The New York State Artist Workspace Consortium

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 15, No 2 (Summer 2004)

Diane V. Espaldon, author Kerry McCarthy, project director Reviewed by Elizabeth Merena, New York State Council on the Arts

2004, 38 pages. New York State Artist Workspace Consortium, kerry@mccarthyartsconsulting.com, www.nysawc.org

Recently published, the New York State Artist Workspace Consortium documents the formation and work of a consortium of the same name. The consortium is a networked peer group of ten organizations in New York state that define themselves as “artist workspaces.” The members of the consortium are: The Carriage House at the Islip Art Museum, Islip; Center for Photography at Woodstock, Woodstock; CEPA Gallery, Buffalo; Dieu Donné Papermill, Manhattan; Harvestworks, Manhattan; Lower East Side Printshop, Manhattan; Sculpture Space, Utica; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn; Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City; and Women's Studio Workshop, Rosendale. Kerry McCarthy, project director through the initial phases of the Consortium's development, remains instrumental in ushering it forward.

Written by Diane V. Espaldon, principal, of the LarsonAllen Public Service Group, the report spans four years and effectively details the process of the Consortium's formation, the participants' collaborative working structure, and its early accomplishments. It is also available on line at www.nysawc.org.

The impetus for the development of this Consortium stems from the recognition that each member shares an inherent knowledge of the capabilities and creativity of the individual artist. This fact, coupled with the desire to advance new techniques and experimentation in contemporary art practice, indicated the possibilities of collaboration. Collectively, the New York State Artist Workspace Consortium organizations represent a wide range of activity in the visual arts: photography, papermaking, printmaking, artist book production, sculpture, installation works and digital arts. Other disciplines however will certainly identify with the working missions and methods used by these Consortium organizations, recognize similarities of approach and potentially expand upon services that might currently be offered to professional artists. It is our belief that most aspects of this report can be easily adapted for use. The New York State Council on the Arts, which played a convening role early in the life of the consortium, will assist with the discussion and distribution of the report. We are especially interested in circulating it among organizations that share or show potential to embrace commonalities of purpose.

The concept of an “artist workspace” is not new. What distinguishes these organizations is that they provide, to varying degrees, expert technical assistance to artists and strive to anticipate the needs and meet the expectations of the professional artists working on-site at their facilities. The support is often oriented toward process rather than product. This deep level of involvement in the creative process and the problem solving abilities of the studio and artistic staff members sets the Consortium members apart form other residencies, service organizations and co-operative studios. The collaborative assistance provided to working artists by the Consortium organizations is often crucial to advancing new techniques and approaches. Yet this aspect of their work remains behind the scenes. Convening these organizations allowed them to self-identify and to determine that they are currently “intangible” cultural assets. An important objective in bringing them together is to offer them wider public recognition for their significant and ongoing contributions.

The report is designed to offer ideas, guidance and experience. It is interesting to note that the members' ongoing progress, the way in which they shape the course of their work together, reflects the same working methods they use day to day in assisting artists. The openness of exchange, which is now their familiar working model, is a remarkable result of this defining period. By comprehending the project as a mutual endeavor, and instigating open dialogue with their expert consultants, advancements are made possible, realized more quickly and completed with assurance.

Choosing to invest in organizations poised for growth, with modest operating budgets, years of hands-on experience and solid histories of NYSCA funding support was a conscious decision. The potential for them to balance each others' strengths and weaknesses within a group situation was evident. They were excellent candidates for peer to peer education and stood to gain enormously from this type of interaction. Ongoing stabilization of the Consortium organizations remains a primary goal. This goal is now aided by the fact that they identify themselves as integral parts of a mutually supportive network.

At a recent funders' briefing in New York, held at the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, it was noted with praise that the Consortium's successful work is now, after just four years, driven and planned primarily by them, rather than by the funders. This is possible due to the dedication and willingness of its participants. Most of these organizations are artist run and artist guided. Their intimate knowledge of artists' needs keeps them focused and motivated. The desire to expand, improve and advance their services to artists is the fundamental and compelling reason they convene; it is obvious to them that the more stable they become, the more they can achieve.

The New York State Artist Workspace Consortium, and models like it, offers a refreshing and viable funding strategy for the support of individual artists. Impressively, an examination of their activities, listed in the report, shows that they also “meet five of the six inter-related dimensions of an artist's support structure” identified in the Urban Institute's publication Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists It is hoped that the further strengthening and stabilization of the Consortium's efforts will lead them to choose an expanded role within the non-profit arts community. They conceivably can become important stakeholders by guiding similar practices, nationally or internationally.

Funding for the New York State Artist Workspace Consortium has been received from the New York State Council on the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The National Endowment on the Arts and very recently from the Ford Foundation.