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Artists On The Move

In just the past few years, we’ve seen an increasing number of residencies-in-motion forming, offering tremendous new opportunities for artists, as well as very specific and previously uncharted challenges for residency programs. Aboard a research vessel named for Falkor (the luck dragon of The Neverending Story), artists in the Artist-at-Sea program actively engage with research-in-progress being conducted by Schmidt Ocean Institute scientists. Just 10 degrees from the North Pole, artists and scientists work side-by-side on board a sailing vessel as part of The Arctic Circle expeditionary residency program. Both the Container Artist Residency and the Amtrak Residency allows artists to choose their own route. 

The Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle, a residency program aboard a sailing vessel traversing the remote waterways of the high arctic, invites the intersection of art and science, along with architecture, education and activism. Entering their eighth year now, the program is one of the more established programs-in-motion. Even with that in mind, Director Aaron O’Connor says that “arctic expeditions are a logistical juggling act and even with an abundance of preparation, we must still be ready for the unforeseen.” Add to that an element of daily surprise, a place where artists and scientists are free to experiment, and where everyone on board, residents and crew alike, participate in spontaneous acts.

There are no parameters to the work that occurs while on the expedition, and much of the artists’ work occurs later on, after the residency ends, and in unanticipated forms.

After eight years of operating in the arctic, O’Connor has suggested that in the future, they may be on the lookout for similarly remote and challenging waterways to explore in other parts of the world.  


Schmidt Ocean Institute

The collaborative element between artists and scientists is especially important aboard Falkor,  an international vessel untethered to a specific geographic location, and dedicated to large and small scale oceanographic research. The Institute hosts numerous universities, research institutions, and technology partners whose data serves as central source material for the artists in residence.

Surrounded by ongoing research in robotics and seafloor mapping, the Artist-at-Sea program makes a point of bringing artists onboard who are prepared to immerse themselves fully in the voyage by collecting, analyzing, and incorporating the results of the scientific data in their own work. Carlie Wiener, Communications Manager at Schmidt Ocean Institute says of the program that “we do not want to capture the interest of those who are [already] interested in science, but to show that everyone can and should be interested in marine science and the conservation of our ocean.”

Artist-in-residence Michelle Schwengel-Regala yarn-bombed the ship using her fiber arts background and dazzle camouflage to share about low oxygen zones in the ocean.


After using a pH sensor to examine the effect of pH on her anologue photography, artist Leslie Reed chronicled her journey across the Pacific using seawater to treat her images.


As for challenges that have arisen in the process of establishing the Artist-at-Sea program on Falkor, there are simply “too many artists, not enough berths.” The program has been a success, and later this year they hope to have several gallery installations (as well as an online virtual gallery) showcasing the work created as part of the program.



When Alexander Chee wished aloud in an interview with Pen American that Amtrak host a residency for writers, I’m not sure he believed it could happen. But it did, and he became one of the first writers to participate. The program has since expanded, offering residencies to 24 additional writers on routes of varying duration, around the country. A number of writers have chosen to blog about their experience, and their stories can be found here:

Unlike The Arctic Circle and Schmidt Ocean Institute programs, the Amtrak residency is naturally less collaborative. Aside from the strangers the writers encounter on a day-to-day basis, this is a more solitary affair. Some writers embark on residencies just a couple of days long. Others, like the writer Jennifer Boylan, took over two weeks to travel cross-country and back, taking note of small challenges, “The quarters are small. In some ways it will remind you of really elegant camping.” 


Container Artist Residency


photo: Mayan Strass


For Founder & Director Maayan Strass, The Container Residency was a solution to a problem. After spending a few months at home in Israel between the first and second year of her MFA program at Yale, she needed to find a way back to the US to finish her program, but didn’t have money for a ticket. A joke with a friend left her contemplating the possibility of finding her way back via cargo ship.

 After months of emails and phone calls, Strass was eventually able to find a ship willing to let her aboard. And so the Container Artist Residency, a collaboration with ZIM Integrated Shipping Services, was born. In its first year, the program hosts residencies for visual artists on a three-week voyage along a shipping route of their choice. The first year of residencies will culminate with a traveling international exhibition featuring the artists’ work.


Art Center/South Florida

As evidence that these motion-specific residencies are growing and thriving, Art Center/South Florida has just announced the launch of ARTsail, a one month resident on a sailboat in the waterways surrounding Miami. They are now accepting applications for the 2017 season. You can find the application here: