Three days in the Arctic Circle in the company of Midnight sun and an international crowd of people from the Res Artis network is a guarantee of rather little amount of sleep. I put the blame on the sun that never went down! The 25th anniversary meeting of Res Artis worldwide network gathered together AiR people from all corners of the world to discuss common challenges and future perspectives in the field of artist-in-residence programs. This year’s theme put the emphasis on art and development of environmental, cultural, economic and social sustainability with a rich palette of panel discussions, workshops and visits to local art venues.
I was positively surprised especially by panel discussions on the future of art, science and technology programs. These panels gathered together residency directors, artists, scholars and natural scientists to present some of the current dialogues and practices between and among (bio) art, science and technology. There are some very interesting networks and programs out there in the field! On the other hand, I was also rather amused by one of the presentations titled “Anticipating the Other” that addressed, for example, the important fact that AiR programs need to take into account their host culture and indigenous populations in all their diversity so that exchanges between all parties concerned happen in equal terms. Very true and I could not agree more. Yet, based on our programs that we have run for six years now in Saint-Louis I couldn’t help thinking back how in our case it is the international artist who turns into The Other as soon as s/he lands in the country. One of the challenges then is to cope with that and make things happen. And artists do succeed every time and that’s what keeps us going!
One other theme popped up in the discussions here and there stating that “The world is open.” Is it really? Well, of course it is to some. While listening to panel discussions I kept wondering about the absence of the global south in this international meeting: in addition to us there was just one participant from Cameroon. Why are southern cultural actors missing out this kind of networking events? Shouldn’t these get-together meetings take place sometimes in the South as well? I was not completely alone with these thoughts and I only wish there had been just a little bit more time to those fantastic informal meetings. It is those informal encounters that facilitate more easily discussions on the realities and possibilities of cultural actors in the southern hemisphere, small volunteer based organizations such as ours included. Questions such as “what kind of strategies could be implemented to enable a better mobility for African artists” keep coming back to my mind over and over again. Or: “In what way can these global networks allow better accessibility to stakeholders in the global south so that they too can take part in creative programs funded by national and international art organizations?” As a result of one of the workshops that I attended we concluded that it really is time to sit down and create such inclusive funding systems that would share this particular goal and make the global network of art residencies truly global.
We have recently been downshifting our activity in Senegal towards more focused residencies and towards temporary summer programs in Finland. We have included in our annual program also a shorter mobile AiR program called Analog Extreme in Mauritania and these strategies seem to be the right direction for us to keep us going as a volunteer based AiR program. This summery Res Artis meeting in the Arctic Circle proved to be particularly important to us in terms of sharing and discussing the dynamics within large and small scale residency programs. As far as small residencies – or micro residencies – are concerned, there is even a specific network for such, coordinated in Japan.
In the Res Artis meeting there was also a panel discussion on “Art and culture as destinations.” To us this is actually the original engine of our entire existence in Saint-Louis of Senegal. I often wonder how the local actors in tourism businesses really take this concept into account in their policies and attempts of attracting visitors. Today’s tourist is no longer only a spectator but also someone who participates in the life of various local communities when it is possible. Art residencies promote sustainable tourism by default and this is what Waaw does per se even if we still have the impression that almost nobody has yet fully understood this on the local level. Artists practice slow tourism – imagine what it will be like in the post fossil fuel era! If people in the tourism branch ask themselves why anybody would want to stay longer than one or two nights in Saint-Louis my answer to them would be: artists are already doing it!