In the political turmoil of the past weeks and months, the staff at the Santa Fe Art Institute (1600 St. Michael’s Drive, 424-5050) has had personal links to some of the biggest headlines. Former participants of the SFAI Residency Program are spread out across the globe, and they’re taking decisive action. “One of our residents is a lawyer who went to JFK to provide legal help for people affected by the immigration ban,” says Robert Gomez Hernandez, SFAI’s communications and development director. “Former residents marched for women’s rights in Paris, and across the United States.”
SFAI's interdisciplinary residency is specifically designed to react to the rollercoaster of current events. For the past three years, each round of residents has embraced a topical theme during their stay at the institute. The current program, which began last fall and runs through July, centers on water rights—an issue that has played a huge role in the national public discourse this year. As SFAI's staff puts together spring programming with its current residents, they're also looking ahead to their most ambitious theme yet. Their 2017/2018 residency is titled Equal Justice, and has inspired the institute to make dramatic shifts to its structure.
"This program is a unique platform in Santa Fe, because we support artists whose work is in progress," says Jamie Blosser, SFAI's executive director. This approach allows for unusual flexibility in the format of each residency. Last November, SFAI deployed four of the program's current residents to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota for a week. That's a significant block of time to be out of residence, particularly for a program whose participants stay from one to three months.
However, the expedition brought knowledge from a significant water rights battleground into the program's sphere. Resident photographer Andrew Williams, who has chronicled the effects of the California drought for years, made portraits of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and documented their stories. "It's really about the investigative process for the residents," says Residency Program Manager Toni Gentilli. "We don't put expectations on them for a particular end product. They apply with a project proposal … but we allow that to incubate, percolate and organically grow."
Back in Santa Fe, several program participants have been exploring Southwestern water rights by literally walking through waterways in and around the city. It's a subtle, multilayered issue. Water, if it's allowed, can flow through fences and across borders; water rights aren't nearly as fluid, and they're dictated by barriers both physical and legal.
To tackle such complex topics (food justice and immigration/emigration are previous themes), SFAI seeks out a diverse cohort of 60 to 70 residents for each cycle. Several New Mexicans make the cut each year, along with applicants from around the nation and the world. Fifteen residents can live and work at the institute at a time, while local participants usually maintain studio space there but live elsewhere. Throughout their stay, residents teach workshops, run exhibitions and programs in the institute's gallery space, and work with the program's community partners to explore the chosen theme.
These residencies have been a central undertaking of SFAI since the institute's founding in 1985, and they've primarily accepted artists and writers. In the past few years, however, residencies have broadened to accept practitioners of many other disciplines. "We're realizing that for us to really dig into these themes each year, we need to stop siloing," says Blosser.
Intersectionality is an even higher priority for SFAI's 2017/2018 cycle. For the Equal Justice residency, the staff hopes to bring many different streams of knowledge into a single channel in search of ways to engage systems of power and foster social and racial equity. "We're inviting people from all across the board—in law, in education, in health care—to bring their specializations and organically interact with each other," Gentilli tells SFR. "We want to look at ways to share information between disciplines, to deal with these issues in new and creative ways."
The theme also marks a big change in the residency's operations. It costs SFAI $4,000 per person to run the program, and residents are typically asked to pay $1,000 to participate. Blosser says about 60 percent of residents are already offered assistance in covering the tuition, but the Equal Justice program will fully subsidize that cost for every participant. Though the program still doesn't offer a stipend, SFAI hopes that lowering this economic hurdle will further broaden their pool of applicants.
"It felt like with the Equal Justice theme in particular, now is the time to go tuition-free," Blosser says. "It's a risk that we took. We want to do mission-driven work, and open the doors to as many people as possible." SFAI is planning a series of workshops and fundraisers this spring to cover the added costs. Meanwhile, they're reaching out to allies such as the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other local and national organizations to find potential applicants that they might not otherwise reach.
"It's feels like across the world, and nationally, and locally, now is the time to act," says Gomez Hernandez. "Our responsibility as a residency program is bringing people together that wouldn't normally connect, and giving them the opportunity to share ideas and be more than their singular footprint."
SFAI's deadline for applications to the Equal Justice residency is Feb. 12; more information is available at sfai.org. The residency will run from September 2017 through July 2018.