Monday, August 11, 2014

Leaving the Kids at Home

Residency Report is an ongoing series of posts from artists who've undertaken creative residencies with their families. As important as it is to have options that include young children, sometimes it just makes more sense to go without them. On her website, writer Debbie Urbanski describes her process for pursuing a residency while leaving her young children home with family.  She graciously allowed us to share this excerpt:

Heading off to my first writing residency at Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts in Ithaca, NY a few months ago, I was terrified. I was leaving my kids for the first time ever, having never spent even a night away from them. I felt guilty and wondered what had I gotten my family and myself into. It helped to read some firsthand accounts of other writing residencies online, but I couldn’t really find anything written by a parent of relatively young children (mine are 4 and 7 years old).  In brief, despite the nervousness, anxiety, and guilt, my first writer’s residency was one of the best milestones in my writing life so far. My family survived and so did I.

There are a few rare residencies that allow your family to stay with you. Part of me thinks 'awesome!' But part of me thinks 'no!' That would slip the writer back into the role of caregiver and make it difficult, yet again, to focus on one’s work.

Why leave the family behind to pursue a residency program?
* To have uninterrupted time to focus on one’s writing / creative work.
* To meet other artists and have sustained adult conversations about art.
* To remember what it’s like to be a writer first (versus being a parent first).
* To take the next step in one’s career.

In my case at least, being a mother is a constant buzzing distraction, one that bangs its fists against my writing room door begging for attention. I always think that being a mom makes me a better writer, but being a writer makes me a worse mom. A lot of times in the day, I’ll be honest, I want to be writing (or reading). My weekday schedule means I wake up ridiculously early to walk and then make breakfast for the family, and get the kids up, and get my husband up, and coordinate making lunches, and make sure the kids are stable enough for the day. I’m lucky enough to have time to write in the morning, but that time ends when the alarm on my phone goes off, which means I have exactly 11 minutes to get to school to pick them up. It’s a jarring transition. Fragments of my stories are always hovering around me, fighting for my attention. I haven’t been able to write on the weekends for about 7 years.

Choosing the right program
There are some great resources out there to find the right residency for you. In my case I figured I could escape for 2 weeks maximum. My ideal criteria was that residents would be fed, since cooking occupies way too much time in my ordinary life, and ideally I wouldn’t have to pay to go. If this is your first residency, I’d also recommend trying to find one close to home. It was a great comfort to me that I might be only an hour away in case my kids needed me. Or I wimped out.

I wish more residencies offered two weeks. I wish more residencies offered stipends to help with childcare costs. A mentorship program would be nice, where they pair you up with another artist mother so you can ask questions (like, am I insane?) before you go. Saltonstall allowed visitors on Sundays which was great, so the kids got to see where I worked (though these visits were not uncomplicated). Not all places allow that.

Preparing the kids
My kids were 4-½ and 7 years old when I went. I don’t think I could have left them any
 Dad Camp
sooner. Even at 4 ½ years, Stella’s conception of time is fuzzy, and she would ask heartbreaking questions like, “Will you be home for my birthday?” (which was 3 months away), but it’s probably different for every family. I just felt like I couldn’t wait any longer. That said, it’s true, when Saltonstall called to offer me the residency part of me wanted to say,”actually I’m not ready for this.”

We called my residency “Mom’s writing camp” -- and my husband added that Mom had won an award to go there. So my kids were excited. We were also talking about summer camps for them, and they found the idea that I had my own camp to be kind of wacky. Our school generously allowed Stella (age 4) to move to full day pre-school with after care for 2 weeks, so the kids were taken care of weekdays until 5:30. Friends generously offered to help out with rides if we needed it or invited Harold and the kids over to dinner. And we have a great babysitter who was able to help Harold out a few nights too when he needed to work late or take a break. Grandparents who lived locally would have come in helpful, but no such luck for us.

We called the kids hanging out with Dad during those two weeks “Dad Camp” — and the talk of ice cream trips, mac & cheese, and lots of PB&J got the kids pretty excited.

Re-entry was challenging on a lot of levels. The kids missed Dad Camp in a lot of ways (no chores! no making lunches! ice cream!) My husband had enjoyed being a single parent in a
catching up post-residency
lot of ways too (no negotiation! less clean up in the kitchen! more eating out!). I missed having adult conversation every night for dinner (it’s true, I cried the first family dinner I had, where the conversation was mainly about why Stella was kicking me under the table about every minute). I missed having entire days for writing and I felt dragged down by the amount of housework that my life requires.

Because the residency ended on Mother’s Day weekend, we decided to stay for a few more days down in Ithaca and hike. Perhaps we were too ambitious -- there were some spectacularly unhappy scenes. But there were some nice moments too, like getting to read with my kids again. I think it would have been equally as shocking for me to suddenly appear and be thrust back into the everyday schedule of chores and tending to the kids. It took maybe three weeks for us to work out the kinks, maybe longer.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * *  *  *  *  * *  *  *  *  * *  * 
 Debbie Urbanski is a writer living in Syracuse, New York. Her work focuses on aliens, marriage, cults, belief, and family, or some combination of those themes. Her fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The Southern Review, The Sun, Alaska Quarterly Review, Tin House’s Open Bar, and the UK science fiction magazines Interzone and Arc. You can find more of her work at

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Interview: Candida Alvarez

black cherry pit, 2009, 7 x 6 feet, acrylic on canvas
photo by Tom Van Eynde
Cándida Alvarez is a painter known for vibrantly layered abstractions that dismantle and remix an array of influences that cut across pop culture, modern art, world news and personal memory. Her work is shown in museums and galleries around the world and is represented in numerous public and private collections, including The Addison Gallery of American Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and El Museo del Barrio. Cándida is a tenured Professor in the Painting and Drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she has taught since 1998. She has been parenting nearly as long as she’s been making a career for herself as an artist, and her passion for both is clear.

CR: To start, tell us a little bit about you and your son.

Candida: Ramon Alvarez Smikle was born 23 years ago in New York City. He was the perfect baby, slept through the night, and loved to pick flowers to give to his mama. He spent his first seven months in Brooklyn, and then we all moved to Connecticut so his dad (Dawoud Bey) could pursue an MFA at Yale in Photography.  Two years later, since we were still in New Haven, I also applied and was accepted into the MFA program in Painting.  It was the 90’s and the stock market had crashed, and as a new mom, I saw [grad school] as an invaluable opportunity for some time out to work and engage in critical thinking and discourse about the work. I studied with Mel Bochner, Catherine Murphy, Frances Barth, David Reed, David Pease, Howardena Pindell, Rochelle Fienstein, Dick Lytle, and Sylvia Mangold.

We all moved to Chicago in Fall of 1998, after I accepted a full time teaching position at SAIC in the Painting department. Ramon started second grade at the Lab school, so we moved to Hyde Park. In 2006, his dad and I divorced, and I moved to the south loop so Ramon could be close to his new high school. Four years later, Ramon decided to apply to Columbia College, where his dad taught, and Ramon graduated with a BA degree in Music Business Management. He excelled in his passion, and today he lives in Santa Monica, working full time for Shazam as their Music Partnerships Coordinator!

CR:  What was it like for you to become an artist-mother? What kinds of support or lack of support did you encounter?

Candida with Ramon, 1991
photo by Dawoud Bey
Candida: I remember never giving it much thought until the day I found myself pregnant. It was a conversation I really was not that invested in. I was married for 10 years and was 36 years old.  I was living the life of the artist, working in a home studio, making ends meet. When I realized I was carrying a child I felt like I was ready… but to be honest I had no idea what to expect. Most of my friends had already grown children, or they were just beginning new partnerships.

It was not very popular for artists to have children, but I was steadfast in my decision. I remember thinking I may not be taken seriously as an artist after this. It was odd to see my belly stretch out in front of me, and to feel the pulsations of life growing inside of me.

Ramon was born during the winter. A few weeks later, I remember fretting about going to an art opening, as it seemed odd to bring a baby with me. I was trying to get used to this new part, which was like walking with a new limb, so to speak.  As fate would have it, the phone rang. My dear friend, poet / mother Hettie Jones was calling  to check up on the recent mom and new baby.  I told her about the opening, and she convinced me that I had to go. I went, despite my fears that I’d lost my identity as the artist to this new reality called mother. In fact it was powerful: I became both things simultaneously. Baby Ramon was bundled up in his shower gifts and he and I together walked in. As I held him in my arms he sooo became the object of desire, not the art on the walls. He intoxicated everyone around him. It was lovely.

Learning to juggle the “we-ness” of those years, when your child is totally dependent on you is daunting and doubt invariably clings like a nasty cold. Fortunately, I did know and was friendly with artists who had children, so that helped tremendously. These women were also successful: Elizabeth Murray, Allison Saar, Laura Letinsky, Hettie Jones. They all seemed so comfortable around their kids, and they made it seem easy, although they had to become better at multi-tasking. They were my role models and gave me confidence and joy in sharing a well of knowing that you just cant really explain, but need to live through. 

Candida's studio, Fine Arts Building, Chicago
CR:  Do you feel that parenthood had an impact on your creative practice?

Candida: Yes, parenting had an impact on my creative practice. I learned to multi-task, as time and exhaustion competed for prominent roles. At the end of the day, there was not a lot of time to catch up or socialize. Unfortunately, friends who were childless we saw less and less. Bright color appeared everywhere and slowly it became important to the paintings. We left New York, so my son’s dad could get his MFA from Yale in Photography. It was as traumatic as it was exciting.

At first the hardest thing was dropping him off at the baby sitter. You worry about the care no matter what. We both cried. But soon I rented a studio and got to work. My days were not as long, but the time was precious. It was a constant juggling act. I remember having to leave him after the first 6 months of nursing. It was painful but also liberating. I was in Ecuador, showing my paintings, talking about art. I walked around like a zombie, missing this bundle of life that was so close to me. It was difficult, not sure yet how this experience had affected me.

All in all, I would say motherhood was the best thing that happened to the artist that lives inside of me. It pushed all doubt to the background as love, confidence, intuition, patience, moved to the foreground. Ramon is a constant reminder that we are still always becoming
Ramon and Candida, 2014 (selfie by Ramon)

CR:  You have raised your son through the newborn stage into adulthood. How have you negotiated the demands of your creative work, day job, and parenthood? What advice would you share with artists struggling to make it work?

As a tenured professor and a former interim graduate dean I’ve had the chance to put my multi-tasking skills to work, and they paid off! I am grateful for that relationship. It has given me the space for criticality and engagement close to home, especially when travel or networking was challenged by my commitment to my son. I wanted to be a good mother, attentive when it mattered. 

I would say: Hang in there, it’s worth it. Aim to be present, not perfect. Be kind, considerate and respectful.

Monday, July 21, 2014

CR Event Series Report: An Anti-Walking Tour of the Museum

walking-as-art for all ages
On July 19th Cultural ReProducers joined forces with the Art Institute of Chicago to present "An Anti-Walking Tour of the Museum" led by art historian and critic Lori Waxman in the form of a slideshow through history, from Surrealist novels to Fluxus walking performances to Janet Cardiff's contemporary audiovisual adventures. Meanwhile, our kids laid down their own art walks of inky stamps and colored tape in a sunny room across the hall. At the close of the lecture, Waxman distributed a handout packed with Fluxus walking scores for participants enact around the museum and out into the city, providing potential outlines for endlessly sensory self-guided tours.

One of our goals has been to make the Cultural ReProducers Event Series free of charge in addition to organizing free on-site childcare. Artists are the most underpaid / unpaid workers in the arts economy, and for artist-parents the equation "time = money" is especially literal, since work time often translates directly to childcare costs. This could have made things tricky at a museum that charges $23 adult admission, but the museum's education department was amazing to work with and together we made it happen. The event was held in the Ryan Education Center, a great family-friendly space in the new Modern Wing that is always free, and joined the Art Institute's annual Kaleidoscope Festival, which provided free museum admission as well as great activities throughout the day with organizations like the Poetry Foundation and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Wendy Donahue at the Chicago Tribune did a really nice event writeup for the newspaper's website, which also brought some new visitors our way.

 The Cultural ReProducers Event Series is a roaming series of lectures, performances, and other events designed to allow parents with small children participate more actively in the art community. These curated weekend morning events include free on-site childcare and intergenerational receptions.

Our goal is twofold: to give parents and their kids the chance to participate as critical members of the arts community, and to inspire cultural institutions to better serve artists and audiences, providing positive models for future programming. This project is made possible through support from the Propeller Fund.

We're busy planning our next event for Saturday, September 13th at the DePaul Museum of Art:  Kids in the Studio: Art, Labour, and Everyday Life with artists Bonnie Fortune and Brett Bloom. Drop us an email at culturalreproducers (at) gmail dot com if you'd like information about this and other upcoming events.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Interview: Chiaki Kamikawa

Chiaki Kamikawa is an artist and gallerist based in Paphos, Cyprus. We met as artists-in-residence at BankArt NYK in Yokohama, Japan before either of us were mothers, where I was lucky to see the wild energy of her drawings, sculptures and small-press zines develop firsthand. Chiaki's work is exhibited widely throughout Europe and Japan. She also runs Chiaki Kamikawa Contemporary Art, a gallery showcasing local and international work as well as art workshops, cultural events, and her own working studio. You can catch some of her latest work in the exhibition The Intuitionists, opening at The Drawing Center in New York on July 11th, 2014.

CR: First, briefly describe your daughter in your own words.

Chiaki: My daughter Savvena Sayuri is 11 months old. She is very active and social.  She loves nature and wildlife.

CR: What’s the art community like in Paphos? How did you get started running a gallery and building an audience there?

Chiaki: The art community in Paphos is quite big and international for the size of the town. I think the relationship between artists is much closer than in a larger city: we get to know each other’s families, where we live, each others' interests, etc.  What I really like about our art community is that there is a family-like atmosphere and interaction between different age groups.

In 2011 when I was looking for a place for my studio, I came across with a space that, I thought, would be a perfect place for a gallery. I wasn't thinking of starting one, but as I thought it over it seemed more logical to open a studio/gallery myself in Paphos. At that time there wasn't any contemporary gallery that organized its own exhibitions. At the beginning I gathered local artists, and gradually I met more artists whose work I wanted to show. To build up a diverse audience, I try to organize exhibitions with local Cypriot artists as well as international artists. Especially in a place like Paphos, I think it is important to introduce artists’ work from abroad so that the local audience can see work beyond what is already familiar.

CR:  What is it like to be a working artist-mother in Cyprus versus in your native Japan?

Chiaki: Women are encouraged to work after having a child in Cyprus, therefore there are a lot of working mothers. Traditionally grandparents look after their grandchildren while parents are working, and this tradition continues until today.  
In my case, my mother-in-law takes care of my daughter while I am working and other family members are also supporting me a lot. The family bond is very strong in Cyprus, and for working mothers this bond
means a huge help. 

In Japan, especially in the big city where I was raised, working mothers have to find another way to raise their children. Many people don't live near grandparents and children usually go to public/private childcare while mothers are working.  Good childcare is not always available and some mothers have to stop working and wait before they can start it again.

To be honest, I don’t know if it would have been possible for me to be an artist and run a gallery with my daughter in such a relaxed way if we were living in Japan!

CR: How do you find a balance between artmaking and parenting, running the gallery and earning an income? 

Chiaki: It is a real challenge to find a balance between everything I want to do. At the moment I consider myself as a full-time mother and part-time everything else.  My first priority is my family, and the second priority changes according to the situation.

 Basically I don’t have enough time to do everything as much as I want.  The amount of time I can spend for creative work dropped dramatically after the birth of my daughter but I am happy to continue what I want to do within my capability. I think it’s unnecessary to worry about finding a good balance between everything because I believe that the time will come back to me in near future.

CR: Thinking as big or small as you like, what kinds of things would make the international art world more accessible to artists with families?

I think creating more family residency opportunities and funding for artists with families are things that can be done by both public and private institutions.

As for galleries, there are people who are now interested in collecting art for their children, and this may be a new direction for galleries to focus on besides the regular collectors.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Collaborations: Lu Heintz and Asa

Collaborations is an ongoing series of critically-engaged projects undertaken by artists with their children. Kicking off this series is Learning to Letter, a video by artist Lu Heintz with her young son Asa. To see more of Lu's work (both solo and with Asa -- it was hard to choose), visit

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Anti-Walking Tour of the Museum: Cultural ReProducers + The Art Institute of Chicago

Phillipe Petit's illegal tightrope walk between the twin towers, 1974
Cultural ReProducers is pleased to team up with The Art Institute of Chicago to present An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum led by art critic and art historian Lori Waxman on Saturday, July 19th, 11:00 am.

Walking is one of the most primary human actions, yet for the last 100 years artists have experimented with it as an art form. Consider the revolutionary and aesthetic potential of this everyday gesture as Lori Waxman presents a lecture on walking works followed by the chance to enact several pieces for yourself, in and around the museum.

An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum is presented in the Ryan Education Center, located in the Art Institute's Modern Wing. This event is part of the Art Institute's annual Kaleidoscope Festival, allowing families free access to the museum and its events.

Space at this event is limited. Pre-register to secure your spot!

Eventbrite - An Anti-Guided Walking Tour of the Museum

The Cultural ReProducers Event Series is a roaming series of free lectures, performances, and other events designed to allow parents with small children participate more actively in the art community. Events take place on weekend mornings and feature great artist-curated programming, on-site childcare and all-ages receptions.

Our goal is twofold: to give parents and their kids the chance to participate as critical members of the arts community, and to inspire cultural institutions to better serve artists and audiences, providing positive models for future programming. This project is made possible through support from the Propeller Fund.

Christine Hill, Tourguide? 1999
Frequently Asked Questions:

I’m not a parent. Can I come? Absolutely, and bring your friends. We hope these events will be of interest to anyone engaged in the arts - not just families. One of our goals is to include parents in the context of the broader art community, which means it’s vital to have non-parents there as part of the conversation too. Be sure to pre-register if you'd like a voucher for free museum admission.

I am a parent. Does my kid have to be in child care, or can I keep them with me? Parents who'd rather keep their children with them during the lecture are welcome to do so. We're just offering the option to participate without the distraction of wrangling small children.

Where in the museum is the Ryan Education Center? If you enter the Modern Wing of the museum on Monroe, you'll find it on the left-hand side, before the admission gates. Whether you're there with kids or not, entry to the Ryan Education Center (and this event) is free.

Why do I need to pre-register for child care? For safety and legal reasons, space is limited to 18 children per event, and we expect it to fill quickly. Registration is first-come, first-served.

What time should I arrive if I have children? Sign-in starts when the museum opens at 10:30 am. The event itself starts at 11 and will last about 45 minutes. Of course, timing with children is often a bit unpredictable. You’re welcome to sign in and quietly join us at any time during the event.

Who will be watching my kids? We’ve hand-picked a great selection of experienced babysitters and playgroup facilitators who will lead hands-on activities linked to the events that parents will be attending. These are people we know and trust with our own kids regularly. Keep in mind that this is a grassroots, artist-run childcare project, not a licensed daycare facility. You will be asked to read and sign a waiver before registering your child.

What about parking and public transportation?  The Art Institute is easily accessible by CTA train. The Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, and Purple lines all stop above ground at Adams/Wabash, one block west of the museum. The Red and Blue lines stop underground at Monroe, just a few blocks away. Parking downtown can be difficult, but the Art Institute offers reserved parking at several lots within walking distance of the museum if you pay ahead.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cultural ReProducers Meet-up!

This Sunday, JUNE 29th, 2014
Cultural ReProducers Meet-up
Comfort Station, 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.
10am - 12pm

Bring the kids and join us as Cultural ReProducers hosts an informal art/play meet-up this coming Sunday morning at the Comfort Station in Logan Square. Enjoy a casual walk through of the exhibition the Swing and the Wall, connect with other artists, writers, musicians, curators and cultural reproducers, blow some bubbles and make chalk drawings. There’ll also be a weekly farmer’s market going on right
John Preus's The Swing
across the street, and the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Fest nearby.

There’s metered parking along Milwaukee Ave., the Logan Square Blue Line Stop is a two block walk, and bikes and strollers are welcome! Bathroom on premises. No RSVP necessary.

Any questions?
Please contact Thea at: