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A Brief Guidebook to Art Residencies in China

Artist residencies aren’t new to China. In the 17th and 18th century, visiting European Jesuits including Giuseppe Castiglione, worked for several emperors and exchanged painting techniques with Chinese court artists. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao sent illustrators and choreographers from Yan’an to the Soviet Union to study and adapt Soviet Realism to create new propaganda for China.

More recently, after Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening up policies allowed international visitors back to the country, individual artists from all over the world sought out experiences in China. The longest running residencies to date set established themselves in the 1990s and early 2000s through local-international partnerships. For example, CEAC began as a partnership between a Dutch curator and a Xiamen University professor, whereas Sanbao was founded by a duo of American and Chinese artists in the ceramics factories of Jingdezhen. Today, there are around fifty consistently-running artist residencies all across the mainland and Hong Kong. Each year brings dozens more innovative short-term programs experimenting with virtual residencies on WeChat, or travelling residencies aboard cargo ships. Although no two programs are exactly alike, they all provide time, space, and support to nurture creative ideas.

Sanbao Residency
Sanbao village in Jing Dezhen, photo credit to China Residencies


Art Residency Models in China

The main difference between residencies in the UK and residencies in China is simply that the field is relatively new, as is the Chinese contemporary art world as a whole. The professional field of cultural management is also fairly new in Chinese universities, and many art residencies are part of informal organizations — artist run spaces, collectives, studios, or even private museums, which may or may not have an official structure. Although most operate on a not-for-profit basis, few are registered as charities or NGOs, and many don’t have formally paid, trained staff on site. While this leads to great diversity and creativity in modes of operation, it also means that most people running residencies in China have to figure things out as they go along. Without the support of local arts councils, private philanthropists, or supportive publics, many residencies are learning how to run sustainably.