Austin Is Looking for Its First Artist-in-Residence

Winning artists will be embeded in city agencies to help bring in new eyes to reconsider old problems

Jeremy Keith via Flickr

New gig alert for artists based in Austin, Texas—the city’s Cultural Arts Division is accepting applications for a new residency that seeks to bring artists and civic engagement together. That makes the artist-heavy Austin the latest of just a handful of American cities to seek out official artists-in-residence, and one with the potentially to reshape the city itself.

The new program will embed winning artists with certain city agencies for a period of up to nine months. However, unlike other residency programs, the focus of Austin’s project isn’t primarily to create art, but instead to inspire city workers and officials to look at their civic projects in a new light, Elizabeth Findell reports for the Austin American-Stateman.

"I think there's a specific lens that an artist looks at the City through, looks at the world through and I think that lens is really interesting,” Cultural Arts Division manager Meghan Wells tells Casey Claiborne for Fox 7 Austin. “And I think it will really lend a unique perspective to the work that we as public servants do in trying to reach the community better and trying to promote the programs that serve the community and trying to connect the city with its constituents.”

For the first round of the residency, the chosen artist will be embedded with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. The winner will have the opportunity to lend a new perspective to the city’s flood control programs, as well as helping with community outreach, Claire Voon reports for Hyperallergic. In return, the artist will receive an $8,750 stipend, as well as up to $5,000 for expenses.

“The idea is to introduce to the department the eye of an artist, because they think outside of the box,” Cultural Arts Division spokesperson Kathleen Stimpert tells Findell.

The project makes the Texas city one of just a few in the United States to have an artist-in-residence. New York City has had a long-time artist-in-residence helping out its Sanitation Department (though that position is unpaid) and the city of Los Angeles recently hired an artist to help its Department of Transportation figure out new ways to reduce traffic deaths, Voon reports.

Art, infrastructure and public policy may not look like an obvious match at first glance, but Wells hopes this program can help change that. By bringing in artists to help city workers think in new ways, she hopes the residency program will prod city agencies to look at problems from new angles, Voon reports. At the same time, Wells wants to show the city—and the city’s artistic community—that there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of Austin’s vibrant art scene that aren’t just gallery shows.

Wells’ department is currently accepting applications through February 16, with the first residency scheduled to start in March.

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