Crystal Ruth Bell, China Residencies' founder, passed away on Sunday, August 10th, 2014. For over two and half years, Crystal lived with advanced skin cancer, but that didn't stop her in her efforts to open the world of China's opportunities to artists all across the globe.
In 2009, Crystal moved to Beijing and became director of the Red Gate Residency. I met her that fall, when I began an internship at Red Gate Gallery. Crystal was working on increasing the program's diversity, in terms of the artists' medium, age, backgrounds and country of origins. Crystal also loved maps. In her two years at Red Gate, she expanded the program's resources by creating maps to help arriving artists navigate the streets of their new homes. She organized and photographed monthly open-studios and truly cared for every artist that stayed in Beigao and Tuanjiehu during her time there.
In 2011, she began meeting with residency directors to talk about the unique challenges of running independent art spaces in mainland China. After speaking with many residency staff members, she realized that each program had much to learn from one another. She wanted to create a platform where residency staff could exchange and share organizational best practices--essentially what worked and what didn't when it came to running a residency program in China. Crystal also wanted to create an accurate, transparent directory of the opportunities for artists, and make that information free and available online. In 2012, she returned to the United States with budding ideas for a China Artist Residency Network. After working at the Art Farm in Nebraska, she left with a determination to start a nonprofit. Together, she and I founded China Residencies, Inc. in March of 2013.
We crowdfunded our very first research trip, which took us to six cities across China and Hong Kong. We started off in Beijing with a launch party at SERK, where we mounted a pop-up postcard exhibition of past Red Gate resident's work. We conducted dozens of interviews with artists and residency staff, took thousands of photographs and many hours of video to document the variety of different programs. Our travels took us to a farm in Lijiang, a jungle in Shenzhen, and a luxury hotel in Shanghai, in addition to many other galleries, museums and alternative art spaces. We were amazed by the incredible programs operating under the radar, each independently coming up with innovative ways to solve the same issues. We returned even more dedicated to creating a network of support for all programs.
In the past year, Res Artis invited Crystal to join as a board member, and we were invited to give talks at Residency Unlimited, the Transcultural Exchange in Boston, and IETM in Melbourne. We also were honored to received funding from the Australia Copyright Fund to send Australian artists on residency programs in China's second and third tier cities.
Although it won't be easy to continue China Residencies without Crystal's boundless enthusiasm, energy and dedication, I promised her I would continue pursuing our mission and continuing everything we'd set out to do, even after she was gone.
- Kira Simon-Kennedy
If you are in Beijing on September 7th 2014, please join us from 3 to 5 pm for a celebration in Crystal's honor on the watchtower at Red Gate Gallery.
Red Gate and China Residencies created the Crystal Ruth Bell Residency in her honor, which will send one artist who embodies Crystal's ambition and spirit to Beijing every year. If you would like to contribute to Crystal's legacy, you can make a donation in her memory to help continue this opportunity for many years to come.