When people imagine an artist residency, they usually picture an idyllic, isolated studio in the woods. A new programme in Times Square offers artists a very different setting for creative contemplation: one of the world’s most famous—and crowded—tourist attractions.
The year-long programme, which begins in June, invites four local artists or collectives to work for three months each in the heart of Times Square. Residents will operate out of an office donated by a local business and receive a $5,000 stipend plus $1,500 for materials. They are encouraged to take on projects that engage Times Square’s nearly 450,000 daily visitors.
The inaugural resident, the artist R. Luke Dubois, plans to stage subtle performances and record them on webcams installed throughout Times Square. “It is essentially a 90-day, time-lapse film shoot,” Dubois says. He plans to use the footage to create “a continuous video portrait of Times Square”. The non-profit Eyebeam Art + Technology Center is due to take over the residency in autumn. The group’s research will focus on comment culture online and in the public realm.
“We want to set a precedent for other business districts to show that artists are an important part of any community—even successful, vibrant ones,” says Sherry Dobbin, the director of public art for the Times Square Alliance, which is organising the programme.
In 1980, back when Times Square was one of New York’s seedier neighbourhoods, more than 100 artists crammed into an abandoned massage parlour to present their work in the now-legendary Times Square Show. Since then, the area has transformed. (The Times Square Show site is now a Red Lobster.) The residency programme is an effort to lure artists back. “People have really responded to the idea of having access to a place where it can sometimes feel like there is no room for you,” Dobbin says.
The Times Square Alliance has its own motivations for launching the residency. The square’s new pedestrian-only plazas—an initiative of the Bloomberg administration—are in the final construction phase. The alliance hopes its artist residents will offer fresh ideas about how best to utilise the space.
“The idea of having someone whose purpose is solely to concentrate on what is happening in this area gives us a lot of qualitative research,” Dobbin says. “No matter what they find out, it will be of interest. What patterns do they discover? How are people using the space? Artists can help us see these things differently.”