I first met Nicholas Wylie back in 2006 when we were both working for the Nova Art Fair. Nicholas is well known in Chicago as a co-founded of Harold Arts Residency. Recently he formed a new residency program, ACRE (Artists’ Collaborative Residencies and Exhibitions). Nicholas took some time out of his very busy schedule (completing his MFA degree at UIC and preparing for ACRE’s inaugural residence) to answer some of my questions about the new residency program and some of his interests.
Recently you co-founded ACRE, a residency and exhibition program in Wisconsin. Previously you had been a co-founder of Harold Art Residency. Could you talk about your interest in residency programs?
When I first moved to Chicago from Berlin I was gearing up to start applying for residency programs, but couldn’t really find one that fit my needs as someone a couple years out of his BFA, new to a city, without a lot of support. It seemed like going to some residency in the northeast or southwest would be fun, but I didn’t really see how it would help my practice or help me build long-lasting collaborative relationships. When the opportunity arose to help design a program, I jumped at it. Five years later, I remain dedicated to providing the sort of residency experience that I couldn’t find back then, one that pulls together a large number of people with disparate practices for a relatively short period of time and then offers them support for the rest of the year in the way that a gallery would. I have had an amazing time trying to hone this model, and can’t wait for it to be freer, bigger, and more critical and experimental in the coming years.
What type of facilities will ACRE offer artists?
We’re really excited about our new facilities. Basically each living space, of which there are tons, is like an apartment, with bathroom, kitchenette, living space, and bedroom. The buildings are all amazing, built from salvaged timbers, with decks and porches on all sides, and great views all around. What I’m most excited about, though, is the studio building, which is basically a giant repurposed air force hanger with a brand new, huge, archetypical Swiss chalet built on top of it. Each of the four floors is about 5000 square feet, and we couldn’t have asked for/designed a more ideal, idiosyncratic, gorgeous building for our residents to work in. More specific stats can be found at our website, acreresidency.org .
I noticed on ACRE’s site that you will be offering programming. What do you guys have in mind?
We’re working with our visiting artists to stage mini-experiments in residency programming. Each visiting artist will come from 3-7 days, and might operate as if they’re programming like a mini-BAMF, or are teaching a quick Bard seminar, but they can really try out anything. This will mean different things for different visiting artists; expect studio visits, conversations on the tops of hills, lectures, experimental workshops, big collaborative group projects and happenings, forays into the neighboring areas, arguments about new texts, concerts, utopian plans for the future of the property and the project, and the unexpected.
We’d like for this spirit to extend to the residents as well. This is the first year of a brand new endeavor. We can handle the infrastructure, we want our guests to help us handle the innovation. Residents will be encouraged to share skills with each other, call crits when they need them, organize pre- and post- residency gatherings, reading groups, trips, etc. All of this will be facilitated by us; we’ll provide online resources and make sure everyone gets fed, knows what’s going on, and feels supported, but we as staff will be participants in and facilitators of programming, not designers of it.
When I first asked what you would be interested in covering in this interview the first thing you mentioned was “alternative models today vs. the 20th century”. What are your interests in these models and how do you compare/contrast?
This is still a big area of research for me, and I think a lot of people are looking into it right now. The obvious distinction has of course got to be funding strategies. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of painting a completely rosy picture of 20th century arts funding, but the facts are that public institutions, non-profit ventures, and individual artists receive far less state funding than they did 25 years ago. The difference is rather drastic, and as a result, artists and administrators of our generation have largely fended for themselves. We never operate under the pretensions of ever getting paid for this work, we scrape our funding from our own pockets, from little bits and pieces from peers who want a beer or a t-shirt, from fundraisers traditional and alternative, and from online initiatives like kickstarter . The last place we expect to get funding is from wealthy donors, foundations, or the state, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try for that too.
There are more interesting non-monetary shifts going on, too, but most of the writing I’ve read about real innovation is coming from European perspectives, which are drastically different from ours, largely because of the insane funding gap between the US and EU.
One trend that’s rather exciting is the open-sourcey model spreading. The obvious example of this is InCUBATE’s Sunday Soup model, which is spreading like wildfire.
This idea that we can have little labs all over the country testing which models for artist support and community growth work/don’t work is getting me really amped. The idea that the most successful ones can then spread to other cities and countries is exciting, and provides a solution to the (arguably valuable) contemporary inability for one org to grow into a sprawling institution. Bad At Sports’ model of different bureaus works a little like this, I think, but you guys provide support and infrastructure for all of them, which sounds a little harder than just letting them pop up, but also lets them jump right on to the international stage.
I’m wary of millenarian knee-jerk opportunistic reactions to crises, but have found the on-the-ground ecology of alternative arts orgs in our contemporary crisis to be pretty amazing, and I would probably choose this time to be an arts administrator over any past moments.
This year you will be graduating from UIC with a Master in Fine Arts . Almost the entire time I have known you you have balanced a studio practice with administration work. How do you find the time to do both?
I think I wouldn’t do either as well if I didn’t do both. Partly this comes from the need to be so busy that procrastinating means putting off one obligation by fulfilling another. I’ve found that I need to trick myself in these sorts of ways into being productive. I do think each segment of my larger practice is an escape from the others, but they of course inform each other as well. Sure, I want to do admin work so that I’m not always wrapped up in a solipsistic studio practice, but the people I work with and support on the admin side end up being invaluable for feedback and collaboration in my studio work. Also, as I’ve become more confident and well-versed in various methods of production, and as I gain experience as a professor, I feel that what I offer to my peers and residents in terms of feedback/critique/collaboration/support becomes more helpful. Plus: not being in a relationship opens up huge swaths of free time; the single man is the productive man.
For more information on ACRE or to apply please check out their website. Applications are due May 10th.