The reinvented artist: MAD’s Artist Studios Program turns ten



Alumni artist Sarah Zapata’s studio in the Museum of Art and Design’s 10th anniversary exhibition – ‘Studio Views: Craft in the Expanded Field‘. 


The Museum of Art and Design’s (MAD) alumni show Studio Views: Craft in the Expanded Field marks the tenth anniversary of the museum’s four-month residency project – the Artist Studios Program. As the current batch of artists gets ready to vacate their studios by October, MAD’s selection committee prepares to notify two more groups of 14 artists, out of 350 applicants, for a residency that reflects the changing nature of the artist’s existence.

The program started in 2008 and focuses on emerging artists who work in interdisciplinary mediums – like artist Heidi Lau, who makes ceramic sculptures and experiments with Suminagashi, the ancient Japanese technique of ‘marbleizing’ a surface with ink. Artists get a daily stipend and the use of a studio space once a week.

But ten years into the program, the importance of being in the city is coming into question. Artists are reinventing their idea of success by taking on other jobs and moving out of the city.

“For a long time people romanticized what it is to be an artist in New York,’ says Danny Orendorff, director of the museum’s public and community programs. “That’s gone away. People have woken up from fantasies and are more invested in quality of life and community engagement.” He thinks moving out of the city is a good thing because artists become more hospitable to themselves, even if that entails going into academia or finding other jobs.

Resident artist Christa Pratt thinks it is only worth living in the city if you see your time as invested in something; otherwise she wouldn’t want to live here. After growing up in South Carolina, she returned to her birthplace, New York, when she was sixteen. Pratt sees her future self involved in an activist circle, not solely making art.

Pratt, who uses a mix of materials to render representations of black women, says that “art shouldn’t exist in one place anyway, it has a lot of power so it is wise to share it”.

Artists get the chance to interact with visitors, a unique feature of MAD’s residency program. Carli Beseau, director of the studio program, says this “personalizes the story” of each artist. Resident artist Kathleen McDermott combines craft with electronic experiments to create unconventional robots that mock and emphasize our society’s attitudes on productivity. Two visitors were drawn into the studio space, confused about her graphic LED t-shirts hanging on the wall. After explaining the nature of her pieces with the use of circuit boards, she showed them a video of a robot flower pot that automatically searches for sunlight.

Orendorff  sees this communication as vital because “the more the artist articulates the more it disrupts canons, by giving them the confidence to say no.” This is important because artists often take on commercial commissions to make ends meet.

McDermott moved back into the city, commuting to Troy to complete her Ph.D at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – she finds life in the city easier now that she has more experience and can support herself through teaching. She says that she “doesn’t know anyone who survives off their work” and has made peace with the lack of public support given to artists.

“There are now other things artists can do,” she says, “through freelance and academia.” The internet helps as well: resident artist and fellow Ilana Harris-Babou says that because her work is mostly video she can show it online; she is moving to start her teaching job at Williams College in western Massachusetts.

“I try not to fall into that very cynical trope that the city is destroying the arts”, says Gregory Climer, an alumni council member who recently moved upstate to Newburgh, after fifteen years. “But it is.”