Art + Environment - Nordic Alliance of Artist’ Residencies on Climate Action (NAARCA)

    NAARCA is a collaboration between seven Nordic residencies, which focuses on the climate emergency. The Alliance is co-led by Cove Park (Cove, Scotland) and Saari Residence (Mietoinen, Finland) and includes residencies Arctic Culture Lab (Ilulissat, Greenland), Art Hub Copenhagen (Copenhagen, Denmark), Artica Svalbard (Svalbard, Norway), Baltic Art Center (Visby, Sweden) and Skaftfell Center for Visual Art (Seyðisfjörður, Iceland).

    As part of our Art + Environment series, we spoke to members of NAARCA about their ambitions for the collective, the unique value of artist residency programmes and the urgency of the climate crisis.  
    How did the NAARCA collective come into being? 
    Leena Kela (Residency director, Saari Residence, Finland):  The NAARCA project stems from a common concern and frustration in relation to the ways in which the environmental crisis is impacting the arts sector on one side, and the ways in which the arts sector is itself responding to the crisis. Artists’ residencies are exceptional institutions within the sector, in as much as they have the opportunity to test, practice and evaluate new types of behaviour and new lifestyles in a controlled environment where private, professional and public life intertwine.  
    In November 2020, Francesca Bertolotti-Bailey visited us at Saari Residence in Finland. She had just been appointed as a new CEO of Cove Park and was outlining a new inquiry for the residency focusing on the climate crisis. For the past year, we at Saari Residence had been working intensively in improving our ecological sustainability by having a coordinator for an ecological residency programme working with us. Ecological, social and mental sustainability is the focus of our current strategy and our aim is to provide a place and context for finding and sharing sustainable ways of living and working. When we met with Francesca, we immediately recognised that we share a common ambition: we both had been looking for possible collaborators to work with – to share and to learn together – and we also got along really well. The result of our first meeting was that we decided to invite other residencies in the Nordic region to work with us. We were looking for residencies who would share the same ambition, but who are also all unique in their own approach, coming from their geographical location and different ways of operating. 

    What is the plan for the collaboration? What do you hope to achieve together that builds on your individual programmes? 
    LK: The main focus of the project is to collectively delineate, practice, monitor, evaluate and further develop a series of practical actions, both internally and externally, for each institution to test and perform. We started working together by defining what each of our residencies is interested in doing and achieving in relation to the climate emergency. Each of us have different residency profiles, where some of us focus on working with our local communities while others produce larger scale art projects or provide the time and space to develop artistic practice. As the network includes institutions of all sizes, with different remits and scopes of action, the partners won’t enforce reciprocity, but rather operate on the basis of infrastructure generosity and asymmetry. 
    We designed a group of activities of the NAARCA project, which include staff and residency exchanges, new art commissions, new writing and podcast commissions and producing digital resources for learning. Each partner is free to decide, depending on needs, skills and capacity, which elements of the partnership to undertake. We formed subgroups, which took responsibility of the different activities. Sharing knowledge and co-learning are at the centre of the project. We meet online once a month as a whole group and in-between the meetings, the subgroups are progressing with their activities. Once the planning and preparation leads to concrete actions, we start to communicate, share and disseminate our process and findings, so as to positively influence our local communities, transnational communities of interest and the arts and culture sector as a whole. 

    What do each of your residencies have in common, and how are they distinct from each other? 
    LK: What we have in common is a need to act for change. We understand that residencies have specific roles and potential in the art ecosystem – to be sites, where sustainable ways of living and making art can be tested, implemented and reflected as life and art are interconnected in the residency context. Residencies allow time and space for changing one’s artistic habits and thinking and residencies themselves are always shaped by those who live and work there. One can think that residencies are sensors, which collect signals and progress them into new collective knowledge. The NAARCA project is a way to utilise that knowledge and share it between each other. 
    As residencies, we are different in scale, programmes and, of course, geographical locations. Climate change is challenging us differently, for example in terms of melting glaciers, the landslides caused by heavy rainfalls, floods and the loss of biodiversity in our area. Our specific focuses and interests in relation to the effects of the climate crisis may vary, but the goal of each of our residency activities is shared: to radically and effectively change the ways in which our organisations travel, produce, consume, purchase, reuse, recycle, up-cycle, and dispose.  
    What are your hopes for the collaboration in the coming years? 
    LK: I am very keen on testing and learning together with the partners. I am looking forward to our residency exchanges where artists will live and work in at least two different residencies and carry knowledge and new insights between places. I am curious how this project can both act as a source for inspiration and empowerment as we are all dealing with a complex challenge that requires complex solutions. I am especially looking forward to work with our advisory committee, which consists of experts in a multitude of areas – for example, in feminist geopolitics, climate activism, climate justice, climate pedagogy and ecological contemporary art. The advisory committee will work with us to nominate artists and researchers for our residency exchanges and commissions, open pathways to new partnerships and help us to amplify our communication. 

    What do residencies offer artists and audiences that is unique compared with other arts organisations? 
    Francesca Bertolotti-Bailey (CEO at Cove Park, Scotland): Residencies provide space, time and support to artists, creative practitioners and researchers away from daily life commitments, and away from outputs, outcomes and audiences. They reject value extraction at their core, while facilitating radical collaboration, the exchange of ideas and the production of cross-disciplinary work. Residencies are collective intelligence embodied, a large brain made from transient brains, working in a controlled environment for defined amounts of time and focus. For this reason, we hope that residencies can increasingly use this power and responsibility to engage in the most urgent and intractable issues of our times. 

    What is the role of artists in communicating the climate emergency? 
    FB-B: Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that art is not a communications agency able or willing to translate science for easier digestion. What artists can do is to understand, represent and disseminate everything climate change interrelates to interdependently with the work of academics, researchers and activists. It is only when these different ways of knowledge come together with citizens and policy makers that change is really possible. 

    Residencies invite participants to engage with a new environment and community. How important is locality and the specificity of each organisations environment to the programme, and to the experience for your artists? 
    FB-B: Residencies, especially those that are sited rurally or otherwise isolated like most of the residencies of NAARCA, are very much defined by their locality, their landscape and human scape. However, the civic responsibility towards the locale, which is crucial for NAARCA’s activities and aims, rests with the organisation itself and not with the artists in residence. How the artists wish to engage with locality and the surrounding environment during their residency is completely up to them. We do not force a relationship between the residents and the local community, but what we do instead is we invite former residents to come back and lead engagement workshops after their residency if they wish. With NAARCA, we are working in partnership with other residencies that share our ambitions and values and guided by principles of cooperation, infrastructure generosity, asymmetry and intersectionality to move forward with tangible and replicable actions to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis, helping both our internal and external communities navigate the uncertainty of a looming environmental catastrophe. 
    Many of your programmes bring together artists of different disciplines with other practitioners, be that writers, educators, researchers, scientists. How important is collaboration in our response to the climate crisis?  
    Charlotte Hetherington (Director at Artica Svalbard, Norway): As an organisation based in a remote Arctic location, collaboration is a key element of our infrastructure. Since its founding, Artica has collaborated with partners (Norsk Pen, Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Queen Sonja Print Award) to nominate the residents who then collaborate with the local community. This network then grows into a web of knowledge opening new methods of thinking, dialogue and action. Every resident that visits Artica has met and engaged with someone from outside of their area of knowledge, either because of a specific project where an artist might need knowledge from a scientist or at a social occasion. These exchanges are often the most talked about when the residents leave, because it has pushed them outside of their bubble and not something we get the chance to do very often in our everyday lives. To hear a new viewpoint, to learn or understand a different perspective whether you agree with it or not, provides the possibility for change. This is one of the core reasons why we (Artica) wanted to be a part of NAARCA – this collaboration allows us to be part of a wider network of knowledge. As Leena mentioned, to be able to learn and share resources that will provide actionable goals, to test out ideas through trial and error with the residents and residency staff is a wonderful and unique opportunity.   

    What advice do you have for artists looking to work more sustainably? 
    CH: It’s not advice, it’s more a wish - use your voice, use your platform, use your network. We all know that the arts are a great communicator, it pushes boundaries, it can create change. The knowledge is out there on how we can, on a ‘low hanging fruit’ level, be more sustainable in our everyday lives and work, but policy change on a local and global level is needed. This is where artists, arts institutions and our collaborators as a whole can act. Collective action is a strong force.  

    How can DACS members find out more about your programme and get involved? 
    CH: NAARCA activities will be communicated via each organisation's own websites, social media and mailing lists. You can follow us and keep up to date on our activities, programme and opportunities. 

    Further info 

    Find out more about NAARCA residencies and organisations 
    Cove Park (Scotland)  
    Saari Residence (Finland). 
    Arctic Culture Lab (Greenland) 
    Artica Svalbard (Norway) 
    Art Hub Copenhagen (Denmark) 
    Baltic Art Center (Sweden) 
    Skaftfell – Center for Visual Art (Iceland).

    Photo: First meeting of the NAARCA group, Cove Park, November 2021  

    Book now for our series, Art + Environment. 

    How can artists explore and navigate the changing environment, climate instability and justice to create a more sustainable future? This Spring, through a series of online events and written pieces, Art + Environment will explore the impact of climate instability on the arts and artists, looking at how the visual arts sector is working towards more sustainable practices and a decarbonised future.  
    Contributors include leading artists, institutions and organisations working at the forefront of the cultural sector’s response to the climate emergency.  
    In partnership with Gallery Climate Coalition.  
    Media Partner: Right Click Save. 

    Posted on 09/05/2022 by Joanne Milmoe