Saturday, August 11, 2007

City of Winnipeg Archives has artist in residence

In partnership with the Winnipeg Arts Council, the City of Winnipeg Archives will host an Artist in Residence for six months beginning in September 2007. The selected artist is local filmmaker Paula Kelly, see press release for further information on Ms Kelly's work.

Through the Artist in Residence program and in collaboration with Ms Kelly, the City of Winnipeg Archives hopes to enhance public understanding of why cities create and keep records and the role records play in defining and expanding upon our understanding of "place."

As far as I am aware, this is a unique program in Canadian archives. Indeed, I have never heard of anything like it at any archives. I think this is a brilliant idea. In her 1925 essay, Virgina Woolf wrote that, "...a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," but I would submit that this is true of any creative person. Writing a novel, composing an opera and so on are major projects that are unlikely to generate income for the artist while they are in progress. Some could critique this as a distraction from the "archival mission," and that might be true. I am still developing my ideas as to what archives should be concerned about myself. Though I think this Winnipeg program is one very much worthy of emulation (or at least experimentation), I realize that some might consider it inappropriate. If so, I would be curious to see why exactly it would be resisted. It would raise the public profile of the archives in a good way and stimulate local culture. Both of these strike me as a laudable concerns.

What about a scholar in residence program then? A lavish program of this type would provide scholars (I assume mainly historians here, but I should certainly make it open to any academic or writer who can make a case that an extended stay at the archives would be beneficial to their work) with an office (complete with phone and Internet access and so forth) as well as a stipend of some kind (somewhere ranging from $5000 to $50,000 - it depends on length of stay and the cost of living in the area).

My interest in these kinds of programs was sparked by reading the opening pages of, "To the Castle and Back," a memoir by Václav Havel (dramatist and former President of the Czech Republic) where he writes, "I'm here as a guest of the Library of Congress, which has given me a very quiet and pleasant room where I can come whenever I want, to do whatever I want. They ask nothing from me in return. It's wonderful."

Notes on Winnipeg. For those readers not familiar with the city, Winnipeg has a population of 630,000 and is the capital of the province of Manitoba in Canada. It has two universities (University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg) and some interesting writers of its own, including David Bergen. The city makes up about 55% of the province's population.

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