Artists looking for a place to do a residency in China may think that finding a host organization would be difficult. As one of the directors of chinavine.org (a partnership project to educate English-speaking audiences about Chinese culture), I know that there are many organizations interested in hosting artists from outside China. The best way to make a connection would be to use the resources you already have or establish new ones in your own community. I can offer a few suggestions for those living in the United States, and maybe some helpful hints that will apply elsewhere.
If you live in the United States (and probably Europe and Australia), one way to go about finding a host organization is to reestablish connections with your alma mater. Almost every well-established university in the West has some connection with another university in China and many have Confucius Institutes. They want exchanges and may be willing to set something up for you. Host Chinese universities can offer a variety of benefits including exhibitions, a studio and a place to stay. Some will offer pay, especially if a workshop or class is taught. (A translator is usually assigned to assist you if you don’t speak Mandarin.) Because most museums in China require payment from the artist or gallery representative to put on an exhibition, it is often best to show your work with a university, which are most often open to visiting artists without pay. (Exhibition schedules are generally not planned as far in advance as they are in the United States or Europe.)
Additionally, it is good to know that most of the best-known Chinese art schools and universities have been inundated with university partnerships and opportunities. Therefore, they are not necessarily your best bet (unless you recently had a show at the Whitney, for example). I would suggest that if your resume is not well developed, you look for a residency in a city outside Beijing and Shanghai or a university that has had fewer partnerships with Western schools. These schools will be looking for new opportunities. (Everyone wants a gig at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts for example, but they can pick from the best-known artists from all over the world.)
Another way of making connections is through a Chinese-born individual living in your area. You can easily meet them through a local Chinese or Asian cultural organization. Chinese people living outside their country often have good connections with their hometowns and are more than happy to introduce you to people who can help host you. In our travels to China, we have been amazed at how accommodating and generous Chinese people can be. When you approach someone in China, you should be organized, gracious, and clear about what you are looking for. (Art students who apply to graduate school in the United States often send applications that are in themselves works of art. We need to look as organized and creative as they are.) If you can speak a few words of Mandarin, it will show you have taken the time to learn something about China. Although business isn’t often done over a meal (that often happens in a separate discussion), a meal generally is used to solidify a friendship.
Spending time in China as a practicing artist is worth the time and effort to make the connections.
Written by Kristin Congdon, Professor Emerita at University of Central Florida and Co-Director of ChinaVine, a website to educate english speaking youth about Chinese culture.