Filipino American artist Mic Boekelmann thinks there aren’t enough spaces that provide artists with necessary rest. So when she had to renovate The Orange Door, the Princeton-based contemporary art space she founded almost 13 years ago, to make it more accessible — her partner is disabled, and the old space, which is an extension of her house, had stairs — she decided it was a good time to reevaluate what the goals of the space were.
Her mentor had encouraged her to make sure she knew what her values were, what she would create in the new space, and who she would collaborate with. For most of the almost year-long renovation process, she thought about those questions. She arrived at the conclusion that she wanted the new space to reflect three core aspirations — for it to be “relational, thoughtful, and energizing,” as she told Hyperallergic. These positive aims were formulated in opposition to what she’s observed in “oppressive systems,” which she says “are transactional, not relational, and thoughtless.” The Orange Door reopened this summer.
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The Orange Door, which first opened in 2009, has primarily served as a space hosting Boekelmann’s art classes, which include oil painting and drawing lessons catered mostly to older women. Boekelmann, who got a late start as an artist herself, enjoys teaching students, who often come into the space with trepidation about holding a paintbrush or committing an idea to canvas. The space, which she refers to as a “blank canvas,” also hosts temporary shows, such as most recently a group of work by a set of Filipino American artists.
In recent weeks, The Orange Door hosted its first micro-residency for BIPOC women artists, queer, trans, and nonbinary inclusive, for which an artist stayed in the space for a weekend. They were able to show their work in a contained setting and get feedback from Boekelmann, all with wellness as a primary concern of the experience. “They get to show in an intimate sphere where it’s nurturing and nourishing,” Boekelmann said. The micro-residency is primarily intended for artists based in Philadelphia and New York, both an hour away, who might need time away from the city and space to rest, show their work, and talk about it with others.
At other residencies, Boekelmann says that she bonded with other artists who agreed that their experiences with art were “extractive” in nature.” The demand, she says, is always “to produce something. There are some residencies where you can just rest, but those are rare.” She continues, “My observation, just from talking to artists, is even though it looks good on Instagram — like oh, I’m doing all this! — they’re burning out on the back end.”
“How is it to be in a space, and to be still, and not producing?” she asks.
But she also says that she doesn’t want to just tell artists, “Oh here’s a space, do whatever you want!” She again emphasizes the quality of “relationality”: She discusses expectations with artists beforehand, and asks how she can best support them. For the last resident, this meant daily morning coffee check-ins and communal dinners. Currently, her art classes help fund the micro-residency, though she is also considering applying for funding to support it.
Boekelmann has noticed that her efforts dovetail with a larger trend of individuals taking the initiative to build community without institutional support. She says, “there are so many other grassroots efforts of artists just doing their own thing, whether it’s virtual or physically creating nurturing spaces. That’s been really cool to be a part of: We’re not waiting for permission to establish our own spaces. We’re just doing it.”