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In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, representatives from the New York City-based Joan Mitchell Foundation descended upon New Orleans to assist the city’s artists. They never left. In 2015, the foundation created the Joan Mitchell Center, a two-acre campus hosting artist residencies in the heart of the city. Five years later, the center has hosted over 200 artists and has expanded to host public programs, thematic residencies and community partnerships.
The foundation recently announced the 37 artists who will participate in the center’s Artist-in-Residence program. Winners will receive the time and space necessary to focus on their work, plus access to a breadth of programs, including open studios, talks, professional and legal training, and networking events.
At a time when direct support remains in short supply, the center represents a huge opportunity for working artists. Just how huge? Participating artists hailing from outside New Orleans receive studio space and lodging for up to three months, plus financial support for travel and the shipment of materials. New Orleans-based artists received studio space for up to five months. All participants receive a monthly $600 stipend.
”The foundation’s programs focus on a range of resources artists need to thrive in their lives and careers,” the foundation’s Senior Director of Artist Programs Kay Takeda told me. Resources include unrestricted funding, connections to others in the field, and the recognition that comes with receiving a grant or residency. “The need for such resources is enduring,” she said, “and pulling them together from different sources can take enormous time and effort, making it even more important—and at times, difficult—to carve out opportunities for creative risk-taking. We work to offer these resources in an integrated way.”
This path towards greater integration didn’t occur overnight. “Since we first opened the doors to the Joan Mitchell Center, we have explored many ways to enhance the program, such as rolling out a range of public programs, curated residency groups, thematic residencies, and partnerships,” Takeda said. More recently, the foundation has focused its attention on optimizing the artist’s experience to ensure they’re fully maximizing their stay. This includes providing a monthly stipend and shipping assistance, the support of two studio assistants, and partnerships to provide equipment and facilities.
Building Community Bonds
Arts residencies have been around since 1907, when Edward MacDowell and his wife, philanthropist Marian MacDowell, established the MacDowell Colony, the first arts colony in the U.S. But Takeda makes the strong case that residencies are increasingly critical to regional arts ecosystems due to a problem that’s keeping funders up at night—skyrocketing housing costs.
“Over the past five years, we’ve watched the cost of housing and studio space continue to rise in major cities across the country,” she told me. “As space becomes harder to come by, residencies become even more important as an opportunity for an artist to work in a dedicated studio space for an intensive period of time. Many of the artists who come to the center use their residency to create a large body of work or experiment with work on a larger scale than they can create at home. They also take advantage of the technical support we offer in the form of studio assistants and equipment like a large-format printer to try new things.”
The Joan Mitchell Foundation believes that while artists need time and isolation to work on their craft, no artist, to paraphrase an old cliché, is an island. The center provides opportunities for participating artists to develop creative and professional relationships in New Orleans and beyond through studio visits and consultations with curators and other arts professionals. By doing so, the foundation joins other prominent funders like Creative Capital and the Clark Hulings Fund in giving working artists access to professional and legal expertise to help them succeed.
Artists are deeply integrated with New Orleans’ thriving arts scene, participating in monthly open studio events, community coffees, and other intimate gatherings that provide opportunities for the public to engage with artists. Participating artists also show their work in local galleries and museums. New York artist Athena LaTocha is currently showing work she created during her residency last fall at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
“The creative energy and community in New Orleans is truly unique,” Takeda said. “Among the many wonderful organizations supporting artists are Ashe Cultural Center, Parse, Antenna and the nearby Studio in the Woods, as well as numerous artist-run cooperative galleries.”
A Spectrum of Support
The center’s announcement of its artist-in-residence participants comes as the foundation’s namesake, who passed away in 1992, is enjoying an overdue historical reckoning. In 2018, her “Blueberry” set an auction record for $16.625 million at Christie’s New York, while her work at Art Basel collectively sold for approximately $35.5 million.
“Everyone at the foundation is looking forward to the Joan Mitchell retrospective that is being co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,” Takeda said. It will open at the BMA in September, then travel to SFMOMA and the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2021. “This is the largest and most comprehensive Mitchell exhibition to date. We’re particularly excited about the catalog for this exhibition, which is a major contribution to the existing scholarship on Mitchell.”
In late 2018, I spoke with CEO Christa Blatchford about the foundation’s efforts to promote scholarship around Mitchell’s work, along with other ways that her organization supports artists, including its unrestricted funding through its Painters & Sculptors Grants, emergency grants for artists whose studios or equipment are damaged by natural disasters, and the Creating a Living Legacy program, which helps artists start the legacy and estate-planning process.
The foundation, Blatchford said, seeks to address “the range of challenges that visual artists face at different points in their careers, from student debt to the death of mid-sized galleries impacting mid-career artists, to the complexities of estate planning and collection stewardship for important artists who may not have significant art market recognition.”
In the future, Takeda and her team will be working with the Joan Mitchell Center’s new Director, Tocarra Thomas, on a strategic plan for the center to review and refresh its programming and priorities. Similarly, Blatchford, Takeda and other foundation stakeholders recently concluded the process of creating a strategic plan to define the next five years of the foundation’s work. The foundation share the results “in the coming months,” Takeda said.