The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Minneapolis-based Walker Art Center, an international hub for cutting-edge performing arts
Walker Art Center
McGuire Theater, 2008.
Photo: Cameron Wittig
Walker Art Center
Three views of Administrative offices in Herzog & de Meuron expansion, 2006.
Photo: Cameron Wittig
Walker Art Center
U.S. Bank Orientation Lounge, 2005.
Photo: Cameron Wittig
Walker Art Center
Bazinet Garden Lobby, 2005. Dan Graham sculpture/video-viewing area.
Photo: Cameron Wittig
Please talk more in detail about the Walker’s residency programs.
    Residencies tend to break into two different types. One is really about helping artists develop their work. We call them “Production Residencies.” Often artists are faced with the situation to go straight from the rehearsal space to a major theater and premiere a work with a few days of technical load-in. At the Walker, since we opened the McGuire Theater in 2005, we are now able to give the artists enough time to develop and finish making their work.

How many days do you usually give to the artists to develop and/or finish their works?
    For the artists that we select for Production Residencies anywhere from 10 days to a month depending on the complexity of the work and what the artists’ needs are. Of course when we have an artist in residence there’re all those wonderful opportunities to connect the visiting artists to local artists and local populations, to teach classes, etc. But the primary focus is about giving them a chance to make their work the highest quality that they possibly can so that it can be seen in the best light when it goes to New York or travels internationally.

Such works after Production Residencies are premiered here at the Walker before going on tours?
    That’s usually the case, although it is not necessarily the most desirable thing. There’s a certain prestige to do a world premiere, but it also asks your audiences to take a bit more of a chance. Sometimes, works evolves after the premiere. I still think that it’s wonderful for us to have the chance to see the work here first. We’ve probably done 15 or 20 since we re-opened, and most of those works have gone on to travel the world and have been widely well received and well acclaimed.
    The other kind of residencies are what we call “Community Residencies”. These are about working with artists either at the earlier stage of their work or with an idea where there is a great interest in being involved with communities who are based here in the Twin Cities. It’s a really involved creative process where artists are combining their work with either issues or passions that exist here locally in the various communities. I think that it’s a way of bringing art and people together in the making or exploration of something that is very enriching for the people. It often serves as artists’ research at an early stage for a work that they want to do further down the road.
    We have done these kinds of residencies with Bill T. Jones, Ralph Lemon, Liz Lerman and a visual artist named Nari Ward and many other artists over the years. We don’t try to make it removed at all from the creative work that artists want or need to do, but we try to do it with artists who feel they need or will benefit from and could give back to community members who work within our neighborhoods and communities.
    Seikou Sundiata, the poet and performance artist, a few years back had a production residency here for a work called “the 51st (dream) state” which questioned what kind of democracy we have become in America. From an African American poet’s point of view, he explored the whole question of what is it to be an American, what is democracy, etc. We worked in collaboration with the Humphrey Center at the University of Minnesota. There were a series of classes, interactions, workshops, dinner parties and salons where Seikou came and just heard from people and talked to them. He led people through exercises and created some public activities. He videotaped some of the events that ended up in his final art work, which we eventually presented as a finished work the following year.

Do you initiate this kind of project that deeply involves the community?
    It’s a combination of things. I’d say that the majority happens to be artists who are looking at questions and issues that they are concerned about. If I’m aware that there are the similar concerns or if I think there’s a way to connect very directly with things going on here or with people’s issues and passions that I would take a lead and hope that we will find - and we always have found - communities interested in connecting with national artists and exploring topics. But sometimes, I’d be approached by local organizations or individuals who want to work on a particular issue, and then we will seek out an artist. In any case, it is important that the artist is passionate about exploring the content issue. I don’t want just a community exercise. It’s ultimately about the artwork, but an artwork that can embrace and empower people in its making.
    I think that these lines between presentation of art and interaction with art and the collective making of art are all breaking down a bit more. I think that we’re entering into the age where many people are not going to be satisfied with just going and watching art. They will want, in some ways, to be part of it, or to be behind the scenes and knowing how and why it was put together, and so more and more of our projects even that aren’t residencies, many of our commission projects ultimately involve local artists or non-performers, so, more and more of our projects are blurring lines between the local and the global in very interesting ways, and I love that part, but it brings associated challenges financial, logistical, and everything else as well.
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