Scott Bishop



March 24, 2023

IN-FOCUS ARTICLE: The New Bedford Whaling National Park Artist-In-Residence Program

It may be early in the year, but the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is already looking ahead to fill its 2024 Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program.

The program, which started at the National Park in 2018, features a range of artistic disciplines, from painting, poetry, and music to photography, puppet theatre, and comic books. While the program has featured mainly South Coast and some Rhode Island artists, the program’s first 2023 Artists-in-Residence hail from Seattle.

Regardless of where the artists come from, New Bedford is at the heart of their work. “We ask artists to create a project during their residency that centers New Bedford as their source of inspiration,” said Lindsay Compton, the Park Ranger in charge of the AIR program. “I work with the artists quite a bit to come up with special programming throughout their residency, ensuring that they have what they need to work in residence, and connecting them with local partners if they need to work with another organization to complete the project.”

Partnering with local organizations and businesses is an important way artists can connect with the city. “Partnerships are what I think really make our park special. There’s no other National Park Service site that I know of [where] it’s written into [their] law that we’re supposed to work with community partners. It’s such a unique, New Bedford thing. I hope those relationships continue, that those are just jumping off points for artists to be connected to those organizations.”

Full disclosure: your humble writer had the privilege of being an Artist-in-Residence in late 2021. My project brought me into contact with local businesses such as Besteas and PLAY Arcade, and beloved city institutions such as the New Bedford Whaling Museum and Buttonwood Park Zoo. It was amazing to see how willing people were to open their doors and help contribute to my project.

Another essential aspect of a residency is contributing to the local community by holding public-facing events. These can take the form of anything from a concert to a poetry reading to a closing reception for an artist’s work. Occasionally, an artist will create something a little more intimate. Compton recalled one particular event:

April Jakubec, a painter from Boston, did a project around mental health, and she selected four people from New Bedford to paint portraits of, and talk with about their individual relationships with mental health. We did this whole painting workshop where we invited 12 women from the community to come in and paint and talk pretty deeply about the artwork that they were creating, [which was] often based around trauma that they had experienced.

“Because April was a mental health professional and an artist, it was a very unique way to engage with people. She wasn’t offering therapy sessions, but that painting workshop felt very much like a therapeutic painting workshop. I think everybody hugged at the end. It was just a really powerful, very impactful program. And that’s really unique—the source of inspiration was New Bedford women. Not New Bedford as a place, but the people who inhabit this city.”

There’s another aspect of the AIR program that makes it unique to New Bedford. “We don’t offer housing,” Compton said. “If folks do want to come from far away, they have to secure their own housing. It’s a studio-based residency.” The flip side of that is that the National Park pays the artists a generous stipend to support their work and purchases the materials artists need to fulfill their projects.

2023 offers a diverse array of creators, materials, and mediums. “Our current artists are Beatrice and Elaine Alder,” Compton said, “and they’ll be with us through the end of March. They’re working on a really cool visual project that includes art objects, quilts, block prints, and the written word.

“Because they’re from Seattle, I was kind of thinking, ‘OK, well, what do people outside of New Bedford want to say about New Bedford? What could they possibly have to say?’ It’s really cool to see the city through new eyes, to see what people are inspired by in the many stories that we have.”

In addition to the Alders, Providence sound installation artist Matt Steinke will be in residence from April through June, followed by photographer Calder Cell in July and New Bedford multi-media artist Taylor Hickey in October.

Just as the next resident starts in April, Compton will be opening up applications for 2024 residencies. “This year [the application period] will be open from April 1st to August 1st. We ask folks to use New Bedford as a source of inspiration and submit an application that speaks to their work and how they’ll use New Bedford as that jumping-off point. They can submit examples of work, a resume, and a letter of interest.

“I would say the main thing is ensuring that the artist’s vision is articulated in a way that shows direct public benefit. How will you engage with our audience in a way that’s unique to you and your work? The projects that really rise to the top are the ones that are really good at articulating those things.”

The Park gets an average of 20 applications annually. Compton assembles a three-person review committee featuring area artists, arts administrators, and alumni of the AIR program to evaluate the applications and select the four artists who will become 2024 residents.

Though the residency is three months long, projects can—and often do—go on beyond the end of an artist’s time at the park.

“Not every residency looks the same,” Compton said. “Kate Sheridan was in residence last year, and they’re working on this comic book that will take probably quite some time to complete. Other people are able to tie it up in a nice bow at the end of their residency, but there are somewhere it’s just phase one of a long-term project.”

Compton’s background makes them an ideal person to manage the park’s AIR program. “I studied, Art and Parks and Recreation management in my undergrad and did an internship after I graduated,” they said. That internship was the beginning of 13 years so far with the National Park Service and took Lindsay from Oklahoma to South Carolina to Colorado to Texas before landing in New Bedford.

“When the [the Artist-in-Residence Coordinator] job came open, it was kind of a beautiful mix of all the things I’d been working on leading up to 2019 [when the position was listed]. Six different people in the national parks sent me the job announcement. They were like, ’This position was written for you.’ On my second interview, I was actually able to come to New Bedford in person, and I fell in love with the city.”

If you’re interested in applying to the Artist-in-Residence program at the park, please visit the links below for more information. You can also visit ANY ARTIST  to apply and view other opportunities for artists around the country.

NOTE: The call for 2024 artists residencies opens on April 1 and closes on August 1. When the call is live it can be found here.

The Artists Index website is part of The Artists Index Website Project, a collective digital archive for the creative community. Its primary goal is to record conversations with the Visual, Performing, and Literary Artists of the South Coast of Massachusetts.

The idea for The Artists Index was stimulated decades earlier by a newspaper ad from the mid-1980s clipped from the New Bedford Standard-Times seeking assistance from Mary Jean Blasdale who was the then curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum until her retirement in 2006, went on to publish the Artists of New Bedford: A biographical dictionary (1990).

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

33 William Street
New Bedford, MA 02740



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