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Developing arts residencies – An interview with Eliza Roberts

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From Arts Residency Manager at Australia’s largest international arts residency programs to first Executive Director at the most extensive residency network in the world, Eliza Roberts has spent years researching, understanding and supporting the needs of artists and host organizations. In part one of this two-part interview, Eliza speaks to ARTERI about the two organisations and her work with them over the past 6 years.

What is Asialink?

Asialink is an organization based at the University of Melbourne, Australia. It aims at Australia-Asia engagement across the arts, but also business, diplomacy, mental health and education. Asialink operates Australia’s largest and most long-standing international arts residency program in the nation.

How long did you work for them?

I served as the inaugural Arts Residencies Manager from 2010 – 2016. This involved developing a diverse program and host partnerships throughout Australia and Asia each year, promoting and overseeing an annual open-call for applications, and working with an Advisory Committee to assess and select successful candidates.

What did you do in your capacity of Arts Residencies Manager?

A large focus of my role was bringing in funding, and on an annual basis I worked with approximately 16 different state/territory and federal funders to raise as much money as possible that could be awarded to Australian and Asian artists in the form of arts residency grants.

When I started in this role, one of the first things I did was to renew Asialink’s membership to Res Artis. This proved invaluable and enabled me to build the necessary knowledge, skills and networks to ensure Asialink’s program remained responsive to International developments and best-practice models. It encouraged me to challenge the concept of a ‘residency’ in Australia based on innovative residency models that were being trialed and theorized in Europe and the US.

Eliza Roberts speaking at Day 1 of the inaugural Asia-Australia-Europe Creative Residency Network Meeting_Asialink_Australia 2016

Speaking at the inaugural Asia-Australia-Europe Creative Residency Network Meeting on behalf of Asialink in Australia 2016

In 2012 I introduced the ‘Arts Residency Laboratory’ that enabled Asialink to test different ways of conducting international cultural exchange. The models that we piloted often responded to identified gaps in the program such as a targeted residency for Indigenous artists.

Eliza Roberts (centre) visiting Indigenous Taiwanese artist in Pintung (2014)

Visiting Indigenous Taiwanese artist in Pintung (2014)

Through Res Artis and engaged interactions with artists in residence and host organisations, I also recognized the value in proper hosting. I introduced an in-person orientation day to enable the successful residents to meet each other and our amazing alumni, and increased induction material to ensure residents maximized what can become a life-changing professional development opportunity. It was an incredibly rewarding experience.

How is Res Artis different from Asialink?

Conceived in Greece and born in Germany, Res Artis is a 23-year-old network of arts residencies. We roved throughout Europe before registering as a Dutch Foundation headquartered in Amsterdam.

Res Artis is the world wide peak organisation for the arts residencies field. We are the largest and only membership-based network, and comprise 605 members in over 70 countries. We are the worldwide professional body for the field, ensuring sustainability and growth by providing capacity building tools for our members.

Eliza Roberts visiting Australia House in Niigata Prefecture, Japan (2012)

Visiting Australia House in Niigata Prefecture, Japan (2012)

We connect, engage and promote our members through in-person meetings, our website and social media. We inform, educate and advocate the importance of residencies in today’s society, and provide recommendations towards international cultural mobility policy and research. Res Artis is responsive to member needs and developments in the field and broader cultural landscape.

As board member and then also Vice President of Res Artis’ Board of Directors, what were your responsibilities?

The Res Artis Board of Directors currently comprises 10 members from 10 diverse regions including Finland, Mexico, UK, USA, Poland, India, China, France, Germany and Iran. From 2012 – 2016 I served as a Res Artis Board Member and Vice-President of the organization over the past 2 years. Through this role I worked closely with the staff and core group of ‘Officers’ comprising President, Secretary and Treasurer.

At Res Artis Meeting, Escape and Engagement - Residencies as Hosts, Producers and Promoters in Lithuania 2014

At Res Artis Meeting, Escape and Engagement – Residencies as Hosts, Producers and Promoters in Lithuania 2014

My responsibilities included acting as the Foundation’s ambassador and secondary contact in the absence of the President. This involved tasks such as assisting with chairing Board Meetings, developing the organisation’s five-year strategic plan, communications strategies, complex member enquiries and acting as a conduit between the field and the organization to constantly improve our network and ensure responsiveness.

What was it like working remotely with a multinational organisation?

As you can imagine it is challenging getting everyone together for Skype board meetings every 2 months given the different time zones, but it works remarkably well. All our Board Members are dedicated and passionate about the arts residencies field, and their combination of skills, expertise and different cultural backgrounds is what makes Res Artis unique. I highly recommend the experience to any Res Artis members looking to nominate themselves and become a Board Member in the near future. We have an incredible team of like-minded and highly talented individuals that makes it a rare and privileged opportunity.

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In part two of this interview, Eliza talks about her new role as Executive Director of Res Artis and about her personal and professional interest in Malaysia.

In addition, don’t forget to check out our residency listings to find opportunities for performing artists. You may also enjoy What is a residency?  and Why are performing arts residencies so hard to find?

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.