ProWax Journal 3: Artists and Community

Artists & Community

By Milisa Galazzi

As a regular feature in the ProWax Journal, this month’s Artists & Community is Milisa Galazzi’s (MG) interview with Natalie Abrams (NA) about her McColl Residency. (The video below was taken during her residency at McColl.)

MG: Tell me a little bit about how you picked the McColl Center forVisual Art as your Residency. What, in particular, interested you about McColl in the first place? When did you apply and when did you go? What was the application process like?

NA: There were a variety of reasons I applied to the McColl Center for Visual Art. One reason was that they draw world class artists. Internationally recognized artists such as Mel Chin and Dread Scott were in residence just before and after me. While I was there the exhibition in the first floor gallery had been curated by Cynthia Reeves and included work by Janet Echelman. The caliber of artists MCVA draws is outstanding and the facility is gorgeous.  I also applied because it was local, and having never spent a significant amount of time away from my partner, it allowed me to experience a residency without that added stress of separation.

I applied in the fall of 2011 and was in residence over the summer of 2013, from April into late August.

The application included a three question Letter of Intent, work samples and image list, biographical narrative, artist statement, resume and references. The questions for the Letter of Intent were along the lines of, “What do you hope to achieve while in residence, how will this be significant to the development of your work, and how will your residency benefit from being in an urban environment with frequent public interactions?”

That last question is important because, in contrast to a lot of residency programs, MCVA is located in downtown Charlotte with the galleries open three days a week with additional required open studio days. While an artist can choose to close the doors and, technically, not interact with the public (except during open studio Saturdays), the reality is visitors knock on studio doors asking questions, ask to come in; there are frequent tours through the facility, and there are a variety of other interruptions. It is not a quiet, isolated studio experience. That being said, I found those experiences of interacting with guests and visitors to be wonderful, allowing me to develop relationships with people who are truly interested in art. Those conversations also really helped develop my ability to discuss my work.

MG: What did you do while you were there?  How did you choose this particular work to work on?  What supplies did you bring?

NA: I had intended to spend all my time at the MCVA transitioning my work from wall hung pieces to freestanding sculptural work. I’m interested in creating reef installations with my current process, but to do that would require the introduction of armatures, a different base set up and crating system. I was able to work out the basics of converting to freestanding pieces, but didn’t spend near the amount of time on it which I had expected. In reality, I worked on other projects which sprung up while there which were equally beneficial.

In my proposal, I chose to focus on developing installations because I’d become increasingly interested in them over the previous couple years, and very much wanted my work to develop in that direction. I don’t have a studio space which will allow me to work on that scale, so a residency was a natural next step.

Being local, it made bringing my materials much easier. I brought all my wax and wax working tools, lumber and some specialized woodworking tools and a few other miscellaneous things. I also brought a couch for people to sit on because I wanted the space to be inviting. I’ll be going on two residencies this year, one in Florida and one in New York, and what I’ll take for those programs will be completely different and much more minimalist.

MG: What was the most beneficial part of the Residency for you? What was the most difficult? What you are most proud of when you think back on your experience?

NA: I would say the entire residency was beneficial for me. Not coming from an art background, it was really fun to be in a communal atmosphere with other artists as opposed to the solitary studio practice I normally have. The presence of other artists working in different mediums was fascinating, and gave me an opportunity to learn, discuss, get feedback and critiques. The most difficult part was going back to a solitary studio practice. I think there should be support groups for people leaving residencies.

MG: If you could do the whole thing over again from start to finish, what, if anything would you change? 

NA: In the future, I’ll be a lot more self-sufficient.

MG: What else would you like to say?

NA: Know what you want to work on going in, but be flexible and open to experiences which may present themselves. Know what kind of a situation you’re going into, so you can be prepared. Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions ahead of time. If you have specific requirements, make sure the facility knows that and can accommodate. If there are things you need in order to pull off your project, make sure someone is addressing those needs, whether it’s the facility you’re going to or yourself.

Residencies truly are what you make of them, so make it everything you want that experience to be. 

Galazzi is an artist living and working in Providence and on Cape Cod in the summer. Her graduate degree is from Rhode Island School of Design where she especially focused on her lifelong interest – art and community. Her website is and she is represented by ERNDEN Fine Art Gallery in Provincetown, Mass.

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