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SPOTLIGHT ON | Southern Experimental Spaces

"Abandoned buildings in a major metro center, a former thrift store/museum in a quickly developing downtown, a film festival in coastal North Carolina, and a rural Alabama community in the midst of a cultural renaissance - these are wholly unique contexts far outside the studio."

Experimental residencies have a long heritage in the South, going back to Black Mountain College in North Carolina. At the Alliance of Artists Communities Annual Conference this October, we are excited to highlight the next generation of artist-run residencies, collectives and pop-up spaces from Florida to Virginia. We took a moment with Executive Director George Scheer of living-museum residency Elsewhere, to discuss the new landscape of the southern experimental space.


You're bringing together a great collection of programs in your upcoming session at the 2014 Conference. What do you see as the common thread between the group?

Artist residencies and new artist run initiatives are discovering a renaissance in cities throughout the South. What connects these projects is a sincere interest in creating a supportive creative context for artists to experiment and create in a process based, community centered way. This is nothing new for residencies, but the young organizations forming to support artists and the contexts that artists are seeking to work within is changing. Abandoned buildings in a major metro center, a former thrift store/museum in a quickly developing downtown, a film festival in coastal North Carolina, and a rural Alabama community in the midst of a cultural renaissance - these are wholly unique contexts far outside the studio.

These sites require artists to employ different skills and different interests and the residency organizations need to offer different kinds of support for artists to succeed. During the conference I want to get to the heart of these issues, address the challenges of supporting new artistic work in experimental contexts, and fostering real experimentation in often conservative environments without extensive arts infrastructures.

What is the role of experimental spaces and programs in the field?

Residencies are sites of adventure, experiment, and networking. Residencies have always been resources for artists sustaining life-long creative practices. As founder and director of an artist-run organization and residency, I also see the desire among artists to move beyond their individual work and create on a different scale--at the scale of social sculpture and at the scale of the organization/institution. At the same time we face new challenges working with and in the public or our local communities and neighborhoods. While community-based work can be fulfilling, we also crave those exceptional creative networks--the brilliance of other experimental artists. In major metropolitan cities these friendships are more readily available. In the South we have to build them, activate them, and support a diverse ecology. So the desire to create organizations with social relevance, and connect with artists across the world who are at the forefront of creative social and aesthetic thought, makes the residency an ideal form.

On the other hand, as our cities and towns undergo a cultural and economic shift, residencies become a touch point for connecting local communities with global ideas. Cities can thrive on the ideas and assets of its local community, but they also grow with the influence of new individuals with energy and inventive artistic ideas. Residencies serve communities around the country by exposing local communities to creative ideas happening Elsewhere.

What innovative ideas are you excited about sharing with your fellow arts supporters this fall?

Charleston will be a great place to connect with the really avant-garde of creative residencies. I'm most excited to learn what others are seeing in the way that artistic practice is changing and how residencies programs are shifting to address new fields of creative production. I'm also curious about how placemaking is influencing so much of what we do. Residencies by their very nature make place, they attract innovative and creative individuals with aesthetic interests to try their talents in a place. How the innovators in the field translate artistic practice for their communities, make it relevant, and situated in the particulars of community is at the heart of placemaking, and so I'm thrilled to see how that is happening. I know the folks on our panel have a lot to say about art residencies as natural placemakers.

Check out the following residencies creating new contexts for creative production from Virginia to Georgia. (And catch the full story as part of "Residencies of the Experimental South" at the conference this Fall).

Coleman Center for the Arts (York, Alabama) has been using art to foster positive social change, answer civic needs and build local pride in their small-torn, rural Alabama setting since 1985. The center is known for their community-based artist-in-residency program that supports artists in developing community-engaged projects. (Think "Open House" by Matthew Mazzotta). At the center of their work, the belief that "by nurturing and facilitating partnerships between artists and community we create the vision and the means for a creative and sustainable society."  [contact:]


Cucalorus (Wilmington, North Carolina) is a residency within a growing independent film festival set in the heart of downtown Wilmington. Residents are provided with housing, administrative and production support from festival organizers, and screening opportunities within the festival's creative compound. In the words of Moviemaker Magazine, "Cucalorus is a joyful amalgamation of interdisciplinary art, a top-quality selection of international and local films, and an intimate bonding experience fueled by bonfires and moonshine." [contact:]



Dashboard Coop (Atlanta, Georgia) is an experimental curatorial project that produces exhibitions in forgotten spaces. Bringing together tenacious artists, imaginative property owners, and bold viewers, the program has been a springboard for the careers of over 50 artists to date. Dashboard is creating new space for local artists while activating dilapidated and raw spaces throughout Atlanta. It seems to be working: Ninety percent of the underused sites activated through Dashboard projects now house thriving businesses like galleries, newspapers, restaurants, bars, and more. [contact:]



Elsewhere (Raleigh, NC) is a living museum set in a three-story former thrift store that brings together artists, musicians, curators, scholars, writers, gardeners, urban agriculturalists, homesteaders, installation, sculpture, textile, sound, video, kitchen and performance artists, system-thinkers and game-makers. Residents use the museum’s immense 58-year collection of cultural and material surplus for site-specific projects that interpret and contribute to Elsewhere’s concepts, collections, and communities. [contact:]