NEA Arts Magazine

Open Door Policy

Artist Residencies at McColl Center for the Arts

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Artist Colin Quashie, working in his studio, participated in the McColl Center for the Arts residency program. Photo by Mitchell Kearn.

"Artist residency" usually implies a retreat from public life, allowing an artist to focus exclusively on making work. Charlotte, North Carolina's McColl Arts Center, however, takes a different view. Approximately 12 artists are awarded these fully funded residencies each year to pursue their creative development, while at the same time actively engaging with the host community. The NEA has provided continual support for the artist residencies over the years.

As Executive Director Suzanne Fetscher explained, "Most artists work in isolation and that has its place, and it's important. But I think there are times in an artist's career when they'd like to have more interaction. It gives them a whole other resource to use in the development of their work and their ideas."

McColl encourages this public conversation in several ways. Artists regularly leave their doors open during gallery hours as an invitation for visitors to walk in and experience work-in-progress. According to Fetscher, "It's a huge gift in both directions. It's a great opportunity for an artist to develop their skills in talking about their work, not just talking to their peers, but to talk to the person on the street. It's also a way for the general public to have a conversation with the artist, to demystify the creative process, to see the person behind the creation and why and how they do what they do. . . It builds mutual understanding and appreciation."

To maximize this artist-community dialogue, the center also hosts regular open houses, at the beginning and end of each residency and on some Saturdays. Fetscher noted that the events draw a diverse audience. "We have families pushing strollers and green-haired students with tattoos and we have people who are dressed up who are stopping here before they go to the opera. There aren't too many places in Charlotte where you can experience that mix."

In addition, the visiting artists facilitate at least two outreach projects during their stay, often working with one of Charlotte's many community organizations. Projects have ranged from traditional lecture-demonstrations to an exhibition of work by the city's Latino artists curated by an artist-in-residence.

The center's outreach commitment also includes offering one residency spot to an art teacher from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district. The teacher/artist-in-residence in turn presents two in-service workshops for all of the district's art teachers based on the research and development accomplished during the residency.

Ultimately, this continuing dialogue between artist and audience aids his professional development as much as solitary studio time. Reflecting on his 2007 residency, artist Rob Carter wrote, "The McColl Center for Visual Art helped me expand my understanding of my work's relationship to a wider audience.My residency has helped me get much closer to the aspects of urban development that interest me, and actually feel that there could be a dialogue between the corporate and artistic worlds."