Opportunity | The Bach Residency at the Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, Pittsburgh

Artists’ residencies can seem few and far between and a residency where your family are welcome to join you is almost unheard of. And yet this is exactly what Lee Parker, former student of Visual Arts at AUT has created in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Having lived in New Zealand for 20 years Lee moved to Pittsburgh with her family in 2012 for an exchange at Carnegie Mellon University and stayed on afterwards, beginning the process of founding the Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center in a renovated church building in Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Neu Kirche (meaning New Church) is an organization dedicated to the advancement of contemporary art, but also one with a very visible community and family focus. The centre offers a Studio Programme, Open Critiques with visiting artists, and a number of community focused projects, such as the Neu Girls Art Fellows, an intensive 10 month after school program for girls ages 8-18 from the North Side that focuses on developing skills in photography, printmaking, zine-making, and exhibition design.

However, the opportunity which has the most significance for us here in New Zealand is The Bach Residency that is open only to New Zealand women artists.

The centre aims to provide a fair opportunity for all artists regardless of gender, age, race, religion or family circumstance.  Speaking in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year Parker said, “We had been talking about an artist-run space to give women more gallery time and exposure and promotion,” she said. “I could see that I had a wider platform and a larger audience here”.

The concept for Neu Kirche was first developed when Lee was living in New Zealand and began to think about a gallery model that was more balanced and could better support female artists. Lee was aware of this imbalance not only in New Zealand but across the world, the statistics pointing to only 20–30% of work in galleries and major publications coming from a female perspective – and as such she saw the arts as being experienced through a very narrow viewpoint – “Art is not representative of society when we’re only seeing a slice of it.”

The residency is open for a period of up to three months, with the centre hoping to have a number of residencies throughout each year. There is also the hope that the exchange will create stronger cross cultural ties with New Zealand and provide an “opportunity for Kiwi artists to build a relationship with a new art community while further enhancing their own practice.” The first to be awarded this residency is Fiona Amundsen, whose exhibition Arsenal of Democracy is soon to open in the gallery space. Parker explains Amundsen’s work in a recent press release:

Amundsen’s academic background in social anthropology has been fundamental in defining her thinking and approach to photographic representation and documentary practice. Working within photography and moving image, Amundsen’s practice questions how specific cities, such as Pittsburgh, acknowledge their military histories, battles, and traumas within public and/or memorial sites. During the residency she will be researching Pittsburgh’s steel industry and talking to local World War II veterans to develop a new project that will be exhibited in NK’s gallery on December 4 to March 31, 2016.

Lee’s undertaking is by no means a small one, but it also begs the question, why don’t more residencies have a welcoming approach to family? I suppose funding and space are obvious answers, but with an ambitious project such as this setting a precedent you would hope that more follow in its path.

To learn more about Neu Kirche visit their website and to see more on Fiona Amundsen visit her website here.