Artist Workshop

Project Partners: Michael Varona and Sean Baker


Residency+ aims to partner with an existing residency program that identifies a weakness in its current operating model, wishes to expand the creative resources available to its residents, and/or has a vested interest in deepening its relationship with the local community. Through this partnership, we will shape articulate, design-led solutions that foster dynamic and sustained relationships between these entities. As a result, both the artists and designers will gain invaluable experience and the tools to accelerate these trends throughout their careers. Ideal participants in this unique residency model will come from different disciplines but seek a shared, creative interest in sustainability and community engagement. Guest experts from relevant fields of innovation and design can further enhance its viability. To operate efficiently, Residency + will require only short-term commitments from the host organization but the potential solutions will continue to evolve. Outcomes from each partnership will be thoroughly documented so that the methods, processes, and strategies attempted by the residency can be easily referenced. As the program develops, this documentation will become the foundation of a growing network that connects artists, designers, and innovators from different backgrounds as they tackle the problems within our arts organizations and local communities.


On a chilly day in December, 5 Theatre Artists, 1 Fashion Designer, 2 Facilitators, 1 Documentarian gathered in a studio at Parsons to explore what sustainability meant to theatre artists and designers in the context of a residency program. As a theatre artist, I was aware that this was very much new territory and a bit of a daunting task to undertake. Beginning with our initial application to the New Challenge, we tried to envision a residency program that utilized strategic design thinking to generate a new philosophy and practice around ideas of sustainability and what that means to an artist.  Would they even be interested in bringing such an ideological, social trend into the context of their work? If so, how would they go about doing it? We posed these questions and others to a willing group of artists who were concerned about the sustainability of performance in a wider social context.


We were lucky to have a workshop group that was not only comfortable but also quite well versed in collaboration. Many work with ensembles that offer company members ample space, flexibility, and the trust to equally contribute to the process of creation. In these environments, wild ideas can take shape and grow from the ingenuity of creative collaborators. These artists, however, are also deeply curious and vigorously invested in honestly representing the current state of the industry—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Within this particular group of artists, there was a consistent interest in exploring how sustainability could be better incorporated into their practice. After all, the basic principles of sustainability are fundamental to the success of their respective theatre communities.


After kicking off the workshop with a brief warm-up exercise and introduction, we split our participants into two groups for a brainstorming exercise that focused on the possible positive and negative outcomes that incorporating sustainability into an artist residency might have on either the work created or the residency program itself. We introduced as little specificity as possible so that a full world of potential projects and complications could be imagined. We organized these into 3 central categories:  artists working within a “cocoon,” context and environment (division between artist and non-artist), and practical concerns. We, then, used these categories to generate potential projects that could be submitted to an operating residency.


In the second half of the residency program, we changed the perspective from that of the artist to that of the residency “producer.” Three teams then proposed three amazing pieces that each addressed one of the categories. In the end, we had a conceptual model of the artist and their struggles with sustainability in the industry.