Saari Residence’s hybrid residence creates a virtual community of artists

Travel restrictions related to the coronavirus have become stricter, which makes this a challenging time for organisations that offer international residencies. Many such organisations are taking a break or have changed their operating methods. The solution to the prevailing situation that the Saari Residence has decided on is a hybrid residence, where some of the residents work in the Saari Residence’s premises in Mietoinen and others work from home. This hybrid residence demands different kinds of operating models, and online communication is its key component.

The coronavirus pandemic, which started in the spring of 2020, and the associated restrictions and recommendations continue to affect the operations of residences with both national and international residents. The restrictions on travel have also forced the Saari Residence to develop its operations to accommodate for the changed circumstances. As the situation with the coronavirus continues, we have committed ourselves to developing different forms of residency activities as needed.

Kone Foundation reacted to the coronavirus situation last spring by creating an additional call for home residencies, which allows artists to apply for a grant for their work in this new and challenging situation. The idea of the home residency has been further developed since then at the Saari Residence for artists, where the hybrid residence became its new operating model last spring.

Redefining residency work

The hybrid residence means that some of those granted a residency work on site at the Saari Residence in Mietoinen, while others work from home. The residents meet each other online on various platforms and form a virtual community of residents. Working on site at the Saari Residence is obviously different to working in a home residence, as those working at Saari get a chance to break away from their everyday lives and to meet other artists face-to-face. A residence is often defined as an opportunity for an artist to live and work outside their everyday environment, which allows them to reflect, study, observe and create new works of art. During their residency, artists are able to explore new environments, landscapes, cultures and try new things in their work. When working in a home residence, the situation is different because everyday routines continue as usual and breaking away from them brings challenges that differ from those at the “residence proper”.

The hybrid residence is not without its problems, and creating the kind of a face-to-face connection online that is characteristic of the Saari Residence’s Well activities is particularly challenging. Nevertheless, as one home resident said last autumn: “A home residency is better than no residency at all.” The home residency has made it financially possible for many artists to focus on the same project they would have work on had they been able to come to the residence. Many have also found that the home residency has given them a sense of security, as traveling during the pandemic may not be safe.

 

Photo: Pirre Naukkarinen

Virtual community

The autumn 2020 residencies were created to allow the virtual community of residents to be present both at Saari and over the Internet. Residents continue to meet once a week via Zoom to give and attend presentations, taking turns to present their work to others. Artists find that the greatest gift offered by the presentations for their work are the discussions, feedback and new perspectives.

In addition, each residency period has its own instant messaging environment in the Slack app, where residents can use different channels to discuss their daily lives and artistic work. The staff encourage the residents to give tours of their living environment, talk about topical issues that have inspired them and get to know each other also outside the online meetings for residents organised by the Saari Residence. Peer support is an invaluable sounding board for an artist’s work, and learning about other artists’ thoughts and what they are exploring, doing or experimenting with in their work can open many new doors. The artists in the hybrid residence have enjoyed numerous dinners and cups of coffee together, as these are situations that make it easy to get to know each other and chat. They can all also be active online, because the application enables calls and video calls, as well as private and group messages.

Of course, artists working at Saari get better acquainted with the staff, but all the residents meet the staff online at the beginning of the residency, and the executive director will have a discussion both at the beginning and the end of the residency with all the artists, whether they are at Saari or at home. During the initial discussion with the executive director, artists usually talk about their goals and wishes for the residency and, at the end of the residency, about whether they have achieved them despite the challenging circumstances. At the end of the residency, there is also a feedback discussion during which the residents can get together in small or large groups to reflect on what the residency has given them.

While the home residency offers a solution to the current travel restrictions, its purpose is also to experiment in order to help create new ways for artist residences to operate. Within the framework of the Saari Residence’s ecologically sustainable residency programme, consideration will also be given to aspects related to travel. During the spring, we will focus on developing the home residency programme through service design.

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