Residences: opening practice

by Paolo Mele

The reasoning on residency support policies and on the different models in place have been the subject, for some time now, of discussion and debate with various public and private, national and international actors, first and foremost with the Directorate General for Contemporary Creativity of the Ministry of Culture.

The starting consideration concerns the scarcity of resources dedicated to the residency sector, especially in reference to that which is outside the live performance sector. On the one hand, there is a strong and frequent reference to forms of transdisciplinarity, but on the other hand there is still a lack of adequate forms of support and funding that are also able to go beyond the dichotomy ‘live performances’ versus other disciplinary fields.

A discourse on the development and support policies of residencies needs to place the figure of the artist at the centre. Residencies arise, in fact, as a necessity of the artist and work in neighbouring, fragile or otherwise weak territories, precisely because within weaknesses are created those margins of expression and freedom that characterise some territories more than others (e.g. small towns vs. gentrified cities). It is also necessary to find forms of support in order to be able to cover, from a territorial point of view, not only models that may be more sustainable (because within large cities one is also able to create a system of a business model that is more compensated by the private commercial collateral), but also to be able to compensate for these situations of weakness.

The residency is characterised as a practice of openness towards the ‘other’ and this ‘other’ is often the communities present in the various territories. Here, a question also emerges on the link with territories: on the one hand, in the production centres, a more solitary work within the space emerges, by virtue of the fact that one of the main needs of the artist is to research freely. How and to what extent this research should intersect with territories or people is a question to be investigated. In any case, the centrality and independence of the artist is reaffirmed as a founding element of the practice of directing. On the other hand, in the territories, community and site-specific practices are exalted.

Returning to the experience of support for the performing arts, we can and must think of opening a channel of comparison and dialogue with the institutions and with the Directorate General for Contemporary Creativity precisely to favour or hypothesise new support models, also in dialogue with the Regions and going beyond the formalism of calls for tenders. In this regard, if we were to stop at the formalism of calls for tenders, many organisations would probably not be able to recover the necessary resources, and therefore within the institutional links and structures it is necessary to go back to models that can help, in this very uncertain phase, to create a support mechanism for residencies. Without prejudice to the need to keep a dialogue open to identify possible forms of collaboration. Not least because resources are few, sometimes centralised on a few subjects, and even more often oriented towards investment in assets rather than management. Generally, in fact, where there are funds earmarked for management, these are limited to a start-up phase and do not provide follow up and support for the consolidation phase. Going deeper into this part of the venue, it is interesting to assess the models and dynamics concerning the city of Milano. What are the methods of management and to what extent is it desirable to generate a convergence, a dialogue, between public and private? At the moment, rather than thinking of an exclusive management of things by the public or private sector, the public-private partnership model has been initiated and launched; this could be a path to follow and use to negotiate and renegotiate, on both sides, the forms of support for residences in general and/or the spaces that support residences.

Then two other issues arise: research is an indispensable element of residency processes and in Italy those who do research are generally and mainly universities. On the one hand, there is a strong analogy between the residency model and that of the university; on the other hand, the dialogue between these two dimensions, especially at the Italian level, is difficult to establish. Therefore, certainly from this perspective there are margins to try to create new connections also on the basis of European experiences and practice-based forms of PhDs.

Finally, a consideration on the bureaucracy that harnesses and slows down many processes of collaboration and project development: we need to become promoters and implementers of a creative bureaucracy, a mode of work and action that is also being developed in Italy and in Europe as a discussion table¹. The idea is to try to force the meshes of bureaucracy within its limits, and this obviously entails an in-depth knowledge of it. What emerges is how there is a need, but also, at the same time, a delineated field of action within which professionally advanced actors move and are able to draw strategic lines that are clear and defined. It is essential to continue to nurture this constellation of actors to ensure that survival does not prevail over a vision of a possible future.


¹ creativebureaucracy.org

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