North Mountain Residency
Name: North Mountain Residency
Address: Tuscarora Pike, Shanghai, West Virginia
Contact: Susanna Battin
Phone: 304 620 3874
Open Hours: May – September
How is the project operated?
North Mountain Residency is a small artist-run non-profit.
How long has it been in existence?
We’ve operated in various forms since 2015.
What was your motivation?
In the mid-1960s, the Labovitz family purchased an apple farm in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. John Labovitz, the founder of North Mountain Residency, spent his youth exploring its woods and fields. In 2012, while working on a photo-documentary project about letterpress printing, he spent a season at the farm and realized that its existing structures and land would lend a great environment for this practice — and that the space should be shared with others. We ran the pilot program in 2015, and officially began as North Mountain Residency in 2016. Today, North Mountain Residency operates in the spirit of research, conversation, and risk-taking, and specifically focuses on supporting on practices that have sensitivity to the Appalachian region.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
We currently run with two part-time staff members, and a small founding board of three.
How are programs funded?
We are internally funded and keep overhead costs low. Though we are now fiscally sponsored, we are in the process of attaining nonprofit status to better raise funds for stability and program development. We ask a fee of $100 per resident per week to help cover the costs of the residency program, which includes housekeeping and administration work, utilities, household supplies, taxes, and insurance. This fee is on a sliding scale, so no one is turned away for lack of funds. Similarly, residents may contribute more to help cover the costs of fellow or future residents. We are experimenting with a work trade system, in which residents may elect to contribute their skills and experience on site.
Who is responsible for the programming?
Programming is primarily coordinated by John Labovitz (founder and director) and Susanna Battin (Program Director). We increasingly rely on our board for programming decisions. Our annual open call is reviewed by a jury that assembled from members of the community, including curators, artists, activists, craftspeople, and past residents.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
2 — variable
What kind of events are usually organized?
We host an annual open house in September. We’ve built a partnership with the local liberal arts university, Shepherd University, and hope to continue hosting gallery shows and public workshops with them.
How is your programming determined?
We have two modes of programming. The first is a more typical open call residency model, in which the public is invited to submit applications for three-week residency periods. Unlike this typical model, these residencies are not artist-centric. We’ve found that the identifier ‘artist’ can be exclusionary, and is often reserved for those that have received expensive, formalized training. A primary mission of North Mountain is to be equitable, inviting, and open to all creative people.
The other mode of programming is a residency model shaped for collaborative groups. This programming is conducted by establishing friendships with organizers and organizations, and inviting them to curate a residency of their own design. This process is based in continual dialogue, establishing mutual trust, and sharing affinities.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
We accept applications to our open call starting in mid-January. The deadline is usually March 1, but we accept late applications on a rolling basis. We are always open to unprompted collaborative ideas.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
By providing durational residencies, we try to encourage people to commit to their more risky creative endeavors. We see artmaking and creative practices as forms of philosophical and ontological research that have the ability to lead in social change and action.
In our own incremental way, we are trying to increase equity and accessibility in the arts for those of different backgrounds, perspectives, and practices. We are doing this by privileging certain types of applications through juried and curatorial processes, pursuing alternative forms of outreach, and remaining flexible in our planning and resources when working with those that have different kinds of needs.
We’re also strengthening our connections within the cultures and ecologies local to West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. So often the arts and creative practices are detrimentally siloed. We’re already on a mountain; we don’t also want to be on an island! We encourage residents to focus on the geography, culture, and ecology of the site. We also work in collaboration with neighboring organizations to curate, direct, and facilitate research at the residency.
What’s working? What’s not working?
After being inspired by past residency conferences, as well as observing the dynamics of the residency scene, we developed a values statement, which we published on our website, and modified our application to encourage applicants to share relevant information that related to those values. In accordance with these values, we removed the word ‘artist’ from our residency name. We feel that these changes have sharpened our program and made our community more dynamic.
We struggle with finding proper insurance and other professional services. We’re still learning what being a nonprofit is, and fear change that has the potential to institutionalize North Mountain. We fear losing our current sense of autonomy and flexibility that makes us lightweight and agile in unpredictable times.
Despite efforts to become more integrated with the population of our local valley, we feel isolated from, or alien to, the neighboring community. However, we are only in our third year and are aware that these relationships may take generations to build.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
We hope that by supporting research and risk-taking practices in a critical thinking environment, we may stimulate social change and action. In the arts community at large, we hope to provide safe experimental space for this kind of work. Over the years, we hope to build a network of past residents that feel connected to West Virginia and North Mountain, and thereby to each other.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
We’re excited to better integrate the residency and the land, by extending the network of trails and creating sitting spots and work outposts. We’re also working on specific programming to reconnect the space to the larger environment & culture of Back Creek Valley.
Images courtesy of North Mountain Residency