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Oregon Artists at Work | Djerassi + Ucross

“A group of us stayed up late watching meteor showers, and I wanted to capture that in my painting series... inspired by the Indigenous protection of land and water. After Djerassi there has been a heightened playfulness and exploration in my markmaking. The time, beauty, solitude, and remoteness was an incredible combination.” - Ka’ila Farrell Smith

For Ka’ila Farrell Smith there was the dark sky above Djerassi’s hilltop studios, lit momentarily by meteor showers. For Adam Kuby there was a herd of deer watching him work in the early Wyoming light on the plains outside of Ucross, later returning to reshape his installation one bite at a time. For each of the artists highlighted in Oregon Artists at Work there is a vivid story, a clear moment where their work and the residency landscape intersect - both changed.

The newly published Oregon Artists at Work celebrates a four-year funding partnership between Djerassi and Ucross and The Ford Family Foundation. When the Foundation launched a new initiative to catalyze Oregon's most promising visual artists they consulted with more than 40 visual arts leaders to explore what supports would have the biggest impact. Residencies quickly emerged as a critical piece of the puzzle.

The Foundation started with local partnerships, funding "Golden Spot" Residencies at Oregon-based organizations - including Caldera, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, Pacific Northwest College of Arts (Leland Iron Works) and Playa. As the program gained momentum, the Foundation discussed connecting Oregon artists with residencies on a national scale. “Artist residency programs, both in and out of the state of Oregon, were in the mix from the inception of the research," wrote senior advisor for The Ford Family Foundation, Kandis Brewer Nunn. "The decision to ensure that out of state opportunities to broaden horizons for Oregon visual artists was an important influencing factor in the acceleration of an artist's creative practice and one’s career." In 2013, partnerships with Ucross and Djerassi were announced - an opportunity “for Oregon visual artists to experience month-long residencies among their national and international peers against the backdrop of inspiring Northern California and Wyoming landscapes.”

Geographical funding consortiums play a growing role in the field. For foundations looking to extend impact for artists in their region, multi-year funding partnerships with artist residencies can be a game changer. “More and more funders see this approach as a very direct way to support arts and culture in their backyards. And, in the instance of funders who are legally precluded from funding individual artists, support for artist residencies is a way to do so," writes Djerassi's Executive Director Margot Knight. “The recognition by The Ford Family Foundation of visual artists in Oregon was not just symbolic — it was revolutionary. It has real consequences for the work of every artist in this publication. It has real consequences for every Oregon citizen.”

The Alliance has worked with funders over the last two decades to build these partnerships from the ground up. From 2003 to 2012, the James Irvine Foundation funded Visions from the New California - supporting six artists a year at six artist residency sites across the state. In 2007, modeled after Visions from the New California, the Alliance partnered with the The Joyce Foundation to run Midwestern Voices and Visions - engaging the work of artists of color with annual residencies at seven program sites.

While many funding consortiums support residencies and artists in a single region, other programs have been created to foster exchange across borders. In 2013 the Rasmuson Foundation launched a new initiative connecting artists from the lower 48 states with Alaskan residencies and Alaskan artists with residencies in the Lower 48. The partnership included four Alaskan residency programs and four lower 48 programs (including Djerassi). Another Alliance program, New Voices of Modern Arab Literature supported three years of residencies for 39 writers from Arab countries at 18 residency sites in the U.S., Europe, and North Africa.

Installation by Adam Kuby at Ucross Foundation

For residencies, the benefits of consortia go beyond funding. These partnerships can help shift the makeup of artist cohorts – bringing in artists from under-engaged geographical areas or demographic groups. President of Ucross, Sharon Dynak, saw The Ford Family Foundation partnership as a key to reaching artists beyond major cities. "For many worthy reasons, artists are highly concentrated in the biggest urban centers like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. We support a large number of artists from those places. Being able to connect with the high-level artists in other states is important to the health of our programs and to America’s culture. Cross-pollination of all kinds is critical to the arts. I also think working geographically can enhance understanding between individuals and communities in our rather fraught, bifurcated times. Bridging all kinds of distances matters so much."

The partnership was so successful that after two years of working with Ucross and Djerassi, The Foundation extended the program to include four additional Golden Spot partners in the United States: The MacDowell Colony, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (managed by the Alliance of Artists Communities), Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.

“The blossoming of our partnerships with Djerassi and Ucross Foundation has increased the Foundation’s appreciation for what residencies can do for artists," writes Anne C. Kubisch, President of The Ford Family Foundation. "To a person, each artist has spoken of the freeing that comes with a residency. They all report exploring new boundaries, new materials, new approaches, and new ways of seeing and knowing. Surrounded by their peers — poets, performers, composers, writers, other visual artists — the Oregon 29 exchanged ideas around the dinner table, then returned to the solitude of their studio to consider their work in an expanded light.”

Download the full report here.


Image Above: Undetected: 2013-09-03/11:39PM/58° F, Digital Image, dimensions vary

Image Top-right: Tantanka, 2016, Acrylic, spray paint, graphite, charcoal, oil paints on gessoed birch borad panel, 30" x 24"