Introducing our Artists in Residence

Artist Insight | 06 March 2023

Introducing Artists in Residence. Maria on the left has black hair pulled back into a bun. Holly n the right has long curly brown hair.

“Living through a pandemic changed a lot of things for a lot of organisations, but one of the things it provoked for us was a question: Was the way we were working with freelance artists – contracting them for the most part on an hourly basis and/or working on project based work – still the right way?” – Greenwich Dance CEO & Creative Director Melanie Precious introduces Artists in Residence

“To help us answer this we held facilitated planning days, paying for our regular class teachers alongside guest artists to attend, as well as speaking to a number of artists nationwide as part of our podcast Talking Moves. And through the process we came to the conclusion that it was time to do things differently.

Freelancers Make Theatres Work published the Big Freelancers Report around this time and its insights were illuminating. One finding in particular resonated with me.

‘The job of a modern arts organisation is no longer making art, it is fundraising’.

On reading this I nodded sadly. The largest proportion of my time is spent fundraising and in one year alone I authored 43 applications… almost one a week! The report also goes on to point out that whilst the relationship between producers, venues, organisations and the freelance workforce is one of mutual dependence, it is not always one of mutual benefit. How to shift power, whilst retaining quality, and draw the artists’ voices closer to our decision making became a question I asked myself over and over. And hand in hand with that, in my view, was how to facilitate authentic community voice within the work we were doing. Because that takes time, and as a project-funded organisation it is often hard to persuade funders to pay for that time….

Of the funding applications I write, almost all of them are for specific ‘interventions’ which help us deliver against our mission to create more opportunities to make, watch and take part in dance. But delivering a portfolio of one-off projects rather than sustained programmes leaves so little space for true community liaison and authentic co-production. Consultation can become tokenistic due to the speed within which we are expected to deliver and create ‘impact’ and certainly leaves no room for ‘emergence’ – those magical moments where community-initiated outputs and outcomes can happen.”

It’s like having a lungful of air – Maria de luz Ghoumrassi, Artist in Residence

“And so the concept of Artists in Residence (or AiR as we like to call it) came about – an idea we pitched to the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation who delighted us by agreeing to fund it. Artists in Residence will enable us to move artists onto long term contracts and build time (AiR Time) within their working week to plan, think and speak to the participants they work with. Outputs are not set but outcomes are, and through it we aim to facilitate increased community co-curation and co-creation within our work – fostering mutually beneficial relationships between our artists and the participants they work so closely alongside. Working in this way will enable us to provide our AiR artists with continuity, regular pay, access to space (with thanks to additional support from Peabody) and a sense, I hope, of belonging. And AiR Artists, as part of our core delivery team, will provide the organisation with even greater creativity, ideas and solutions to the issues that together we want to tackle: such as increasing physical and mental wellbeing, supporting social cohesion, addressing loneliness and isolation and enabling skills development and opportunities to stay creative. Whilst artists have always been welcome to come to us with their ideas, as part of a creative team and with the dedicated support of a producer on the same pay, I hope they now feel empowered to do so.

It’s given me ownership of my classes as I feel trusted and supported to lead them how I see best – Holly Smith, Artist in Residence

We are at the beginning of the journey, with two artists having joined us as AiR artists and a third opportunity currently being advertised. It has been more complex than we thought to set up, with programmes needing to be rescheduled and sometimes re-designed for it to work. And some modifications to the original idea of AiR have had to be made: for the moment the arrangement, whilst long term, is still offered on a freelance basis and whilst I wish all of our artists could be full time with us and each receive a healthy production budget in order to bring their ideas fully to life – for the moment this is not the case.

But it’s a start and only one quarter into the programme commencing, we can already feel the difference it is making. “Its like having a lungful of air” said AiR artist Maria when I caught up with her this week. “It’s given me ownership of my classes as I feel trusted and supported to lead them how I see best” said Holly.

Already we are also seeing the conduits to our participants opening up. Our Adults Performance Company have designed their own tour to warm banks this Spring, an idea coming from them to Maria rather than the other way around. We have been able to offer taster workshops and one-off visits to groups working with older people due to having the space and time in the diaries of our artists when previously we would have had to turn down these requests due to lack of available funds to pay. And my inbox now has several emails from participants suggesting programmes and projects they want to see happening.

And so it seems that by taking this one step and remunerating our own workforce differently, positively disrupting our own, historic, organisational system, a venn diagram with artists, communities and organisations as equals has been drawn. And it has a rather special place in the centre where all three overlap and where that once elusive ‘emergence’ can thrive.”

Who's Who

Photo of Maria Ghoumrassi's head

Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi

Dancer, choreographer, educator and movement director

Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi works through multidisciplinary arts to develop intercultural performance and has extensive experience working with a diversity of groups ranging from early years to older dancers, including performers and people with disabilities.

She was in the original cast of The Lion King and has performed with various companies including TV work. She has recently performed for Tate Modern and The London College of Fashion.

She has worked for Greenwich Dance for over 10 years as artistic director of  our Performance Company for Adults, Lead artists for our Dance for Wellbeing programme,  Maria also delivers professional and community classes.

Holly Smith

Holly is a London based dance teacher, producer and administrator. Gaining a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; whilst studying Holly discovered her passion for dance teaching and education through working on childrens classes at Chisenhale Dance Space and Trinity Laban.

After graduating Holly joined the Learning and Participation team at Trinity Laban where she gained a wealth of experience of working in education and community settings with children and young people, including young people with additional needs and disabilities, all the way up to teaching adults, older adults and adults with acquired brain and stroke injuries.

Now a freelance artist, Holly teaches for Trinity Laban, the Royal Academy of Dance, DanceWest, Truefitt Collective and supports classes for Greenwich Dance, working across schools, community classes and private dance studios. Alongside her teaching work Holly is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Truefitt Collective and Associate Programme and Primary Steps Coordinator at the Royal Ballet School and was previously Participation Producer for RISE Youth Dance.

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