RAiR at 50: Beyond the Gift of Time

For the last several weeks my life has revolved around one exhibition, RAiR at 50: Beyond the Gift of Time. Officially opened to the public on October 6th and open through April 6th of next year, this show celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program by inviting past alumni to share recent work. Spanning four galleries and featuring more than 170 artists, this exhibition is both expansive and eclectic, offering something for just about everybody.

Established in 1967 by businessman, artist, and philanthropist Donald B. Anderson, the RAiR program is one of the longest-running artist residency programs west of the Mississippi. In 2017 it also received the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, New Mexico's highest arts-related honor.

Originally from the Midwest, Anderson relocated to Roswell in 1946 to join his father and brother (fellow arts patron Robert O. Anderson) in the petroleum industry. An artist himself, Anderson quickly became involved with the Roswell Museum and Art Center. He served as its first volunteer curator in the 1940s and 1950s, and also served on the Board of Trustees. As a philanthropist, he has donated numerous artworks to the Museum, and has contributed to additions such as the Patricia Gaylord Anderson Gallery, the Bassett Auditorium and Education Center, and the Goddard Planetarium.

PGA Gallery

Anderson's most profound ongoing contribution to Roswell, however, is undoubtedly RAiR. Craving a contemporary art presence in Roswell, he informally started the program in 1967 by inviting artists such as Howard Cook and Barbara Latham to spend the winters in Roswell's comparatively mild climate. By the mid-1970s, his program has expanded to include a housing/studio development, and a grant that provided a living stipend to participants. The Roswell Museum initially supervised the program's administration, but by the 1990s it had grown so much that it needed its own organization, so in 1994 he opened the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. Today, AMoCA oversees the RAiR program and collects the work of its alumni, while RMAC serves as the exhibit venue for current artists, a collaboration that benefits both institutions.

Open to all artists anywhere in the world and at any stage in their careers. Whether you're just starting out or already established, a freelancer or a professor seeking a sabbatical, you can apply to this program as long as you're an artist. The grant itself is equally exceptional, providing participants with free housing, studio space, and a living stipend for a year's time. In short, artists receive the financial and personal freedom to concentrate on their work for a year. Due to the exceptional length and generosity of the program, RAiR has earned the nickname "the gift of time."

Entry Gallery

RAiR has always been strongly community-based, both within the program itself and in Roswell. Participating artists live together in a cluster of houses and studios located in the northeast corner of town, forming a unique community that evolves and changes with each new group of artists. Many RAiR artists also get involved with Roswell itself. RAiR artists often teach special workshops at the Museum, and nearly everyone gives a public lecture. Many RAiR artists have also organized community art projects throughout the City, including the Tree of Knowledge at the Roswell Public Library, the tile work at Reischman Park, or the murals found throughout our schools. Many artists also choose to stay in Roswell after their grant ends, or return to New Mexico later in life, further enriching the greater artistic community here. RAiR is an important source of creative and civic pride to Roswell's artistic circles, and for good reason.

Roswell also benefits from RAiR's presence. Grant recipients have the opportunity to curate their work at RMAC in our Marshall and Winston Gallery, an arrangement that ensures we always have a contemporary art presence within our walls. As a result, folks in southeastern New Mexico have the opportunity to experience contemporary art from around the world on a regular basis. Through the creation and support of contemporary art, RAiR helps to bridge different opinions and worldviews, offering common ground through the appreciation of creativity.

Spring River Gallery

RMAC hosts an anniversary exhibition for RAiR about every 10 years, with the last show occurring in 2007. Being the fiftieth anniversary, we knew we had to make this show an especially good one. Typically how it works is that the Anderson Museum contacts all living RAiR alumni inviting them to submit current work. Those who agree to exhibit choose the work they'd like to send; there are no limitations in scale or medium. The result is one of the more eclectic installations you'll ever see, with objects ranging from paintings to quilts, video to mixed media sculpture. The stylistic range is equally diverse, from Abstract Expressionism to photorealism, festive kitsch to cool minimalism. The array of works reflects the diversity of the program itself, with artists coming from all walks of life and creative inclinations. 

I'll admit, putting the show together was a daunting task. I have known about RAiR's anniversary exhibitions since 2013, so the anticipation had built up a lot by the time we started working on it in earnest. Equally intimidating was not only the scale of the show, but the constant fluctuation. As a curator I like to plan things out, but the RAiR anniversary exhibition demands improvisation. You curate as you go, installing and laying out at the same time while re-configuring arrangements as more works come in, until at the very end everything congeals into the final exhibition. It definitely forced me to work outside of my comfort zones, and while I can't say I ever felt fully at home with the process, it was a good professional challenge.

Hunter Gallery

Thankfully, this exhibition is a team effort, and everyone involved contributed equally to the process. Our Registrar processed all of the works as they came in, making sure that every piece had been documented for our records. Our Preparator helped to open the works and get them out of their packaging. The Directors of the RAiR program were also critical, putting together the catalogue, helping to install the show, and using their deep knowledge of RAiR participants to help create a cohesive layout. Everyone also contributed to the curation process. We all made suggestions and moved pieces around, allowing our different perspectives, experiences, and ideas shape the exhibition. Everyone involved in the show should be considered co-curators because they all contributed so much in terms of ideas and actual installation work. There is no way it could have been pulled off otherwise.

It was also all hands on deck when it came time to install, with curators, registrars, preparators, directors, and more hanging works and installing sculptures. Of all the exhibitions I've worked on, this is by far the most hands-on I've been. Over the last three weeks I've hung paintings, moved sculpture, painted pedestals, attached hanging hardware to frames, cut labels, patched walls, and more. I'll probably be sore for the next few days, but the result is a show that reflects both the variety of RAiR and the importance of teamwork. We may have all felt daunted by this show, but by working together we pulled it all off.

And that is definitely something worth smiling about. 

Wearing my RAiR-appropriate scarf, designed by alumni Roxy Topia and Paddy Gould.

Happy anniversary, RAiR. You're a true creative gem and you make Roswell and the greater art world all the better for it.