May 29

5 Lessons I Learned from Neighborhood Time Exchange

by: Dave Kyu

The first iteration of Neighborhood Time Exchange operated out of the 4017 Lancaster Ave storefront from January 2015 through September 2015. During that period, Time Exchange welcomed 15 artists for one- to three-month residencies, funding more than 20 community projects and countless studio hours.

As innovative and exciting as this pilot program was, we learned a great number of lessons along the way. Now that we’re launching the second iteration of Neighborhood Time Exchange, as project manager, here are five of our most major lessons learned.

1. Three months is too short for a community residency. 

Working ethically in a community context begins with establishing relationships with neighbors. In the typical flow of a three-month residency, an artist would explore the city and their studio in month one, begin to consider community projects in month two, and race to honor their commitments in month three—which is to say, it was a consistent challenge to create art while also building authentic relationships. This isn’t new information, but the three-month residencies were a financial reality of the program. Time Exchange is happy to report that in 2018 and 2019, the residencies have been extended to five months each.

2. Contemporary artists aren’t used to working with clients. 

Time Exchange sourced project ideas from community requests. Artists were welcome to select specific ideas, and were asked to follow up with community members to help execute their projects. Artists are not just wild “imagineers,” but excellent project managers who can stretch small budgets, offer technical expertise, and creatively re-use materials. But many artists faced challenges when led by an outside muse. Contemporary art-making is about having a vision. Which meant…

3. …community experience is important. 

Artists who had previous experience working within communities did better in the program. We had envisioned Time Exchange as a format that could support all types of practices, from the experienced social practitioner to the private studio artist. But artists who had pre-existing skills communicating across disciplines, managing expectations, and negotiating creative roles had the most success within this structure.

4. National and international artists give perspective… 

The breadth of the program allowed the organizers of Neighborhood Time Exchange to consider artists from across the country and the world, to pair alongside Philadelphia-based artists who would bring their local expertise. The idea was that outside artists would bring more diverse experiences and skill sets, valuable outside perspectives, and greater recognition for the program. And they did do all of these things!

5. …but local artists have irreplaceable knowledge. 

There’s no shortage of creative talent, enthusiasm, and passion right here in West Philadelphia. And the place-based knowledge of our local artists proved invaluable to building impact and meaning in the work. In the second iteration of Time Exchange, we are shifting the focus to only seek artists from West Philadelphia zip codes.

Our first artist-in-residence of 2018 is Ellen Tiberino! She is currently in residence at 4017 Lancaster Avenue, offering a weekly mosaic class at the United Bank at 3750 Lancaster Avenue. In June and July, stop by for Second Friday events where Ellen will first share an exhibition of her own mosaic work, and then unveil the finished community mosaic.

Last updated: May 29, 2018

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