On this artist in residency

My landlord, kind Bridget, stepped in today asking me ‘whether all is allright?’ for me being so silent in the appartment above hers. On my confirming answer ‘yes, quietly sitting here, trying to read all there is to be read’ she said ‘OK, just checking’. But there is a little more to it, of course. The way the residency here is shaping out for me, I do wonder what is the result from this residency for Detroit. I suppose the answer is simple: Not a lot for Detroit.

As you are aware of the enormous pile of publications on this town and the various methods to observing, participating, changing this town I need not extent on that. But being me, not a producing artist, rather a thinker and connector, I thrive in circumstances where I am able to make a differerence. Here in Detroit, I don’t have the feeling a residency of this kind, two months without being introduced properly at beforehand, enables me to make that difference. Confronted with the wide array of people active already here nobody needs yet another artist in residence reflecting on Detroit and the turning of the American dream into the American nightmare. But still I am here and doing just that.

So yes I did dive in the enormous amount of stories here. From bloggers writing about Detroit’s history, to books about the new 21st century Detroit, to the mountain of slightly neglected African American contributions in shaping this town and country, to books about city planning, to the great reservoir of music connected to Detroit, to the experiences of other residential artists. And let me assure you, there is a lot of great findings there.

But still, I wonder on the added value of artist in residency programs in this town. For a number of reasons: 1. So much happens here already, what could an outsider possibly add? 2. Living in a town, Utrecht, which is almost an antidote to Detroit, my pack of artistic experiences doesn’t fit the short timed situation I am in right now. 3. Exploiting Detroit is a real danger awaiting all residents just ‘round the corner – and if there is one thing I don’t want to do in life, it is exploiting other people’s dire circumstances. 4. As long as no Detroiters comment on Utrecht, why would Utrechters comment on Detroit? 5. Lacking the artists’ need to express myself being convinced the world needs my view, I’d rather pull back in the reflective mood I apparently am in.

Let me tell you a anecdote. In Utrecht we have a neighbourhood called Overvecht. It is a neighbourhood known for not being the best neighbourhood in town. It turned out to be a playground for artists. Some doing their own work, some pulling out the so called community art card. And without willing to play into the hands of those critizing the funded art world, who were always lacking at the art openings in that neighbourhood: exactly, the regular habitants of the neighbourhood. A municipal survey conducted in 2008 found out the incredible number of 217 art project were in process in that single neighbourhood. But did it make any difference for the actual residents? Wouldn’t they benefit more from some investments in the livelihood of their flats and streets?

So what is my actual contribution to Detroit? I can tell some stories on life in the Netherlands, on my experiences in life in general, those at the Balkans in particular, but I suppose that is it. I chose the vehicle of movies to do so – showing some European movies at a local art centre with an introduction by me. An introduction that doesn’t necessarily touch on Detroit, but actually might. The evenings are nice, the food and thoughts provided for by me well appreciated, the crowds not enormous. And, logically, the crowds are those of the insiders already. For the bigger part people I have met during this artist in residency already. Flyering at universities, in some bars and shops, don’t attract the people that are not already in these circles already.
So to public space than. In the Netherlands we know the phenomenon of Loesje. I thought one of my small contributions to this town should be putting out some of that posters here. Just making people smile on their way in town. Not an enormous contribution in the light of eternity, no. But a small contribution indeed.

At the same time I think a lot on the presentation back home. I produced enough material, stories, thoughts, images, I collected a lot of books, music, images I could fill the Expodium art space on all walls with three layers. Now that will be nice for me. That will be nice for Expodium. That will be nice for the visiting crowd. But will the people of Detroit benefit? Perhaps only if the presentation brings some unexpected angles to it. So for the moment I am more than occupied in musing on those angles.


  1. Publishing on this blog is to create an archive of info on the experiences of the individuals (whether they are artists, connectors, thinkers) whom are invited by Expodium to spend some time in the city of Detroit. Sometimes it is good to react on what is going overthere while we are in the Netherlands, This is one of these times:
    Indeed very relevant wonderings and questions on that local situation and your role/ contribution in/to the whole thing.
    No, you will not change or contribute a lot to Detroit neither the people
    we introduced you to, in that direct way! This has never and will never be
    the intention or ambition, for the simple reason that this is impossible.
    I am also super doubtful on what it is that an artist in residency could
    contribute to the situation in Detroit or where ever it is located. But should that be the reason for not doing it? We choose to take that
    challenge on since we strongly believe it is very relevant and important
    to learn by doing and experimenting in real time next to the fact that it
    is always valuable to learn from meeting new cultures/people/praxis and
    exchange knowledge and experiences. These issues should function both for
    locals as for the outsiders so in a two direction traffic!
    An artist in residence, when we read it, as being a place where an artist
    is invited to develop, and fully focus on, his/hers individual practise
    inspired by his surroundings on this specific location does not contribute
    a lot to a local situation. Only when this specific person (read resident)
    is able to connect with locals and their scene to exchange experiences and information and is able to open up for this new challenging situation it is possible to start making baby steps in a direction that is new and
    It is this we believe in and what we are trying to do with our program by
    inviting interesting people to gain information, cause lets be clear there
    is a lots to gain and learn for us in this. Detroit with its specific situation is a super fruitful source of information for us as Expodium with our program on urban phenomena. There is nothing wrong with getting something out of a situation you create yourself; I even believe that this is a necessity (talking in this context). We are NO do-gooders we are there for a reason. The thing that while being there it is important to look very critical towards the way we facilitate this and doing so.
    That is the reason we deliberately choose to NOT buy a house, and create yet another ‘resident island’ in this overcrowded landscape of artistic practise, but to house our invitees in an existing ‘not-only-art-community’ so they will directly be confronted with thelocal situation. And hopefully learn from that in a very humble way, we are NOT interested Cultural Colonising. Next to this we created a (to my opinion) divers network to which the guests are introduced to a certain extent. Of course after this introduction it is up to our guest to continue the contacts and find means in maintaining them so they will leads towards a relation that works in both directions. It is never said that it always works like this but it is a way of starting of. What we try to do is to create or contribute to a bases/ platform from which our participants (no-matter on what location) can start their research and develop work/ knowledge or what ever is relevant to our program. If this is a functional way to be contributing to a local situation is something we always need to research and try out, not forgetting to learn from earlier experiences.
    Friso and all the others super thanks for helping us with this!!! Looking forward how your
    input will be translated to a European situation since there is no reason
    to start comparing different locations we prefer to learn from each-other!

  2. The concerns you have been facing seem to be an integral part of the experience of the artists' residency - or at least they are very familiar to me! I have sat at the same table thinking the same things, watching people driving their pick-ups, cutting the grass, living their lives, and thinking "this is all very interesting for me, but what is in it for anyone else?"

    On the other hand, I think you DO make a difference to people just by being there. For example, I don't believe I would have ever decided to leave Scotland and move to the Netherlands if it were not for all the foreign friends I made when I lived in my own country - eventually, I wanted to be foreign too.
    I don't mean that Utrecht will see many Detroitian immigrants any time soon, but more that you can flick some subtle switches in people's heads, just on account of your strangeness. America is in general a very inward-looking country, even at the local level. It surprised me that I was introduced to people in Detroit as coming from "outta town" instead of "another country" - since that's already far enough away for people to deal with.

    And I would also agree with Bart that this doesn't necessarily need to be the point of your presence: for my own part, it bothered me at the time, but a lot less so since returning to the Netherlands. You're not asking very much from people there, and you ARE giving something back (in a small way perhaps). But the long-term impact will probably be here, not there. The real work begins when you get home!