On 15 November 2019, AIR Platform Brabant met for the first time at Sundaymorning@EKWC. The work meeting revolved around the various questions that arise when launching a network.
After our warm welcome with coffee and tea, in which the people behind the participating artists’ residencies are meeting for the first time or yet again, it is President Ageeth Boermans’ turn to speak. Based on her own experiences, Boermans recounts two anecdotes about studio visits following her submission of a grant application to join an artist-in-residency programme. She makes it clear that, for an AIR to succeed, the artist, the working process and the AIR programme must complement one another in terms of their content. Boermans then talks about the Impulse funds for AIR network Brabant, which have already been awarded for the next two years. Collaborations are borne out of a ‘warm heart for places that are able to expand’, where people can learn from one another.
The focus for the afternoon has been determined: sharing the state of affairs to date regarding setting up the AIR network Brabant foundation, the website and the launch of three work sessions on the topics of professionalism, practical collaboration and research.
Esther van Rosmalen, from Witte Rook, and one of the initiators provides an explanation of the development of the AIR network Brabant. This was preceded by a series of meetings, organised by bkkc (now Kunstloc) and TransArtists, which have been held since 2014. This series concluded with the working conference ‘Working on the margins’, which focused on the position of AIRs, and that of Brabant in particular, in relation to an international perspective. After the working conference, the participants realised that a common need and interest does exist. This commonality centres, among other things, on generating visibility, familiarity and (structural) support. AIRs guarantee a large portion of the continuity of artistry.
The first priority of the AIR network was visibility, but not only to the public, as it also became clear that these particular institutions had been completely overlooked by policymakers. The province had developed a regional profile with minimal attention for the workshops, experimental places and AIRs. That is what AIR network Brabant has responded to, and now the final version, in both the Talent Development and Internationalisation programme, identifies the AIRS as ‘a strong basis for talent (..) and international exchange through artist-in-residence programmes’ and as part of the presentation institutes and stages2 .
AIR network Brabant is now part of the eponymous foundation. The foundation consists of a board, a steering committee and the participating AIR programmes. The board consists of Ageeth Boermans and Marjolein van de Ven, and it is still looking for members and a treasurer, who cannot be members of the network. Registrations or nominations from the network would be highly appreciated. The steering committee, consisting of Ron Dirven (Van Gogh AIR Zundert), Astrid Cats (TAC Eindhoven), Koen Dijkman (De Fabriek) and Esther van Rosmalen (Witte Rook), is the foundation’s contact point and focuses on everything related to the organisation. The AIR programmes in attendance (Daglicht/Beeldenstorm, Gastatelier LeoXIII, Sundaymorning@EKWC, AnnAtopiA/the Boshut, Het Atlas Initiatief, Baltan Laboratories, Ecodorp Boekel and the SeaFoundation) all express their intention to participate in the network. Others have come to get acquainted and to explore the opportunities available to them (Tante Netty, Mariengaarde, Park Tilburg and the Andres Schotel Foundation). Although the foundation is now operating under the name ‘AIR network Brabant’, the definitive name has yet to be determined. The participants are asked to contribute ideas and to write down their proposal on the appropriate papers.
Over the next two years, we will focus on researching the nature and function of AIRs and building a website for greater visibility. The aim of this afternoon and first meeting is to align our content and practice through work sessions. It is important to have this clear as a network, also because the next meeting will be open to the public. Ron Dirven takes the floor to speak about the future website. To this end, Ron and Esther have sat around the table with the designers of Het Echte Werk, and, in the meantime, the latter has drawn up a plan of action to accomplish this. This plan is based on the conditions that were introduced by the steering committee. The core objective of the website is to draw attention to the AIRs, to provide an overview that clarifies which artists are working at the AIRs and which work is being created. Consideration has also been given to the target group, for which two personas have been compiled. Reaching artists and making it easier for various media to find the AIRs will play a major role in this.
The website’s input will come from the network. Options are being reviewed for ‘automatically’ publishing from the AIRs own websites. These will therefore be linked, creating an online network. This will guarantee the continuity and topicality of the website. The output can be read on the website and shared on the social media of the participating AIRs. Furthermore, a newsletter will be prepared from the items that appear on the website. The last point that has been discussed with the website builder concerns its design. Various websites are suggested for inspiration. The simplicity of websites such as witterook.nu and transartists.org, the directness of the AIR bnb website, the ease of use of nomadlist.com and the style of the website of the Hong Kong International Photo Festival are all identified as inspirational models.
In response to the above issues, Ron switches
to a plenary work session that lasts approximately fifteen minutes. In this
session, various questions arise that are subsequently discussed, such as: ‘The
facilitators target group has not been mentioned, but is it represented?’ The person
posing the question is thinking of sponsors, subsidisers, companies and
individuals who wish to contribute financially or materially to the network.
This can be offered on the website as an offer in kind. The participating AIRs
have varying powers of communication, how do we deal with this?
The network assumes that, although some AIRs have a communication officer and others perform this task as one among many, the practical aspect is exceeded by their (AIRs) own need to fill the website and keep it up to date. All of the AIRs could benefit from a solid, shared and current website. This is a core value to be observed in the development of the network.
Will the posts be edited and, if so,
Those present unanimously indicate that it will be good if one person takes care of the editing. This person will also review the content of the submitted texts. Who this is going to be and whether there is a budget for it remains unclear. What are important values for us regarding the website? The flexibility to stay up to date, overview, international representation, being invited to discover, permanent information about the institutions must be easy to find, and the reach must be measured and made transparent to the participating AIRs. You will be asked to consider setting up an RSS feed, such as trendbeheer.com uses. How can we arrange for the website to contribute to the internationalisation of the AIRs?
The offering of English texts is deemed necessary. There is a discussion about offering the website in two languages (NL/EN). Diverse participants think that an English-language website would be a great option. This raises questions about who will translate the Dutch texts and verify the content, and about how we will find and pay for this person. Someone suggests that because the Regional Profile finds internationalisation important, they will want to support this initiative.
How are we going to fund this
website? How do we view advertisements, for example?
For the next two years, we will use the Impulse funds for communication. Advertisements are seen as an option for a later date, provided that they match the content of the website. What can be done to make the website and the network a success for the participants? Here, findability by artists, the public and the media as well as visitor numbers are mentioned. The findability for the last groups will be measured by, for example, registrations for the AIRs or questions from journalists.
Daniëlle van Zuijlen is present as a guest speaker within the context of internationalisation and setting up a network. She describes her experiences in Ghent (Belgium) concerning the empty space that has arisen there between the museums and the small art initiatives. To create intermediate steps, cooperation with both has been sought. Working together rather than speaking only at a discursive level has been productive. For example, jointly setting up an AIR and organising a route that connects various art groups that utilise public spaces bequeathed a practical form to an initial strong introduction and shared audience. As a result, the various qualities and methods of all the participants are now clear, which offers scope for continued or new collaborations.
An example of this is Kunsthal Ghent, which opened in January 2019 and will host six AIRs annually. The policy is to move art to the outskirts of the city. And the demand for the importance of art for the neighbourhood is growing, rather than the other way around. The Kunsthal responds to this. At the same time, it will also function as support for contemporary arts and artists in the city. In addition to the AIRs, a presentation programme will be prepared at this location by several permanent and various changing artists’ initiatives of Ghent. As a tip for AIR network Brabant, Daniëlle indicates that the visual aspect literally helps to create more visibility and insight. She briefly shares her experiences with creating documentation from the various institutions and makers. This documentation acts as a business card while simultaneously forming an archive.
During the tour through our guest location, which is led by our host Ranti Tjan, we gain insight into the selection method, financing and the work made by the various artists and designers during their sixteen-week AIR at Sundaymorning@EKWC.
Astrid Cats provides a brief introduction to the three work sessions that will begin shortly afterwards. The aim of the work sessions is to formulate principles for AIR Network Brabant. On what basis do we start? A plenary feedback takes place as a conclusion.
Led by Ron Dirven, the ‘Professionalism’ working group set off for a studio. The key question here is: What do we mean by professionalism? Knowing this will mean that we can use this definition when assessing then admitting and registering new AIRs to the network.
Everyone agrees that the purpose of the AIR should correspond with what the network stands for: offering a temporary workplace for experimentation to professional artists from all disciplines and to amateurs or students, provided they have the ambition to become a professional artist. Any commercial impact by the organisation must be subject to this (aimed at supporting the visual arts). As far as the professionalism of the organisation is concerned, those present conclude that AIRs are offered in a myriad of ways. The programme offered by the AIR takes priority for admission to the network. Is there continuity? Which artists are coming and under which preconditions will the work take place?
Conditions are taken to mean: requesting a contribution from, or payment of a fee to the artist, offering a temporary workplace where the environment plays a demonstrable role in the artist’s work process — at least during the AIR. And offering the artist a place to stay is an added bonus, by targeting the most intensive use of the AIR.
The content of this working group, provided by Astrid Cats, revolves around practical aspects of AIR network Brabant. The session kicks off with the following question: Why this network in particular? As mentioned earlier, it mainly to be here and to get to know one another (like AIR). Together, we will work on improving the visibility of the AIRs for artists and the media, as well as for the public and policymakers.
As a network, we can refer to each other. This makes us, as AIRs, places where the artist can always move on to. An additional goal is to use the network as a kind of quality mark with which we can guarantee quality and can share knowledge externally. By sharing knowledge about, for example, finances and opportunities for makers, we could submit joint applications to Mondriaan and other funds.
There has been talk of implementing projects together, which could, for example, be an AIR week whose results are then shown during the annual Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. From the Brabant context, international operations are also possible in this way. This is difficult to capture within a name. It should have more depth and be more specific than, for example, TransArtists.
What might the purpose of joint research be, and how do we shape it? Esther van Rosmalen leads the work session on research. Is the aim of the research to provide direction or justification? Currently, AIRs are sometimes excluded from the subsidy programmes. We attribute this to the subsidy providers having an insufficient understanding of what AIRs entail. That is why this position must be improved.
Can we use it to nourish our policy so that we can continue? For whom can we conduct the research? The research can help one look ahead. It is crucial that we draw the attention of young talent to the AIRs, and the Mondriaan Fund is an important source of information in this respect. From the point of view of the AIRs, the number of visitors is not important; the artist and his or her work process are central, and the AIR does serve a function in this. With this in mind, alumni and teachers can also undertake part of the research conducted by the AIRs or share results and insights.
More substantively, questions are asked about the direction that the research can take. The network believes that AIRs are becoming increasingly important within the arts field. They want to be able to demonstrate this. What is the value of a residency? Why do artists participate in them? Can research provide a way to interrogate the position of the AIRs?
In what other ways are AIRs used? This includes, for example, Google, which, as a company, offers an AIR. Outside of one’s own circle, how is the function of a residency viewed? The conclusion is that the research must contribute to strengthening the AIRs’ right to exist.
Author: Jorieke Rottier