Saari Residence


Change making at the Saari Residence

Photo: Jussi Virkkumaa

When discussing about artists’ residencies, three essential aspects are often mentioned: time, space, and care. Lately, the discussion has widened to include questions about access and diversity. We have taken the role of an active changemaker at the Saari Residence to make an international and multidisciplinary artists’ residency more diverse and inclusive. But the work is not complete and there are still steps ahead. 

Time and access 

The time of a residency often starts from the application round, open call, which in Saari Residence is held every year in March. But the whole process of selecting the residents starts even earlier, since the selection is made from those who have heard about the residency, got interested and decided to apply. The core questions we constantly need to pay attention to are: Who has access to the residency? For whom might the residency not be accessible? Who are those who has a possibility to work in an artists’ residence? 

The international field of residencies has been very much dominated by abled Western artists traveling to residencies around the globe. At the Saari Residence we are aiming at actively dismantling the Western dominance and at the same time taking care that we are carrying out the rules of Kone Foundation, which is to promote all cultural work in Finnish society. When selecting the residents, we make sure that half of the selected artists are based in Finland and at the same time pay attention to recognize the underrepresented groups in the applicants and favour them positively. Ensuring diversity is the main factor in the selection process, but then come other practical factors, which also have an influence in the final selection: art form, the applied residency slot and requirements for workspace and apartment are factors we also need to balance out amongst others. We are very happy to welcome families to the residency, but the apartments large enough suitable for families are also limited. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic we included Home Residency in our residency opportunities, which means that a person participates in the two months’ individual residency remotely. If the applicant cannot travel on-site to the Saari Residence due to accessibility reasons, they can apply for the Home Residency. The justification for the Home Residency is related to accessibility and equality, such as physical disability, family reasons (e.g., single parent), or the volatile political situation in the country of origin.  

To make an artist residency more diverse, the main challenge is, that we can only be as diverse as our applicants are. We need put even more work to reach out to the applicants, who might not yet have access to the information of our residency or have troubles in carrying out the quite demanding application process itself. And we need to keep on ensuring that our changing evaluators are aware of their possible biases and pay extra attention to the applicants that might feel most unfamiliar to them. 

Space and accessibility 

Artists’ residency is both a location, is it urban, rural or something in between, and made of various spaces: apartments, work studios, common spaces, and surrounding environment.  

The Saari Residence is an old manor, which history goes all the way back to 13th century. The residency consists of almost 20 buildings, but some of them are not in active use anymore. When one of the old buildings requires a renovation, it is a possibility for us to make it accessible. The main building of the Saari Manor was previously not accessible by wheelchair but is now equipped with a lift. There was a comprehensive renovation that finished in 2022 and it involved repairing the floor on the first floor and improving the accessibility of the building. 

One of our residency apartments is renovated to be accessible for a residency artist using a wheelchair. It is completely barrier-free and has a wheelchair lift, a kitchen, a barrier-free toilet and two bedrooms, one for the resident and another for their personal assistant.  

Currently we are planning to improve the workspaces at the barn, where the artists’ studios and meeting places are located and to make them barrier-free for greater accessibility. The whole renovation plan starts by thinking about accessibility, equality, and the various needs of residency artists working with different means. The aim is to create spaces that can accommodate artists equally and support their common activities. The plan is to enlarge the common kitchen and create larger space for gatherings. We invite an accessibility expert to support the architect in planning the renovation of the building. 

Care and respect 

Artists’ residencies are special places, where artistic work and everyday life are intertwined. People come to the residency from all around the globe with their expectations, special needs and wishes. At the Saari Residence, individual artists stay for two months, so they might need help and assistance in various things in a Finnish society and in rural Mynämäki. The Saari Residence welcomes people of all genders, abilities, ages, cultures, and sexualities. We are constantly asking ourselves; how do we recognize each artist’s needs? How do we avoid assumptions and respect each of their self-determination? What processes we have developed and where we still need to put more attention to? 

We want to create and provide the best possible working environment for everyone. The keywords are respect, collaboration, and safety. Everyone has a right to work in an environment that supports creativity, encourages consideration and respectful and non-sexualized working relationships. Everyone can decide by what name and pronoun they will be called. We are following safer space guidelines and have a zero-tolerance for any form of discrimination, such as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or ableist comments, sexual harassment, or bullying.  

But what we especially do, is that we care. During the individual residencies we host nine artists and researchers at the same time, and we encounter every person as an individual. During the group residencies we can host up 18 persons. We respect our residents, and we care about their wellbeing. We can’t always avoid conflicts amongst the residents, but we are all the time improving our processes in solving out the conflict situations. We wish our residents would feel safe, respected, and taken care of and hope that the time in the residency would have a positive impact on their work and wellbeing also after the residency is over. Residencies are there to provide space for resting and recovering amongst the continuous uncertainty the profession often consists of.