We had the opportunity to speak with the Alison Cusato, new administrator for the Yew Chung International School of Beijing artist residency and the unique experience it offers artists to work with children.

China Residencies: How and when did the residency start?

Alison Cusato: I started at YCIS in August 2017. I was asked to find one or two artists to come work with our students this school year. YCIS had provided these opportunities to artists and students in the past, but may have been operating through a third party.  

CR: What is your role in the residency? 

AC: My role was to find an artist, communicate our interest and plan with the artist, make sure the artist goes through all of the police and medical checks necessary to maintain a safe campus environment, and work with the artist and the school to develop a plan that highlights the artist’s strengths and provides learning opportunities to as many of our students as possible.

CR: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

AC: I am a secondary art teacher at Yew Chung International School Beijing. Before coming to Beijing in August I was teaching in the United States public schools. I am in my thirteenth-year teaching. Before becoming a teacher, I worked as a graphic designer for newspapers and magazines in Virginia.

CR: How did you decide on the location of the residency?

AC: In a way Beijing chose me. I was open to working just about anywhere. There was a job opening with YCIS, I applied and was given an offer. 

Artist in Residence studio space available at YCIS

CR: How many people are on staff? What is each person responsible for?

AC: We have many teachers, administrators and support staff. At the moment, we have one visual artist in residence. We will have one other in April. We will also have a drummer, a director and a writer come in as artists in residence. Those three were sought out by other teachers. 

CR: What kinds of artists does your residency host?

AC: We are interested in hosting artists who work well with children, are motivated and self-driven. As our school is an international school, we like to have a mix of nationalities work with our students. And we are not fixed on one medium or style. 

CR: For what lengths?

AC: We generally host artists for one to two months at a time, but it can vary.

CR: What is the shortest and longest residency lengths of stay you'll consider?

AC: We will consider a couple of weeks to several months. 

CR: How many artists in residence have you hosted so far? 

AC: We will have had two artist in residences by the end of this school year, but we will also have one musician, one drama teacher and one poet in professional residencies by the end of this year.

CR: What kind of artwork have the resident artists created? Can you give us an example or two of some of the most interesting projects by residents?

AC: Our current artist has created multiple abstract sculptures and oil paintings based on his everyday observations. He has been teaching our students how to turn their everyday experiences into their own artwork as well.

Our primary teachers would like the next artist in residence to create a mural with primary students that will highlight their achievements in character education. There is a mural in the bus parking lot that was created by a past artist in residence in collaboration with students. And there is a mural in the staircase of the art building that was created by another visiting artist.

CR: Can you tell us a bit more about the opportunities you provide for residents to meet people in the local creative scene?

AC: Many of our students’ parents are involved in the local creative scene. We encourage them to pop in and get to know our artists. Each year we hold a fundraising event where student artwork is auctioned. We invite the artist in residence to include a piece in this fundraiser as well. We give the artist in residence an opportunity to sell their work on campus, like a small art show held during the school day where teachers, staff and parents can stop by and purchase a piece of work.

CR: How do you promote your residency to attract local and international artist applications?

AC: I search online for artists looking for residency positions and reach out to them either directly or through their representative.

CR: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mission, or the opportunities you provide for artists?

AC: Our artists must go through the same screening as our employees. We require a health screening and police background check before they can begin work.