Pier 21

Photo by Deborah Wong.

Andrea Tsang Jackson was the 2017 Artist-in-Residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and worked for four months collecting small quilt blocks made by museum visitors. The residency output was “The Here and Elsewhere Bee,” a 10′ x 10′ quilt made of 1,200 immigration stories.

The quilt blocks were grouped into thematic “trees” in a forest — family, love, freedom and diversity, cultural references, new hopes and dreams, appreciation of nature, agriculture and work, and oceanic journeys. The quilt’s overall organization illustrates how, although each of the stories are unique, there are strong threads that tie them together.

Here, Andrea discusses how to approach a project proposal for a residency program. If you’re considering applying for an artist-residence-program at a museum or arts center, these tips will be helpful to you!



Photo by Deborah Wong.

1) Be on mission
Keep an eye for opportunities that can accomplish your business’ mission and goals. What is your mission as an artist or business? To create amazing work? To innovate in your field? To teach others to hone their craft? Part of my mission is to show people who are outside the quilting community what modern quilting is and how the craft exists in today’s world. I had a loose idea that a collaborative quilt project with non-quilters could accomplish this type of outreach. When I saw that a national museum in my city was seeking project proposals for a visitor-driven project, I started to connect the dots of my mission to some concrete possibilities.

2) Make it about them
An artist-in-residence program is a partnership between an artist and a gallery or institution. What is the institution’s mission? How can you help them to further their mandate? What value can you offer them? The mission of the Canadian Immigration Museum is not only to educate visitors about the immigration stories, but to connect individuals to these stories and make it personal. From the outset, I made it clear to the museum that The Here and Elsewhere Bee was not primarily about my artistic work, but rather about how visitors’ stories could be told through it. The raw materials for the project were their stories, not the fabrics that they used.

Canadian Museum of Immigration

Photo by Deborah Wong.

3) Make it about you
Be clear as to why this is a good fit for you at this particular moment in time. How does it fit into the trajectory of your work? For my business, 2016 was about delving into my practice and finding my voice. Although those things did not go away in 2017, it was time for me surface and turn outward. I was ready to share my patterns, teach, and bring the outside world into my world. I came to a point in my journey that shifted from making as the primary focus, to engagement as an important component of my work – making this residency a timely endeavour.

4) Pay attention to weighted criteria
This may seem uninteresting, but most institutions will have rigid scoring rubric that they will adhere to in order to uphold an image of fairness when evaluating proposals. The call for proposals for the Pier 21 residency program asked for projects that engaged visitors in response to a current exhibit. Though not unusual, the extraordinary part was the emphasis that the institution put on this element. The criterion of the proposal amounted to nearly a third of the score. How the project engaged visitors was equally weighted with the work in my portfolio and with the project itself! That’s a huge percentage and it was telling of how important this component was to them.

Andrea Tsang Jackson quilt

Photo by Deborah Wong.

5) Stay true to intention
There were points during the project where I needed to change course – my initial blocks were too big and the quilt was getting too big, too fast. The visitors were using too many prints and the quilt got too “noisy”. The fact was that I had to be okay with changing things up and improvising where necessary. Staying the course was not adhering the proposed project, but staying true the intention behind it. I went back over my proposal and the project goals; this revisiting helped to calm any worry about straying from the original project.

Read more about The Here & Elsewhere Bee, its process and stories at 3rdstoryworkshop.com/pier-21.

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