alliance hired Miriam Feuerle as a half-time Project Co-ordinator, and Tricia said she had just hired a third person, Sarah Freeman, for just 5 hours per week, to handle the banking and provide help with the database and mailings.

Tricia said that even with these changes, the Alliance continues to face the problem of its budget being too small, its tasks too many. She said that the Alliance’s office was still in her home, meaning overheads were very low, but that finding inexpensive, office space outside her home had become a priority for the upcoming year. She also said the Alliance was launching a strategic planning process to decide which were the Alliance’s most important short and long-term tasks.

Tricia said she felt that her role as director of the Alliance was very much one of service to the field. She said that she consulted regularly with the Executive Committee, and that she met with them by telephone conference call about once every six to eight weeks. She said that these regular meetings played a huge role in maintaining momentum.

All of the Alliance’s major policy decisions are decided by votes (either by fax or mail, or at the annual member meeting) of the larger board (which, like Res Artis, is made up of the membership). Tricia said that building on members’ growing sense of belonging to a larger field, and of their participation in the Alliance’s future, had been the single most important task of the first two years of her work with the Alliance, and that it would continue to be crucial to the success of every Alliance project. She said that Alliance members cared a great deal about maintaining the Alliance, and that some members had contributed huge amounts of their time to Alliance projects. Without this sense of collective energy and caring on the part of the members, there could be no true Alliance.

II. Alliance Mission

This is the Alliance’s formal mission statement:

The Alliance of Artists’ Communities is a national consortium of organizations and individuals established to improve the environment in which artists’ communities support artists and their creative processes.
The Alliance promotes the leadership role artists’ communities play in enriching the nation’s cultural heritage and seeks to strengthen artist’s communities in fulfilling their respective missions.

An Alliance Institutional Member fulfills the following criteria:

  • brings artists together into a community, removing them from their everyday obligations and providing uninterrupted time to work, in a specific site that is dedicated to that mission;
  • selects artists for residencies through a formal admissions process that is rigorous in terms of artistic quality and is regional, national, or international in scope.
  • is not-for-profit, has artists represented in its governance, and maintains a paid professional staff.

Alliance members employ many different approaches to fulfilling the criteria, but all focus on providing uninterrupted time for the creation of work.

III. Alliance’s Major Projects Accomplished

1. Artists’ Communities – a directory of residencies in the United States that offer time and space for creativity of all kinds.

The two main goals of the Alliance’s recently published directory are to encourage a broader array of artists to apply to artists’ communities, and to educate funders and policy-makers about artists’ communities. The directory includes two-page spreads (with detailed information and photos) on 70 known artists’ communities in the US (we are now learning of more), addresses and basic information on 45 other residency programs for artists that are similar to artists’ communities, and addresses of about 175 international residency programs and organizations (from Res Artis’s mailing list).

2. How-to Kit for Artists’ Community Administrators

The How-to Kit is a binder administrative documents, including: Mission Statements, Articles of Incorporation, By-laws, Non-profit Board Responsibilities & Guidelines, Artists’ Application Forms, Brochures, Handbooks, Contracts, Evaluation Forms, Jurying/Selection Panel Guidelines, Organizational Charts, Personnel Handbooks, Volunteer Bylaws, Marketing Brochures & Press Releases, Insurance Tips for Nonprofits, Financial Guidelines for Accounting, Endowments, Investments, Audits, Capital Fund-raising Campaigns and basic information on 501©3 IRS exemption.

3. “American Creativity at Risk” Symposium

The Alliance’s “American Creativity at Risk” symposium brought together a group of brilliant American leaders and thinkers from all sectors of society the arts, business, science, education, philanthropy, and government – to address what the Alliance saw as a national “crisis of confidence” in the arts, creativity, individual innovation, and research.

“American Creativity at Risk” emphasized the gravity of the broad, societal problem we perceive, and challenged the six speakers, twenty-four panelist, and eighty-five registrants in attendance to:

  • define the nature of creativity in historical, psychological, and cultural terms;
  • measure the significance of creativity to the health and growth of American society;
  • identify societal factors that encourage or stifle creativity, in both children and adults;
  • conceive new, innovative strategies to encourage American creativity to flourish, and set forth these ideas in a blueprint for action to restore creativity as a priority in public policy, cultural philanthropy, and education.

The symposium report and transcripts are available from the Alliance.

4. Alliance’s Long-Range Goals and Current Services

The Alliance is stabilizing the field of artists’ communities by:

  • helping artists’ communities to collaborate and share information
  • building a strong, collective voice to advocate for artists’ communities
  • increasing the understanding of artists’ communities among funders, policy-makers, general public
  • better use of media and marketing to raise visibility of artists’ communities
  • opening new funding opportunities for artists’ communities
  • increasing collaboration among artists’ communities, and between artists’ communities and other sectors, to maintain or create programs that support creativity
  • researching the field and providing helpful funding and management data to directors of artists’ communities.

The Alliance provides these services:

  • advocacy and public relations at a national level
  • information on administrative and funding issues
  • publications (see point III)
  • member meetings
  • public symposiums on topics of interest
  • world wide web page:
  • access to database and mailing lists.

Tricia commented that even a modest newsletter, with less-than-hot news (it will not seem outdated to members who are not in regular communication with each other), was well worth the effort. Alliance members found the newsletter to be a significant source of information as well as an important symbol of their collective goals and objectives.

V. Alliance Membership

The Alliance has three membership levels: International artists’ communities and other interested organizations; Individuals; Institutional members.

A presentation was given on the history and current situation of funding of artists’ communities in the United States. A slide presentation, depicting 17 US artists’ communities, finished the talk.