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Earlier this year, the Shandaken Project and the Storm King Art Center came together to create a summer residency on the grounds of the Hudson Valley sculpture park. From June through September 15 artists will live and work on site, in shared housing and individual studios. Nicholas Weist, who wanted to create an alternative residency program that offered artists and cultural producers a chance to create and take risks in their practice, founded the Shandaken Project in 2011. That unbounded encouragement of process-based experimentation will continue at Storm King, the 500-acre former farmland that has played host to both temporary and permanent outdoor sculptures by artists like Zhang Huan, Richard Serra, David Smith, Maya Lin, Louise Nevelson, and Mark di Suvero. We met up with Nicholas Weist and the center’s associate curator Nora Lawrence to learn more about the partnership, and the growth of both organizations.
WHITEWALL: Why was Storm King interested in a residency program, and what about the Shandaken Project fit what you were looking for?
NORA LAWRENCE: When I started at Storm King in 2011, we did a strategic plan right away because there were a number of new people on staff all at once. And one thing in the strategic plan was having a residency on site. Nick and I started talking and he had a lot of answers to really specific questions. With Shandaken, he’s come up against so many of the types of issues that a place like Storm King would come up against.
NICHOLAS WEIST: There’s a discrete set of concerns for a retreat-style residency. For the Shandaken Project the goal is to create a safe space for process and for experimentation. We invite people to decontextualize themselves, limit the pressures of everyday life, and focus on time in the studio. One of the other defining features of the program is that there is a focus on community, and socialization with one’s peers.
The original campus for Shandaken was on a rented estate in the middle of the Catskills for a number of years. Because of our interest in anticorporatism and providing an alternative structure for our community, that initial informality was in service of our goal. Now we’re hoping to continue to provide that alternativism but with a stronger foundation.
WW: Nora, you were a curator at MoMA prior to joining Storm King. How does your role as curator now compare?
NL: I’m much more responsible for practical matters than I used to be. And for very good reasons, because something that’s not going to last will not look good in November. The stakes are different in those terms. The larger difference is that working at Storm King right now is much more than only curatorial. We’re brainstorming all the time about the future, about the institution as a whole, how the different departments work together. This [role] is much more holistic.
WW: How do you work with artists, who maybe aren’t typically making public, outdoor work? What makes a good permanent commission?
NL: Our permanent commissions are really long-term projects. The Maya Lin Wave Field was nine years from start to finish. Richard Serra took a number of years. Storm King is 500 acres, but part of the experience is walking around, getting lost a little bit, and not being able to see anything over this tall grass that you’re in the middle of. We don’t want to overcrowd anything, and we want to make good decisions. Artists come and visit many, many times before ground is broken at all.
WW: Nicholas, how do you guide artists at Shandaken to make sure that their time in the residency best serves their ongoing practice?
NW: What we see often is that people come with a specific idea of what they want to do and it immediately goes out the window. The one thing that I’m really proudest of after having now three seasons of residencies completed is that the artists who joined us in the first year, 2012, have told us as recently as a couple of weeks ago, that the ideas that they were working on then are, still resonating with them. I think that the opportunities to dream big and risk it all pay huge dividends in the long term.
We really believe that what we do is incredibly important and that when we conduct our business it’s always with one eye on ethics and honorableness. Shandaken would not have partnered with any institution. The partnership with Storm King is significant because Storm King shares a lot of the values of Shandaken in terms of the manner in which it works to safeguard particular ecologies—
NL: —and also an artist’s vision. That’s something that we really try to let guide us, and we have figured out ways to do some pretty extreme projects because it’s important for us to do so, and that’s a similar thing. We’re both asking people in different ways to dream.
A version of this article is published in Whitewall’s summer 2015 issue.