Dream job: Artist in Residence at a Digital Humanities Center

For an explanation of this post, see here. I’m just daydreaming here, but it is fun. :)

Artist Pallette w/ keyboard
by royblumenthal on flickr

I have long daydreamed about being an Artist in Residence somewhere. Imagine being paid to paint-without the normal art selling cycle! Bliss. Of course, artist in residences are hard to come by, and especially the type I would want- one tied to an organization doing digital work.

I look to Alex Itin’s work as the artist in residence at the Institute for the Future of the Book for inspiration on how a new model for artistic residencies could work. Not only does Itin’s work lend a creative force to the institute, but it informs projects and starts conversations. Alex’s work is central to the work of the Institute.

I imagine an artist in residence at a digital humanities center would work for similar reasons: he or she would bring diversity to the staff, giving them another creative person who may have a different perspective. He or she could inform projects and, perhaps more importantly, help bridge the communication between the fine art faculty and the center. I’ve talked about bridging fine arts and digital humanities before, but never really came up with any solutions. This could be one such solution. This bridge would be even more useful if the artist in residence had some stake in the fine arts department- say, by teaching a class there or serving as a consultant.

What about funding? As I mentioned in my first post on fine art and the digital humanities, the funding agencies for fine art and other humanities are different.

There’s the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEH has many initiatives to support digital work (see the new Office for Digital Humanities), while the NEA- well, I don’t think it has much in the way of digital initiatives (please correct me if I am wrong.)

Despite that, though, I think there could be funding opportunities here. Local arts grants might support this, as might internal grants from institutions. One grant from the NEH that might be able to support such a project is the Fellowship at Digital Humanities centers, offered this year for the first time from the Office of Digital Humanities.

Here are a few pertinent quotes from the fellowship page (emphases are all mine)

Awards are for periods of six to twelve months. The intellectual cooperation between the visiting scholar and the center may take many different forms and may involve humanities scholars of any level of digital expertise. Fellows may work exclusively on their own projects in consultation with center staff, collaborate on projects with other scholars affiliated with the center, function as “apprentices” on existing digital center projects, or any combination of these.

The aims of the program are to 1) support innovative collaboration on outstanding digital research projects; 2) expand digital literacy and expertise; 3) promote the work of digital humanities centers; and 4) encourage broad and open access to the humanities.

One requirement of the above NEH fellowship is this:

Provide a clear explanation of how the project will use digital technologies to accomplish its goals. Detail how the project’s approach is unique or builds on existing models, and how the ultimate project results will be of value to scholars and general audiences in the humanities.

NEH views the use of open source software as a key component in the broad distribution of exemplary digital scholarship in the humanities. If either the start-up project or the long-term project is not predicated on generally accessible open source software, explain why and also explain how the Endowment’s dissemination goals will still be satisfied by the project

I imagine an artist in residence that is technically savvy, and able to inform the possible implementation of online exhibitions, digital artwork, and other ways to use computers to explore the fine art realm. In other words, in order to serve the goals of this particular program, it would help to have someone who can act as a consultant rather than just an artist in residence.

I don’t know if the ODH would accept such a proposal (it might not be what they had in mind) but it’d be interesting to find out.

Finally, I don’t think this kind of residence is limited to a digital humanities center- a museum might benefit from this type of digital artist in residence too, bringing a viewpoint that may be hard to get otherwise.

What might the actual job look like? Well like any artist in residence, the primary duty would be to create art. The art may have to do with the work being done at the digital humanities center. Artistic visualizations of data sets, processing based works having to do with a specific project, paintings that draw inspiration from the vast visual media produced or processed by these centers. The artist in residence would have other responsibilities though: consulting on visual problems like visualization, design, etc.; perhaps (as I mentioned above) teaching a class through the fine art or art history department; or collaborating on software applications for fine artists. (what would a Zotero or Juxta for fine art look like?) Finally, if open access is an issue at the center, the visual artist could experiment with how open access, creative commons and the like, might impact fine arts.

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3 Responses to Dream job: Artist in Residence at a Digital Humanities Center

  1. Brett Bobley says:

    I think your proposal is a very interesting one. Speaking for myself (and not meant to convey the official position of the NEH), I think that bringing fellows from numerous disciplines into DH centers could be very valuable. Some of the most exciting work today is being done across disciplines. That said, I find it interesting that there haven’t been more art/humanities crossovers.

    For any NEH grant, the applicant must demonstrate why the work will benefit the humanities. So for our Fellowships at DH Centers program, the applicant will need to discuss why bringing in Fellow “Jane Smith” will lead to some advancement for the humanities. It is OK if Jane is a humanist, a computer scientist, an artist, or a nuclear engineer. But the tough part will be proving the case for why the collaboration between Jane and the center staff will be good for the humanities. Making the case for bringing in an artist isn’t necessarily easy. In some ways, it might actually be easier to explain why you might need a scientist rather than, say, a painter or sculptor. But I’d love to see someone make a good case.

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