Thoughts on Taking Up Space-In-Residence

When I first set out to do Taking Up Space-In-Residence, I had no actual idea what I was doing, but I knew that I wanted my Black History/Futures Month to be unapologetically filled with Black art and performance. I was already planning an arts festival for Black LGBTQ+ artists with my Leeway Foundation Art and Change grant, and in the excitement I envisioned events in every quadrant of Philadelphia celebrating the breadth and depth of artistic genius in the community. I drafted plans for a night of performances, an exhibition, and the festival. Unfortunately, the night of performances fell through and my exhibition proposal was rejected, so I decided to submit proposals elsewhere.

William Way was kind enough to allow me to submit my exhibition proposal (you can read more about that exhibition here) and the Icebox Project Space was also kind enough to let me submit a proposal for something that was an experiment for me. The working title was “Taking Up Space-In-Residence” because I couldn’t think of a project title, so I used a description of my vision for the project as a title. I wanted a large group of Black LGBTQ+ artists to have the opportunity to co-work together in a gallery space for 2 weeks (2/10-2/24), and actually take up the physical space with their bodies and their work. I reached out to 50+ artists with the goal of confirming 28, a number to represent the 28 days of February. Eventually, that number changed to 30. Part of organizing this residence was making it as accessible as possible, so there was no application process, it was simply by invitation. I realized that applications can sometimes deter artists from opportunities, or the artists can feel that their work is stifled by the stringent nature of some applications.

I left the guidelines for the space open as well. I only asked artists to let me know what they were planning to do, and that was it. That way folks wouldn’t feel that their work was limited, they could have supplies provided for them, we could plan for emergencies, and also we could plan for trigger warnings or content notes about their work. The space was accessible physically for disabled artists too, which has been so important for me as a disabled/chronically ill artist. Oftentimes, those of us who aren’t able-bodied find ourselves excluded from the arts because art spaces might be inaccessible or even if there is a ramp outside, the actual space is not ADA-compliant. The space was also welcoming for artists with small children, which doesn’t happen a lot. Many artists with small children also find themselves on the outside of events and spaces that don’t have childcare. Five of the 30 invited artists have children under 7 years old, and it was important to me to include them.

For two weeks, artists just took up space, and I was glad. I was so overcome with joy when I walked in for the first time on Saturday, February 16th and the workstations were filled with supplies and works-in-progress. I saw my vision coming together. One of the artists, Ovid Amorson, had even built a small, tent-like installation in the space. It was truly heartwarming to see so many artists enjoying themselves and also making connections with other artists. I even joined in for one of the artist-led workshops.

One of the most rewarding parts for me was knowing that all of the artists who came to the space to participate were going to be paid. Tim and Ryan, the directors of the space, applied for a grant and were able to give an honorarium to each of the participants. The grant also allowed them to help pay for artist supplies, pay for snacks and supplies during the workshops, and pay for catering during the final event: the community dinner. The dinner was the culmination of all the work that artists put in during the 2 week residency. Performers were encouraged to perform and visual artists were encouraged to display their work, but it wasn’t mandatory. Most of all, they were encouraged to eat and socialize in the space. Many invited their family and friends to also share the dinner. There was so much food that artists were able to have seconds and still take plates home with them. As someone who has experienced food and housing insecurity, feeding folks is very important to me and knowing that artists could take food home really made me happy.

All in all, it was a really beautiful experience that was new for me, as the curator, new for the artists, and new for the directors of the space. If it were possible, would love to Take Up Space again.

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