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The experimental, volunteer-run arts space in Escondido is set to open its doors to short-term sound arts residencies — and a stronger, more accessible cultural exchange.
A Ship in the Woods, a steadfast but obscure presence in the San Diego arts scene, has made its home in the fringes of the wooded Felicita Park in Escondido for three years now. It’s no stranger to the woods, having dwelled in a rural Del Mar property for years before that. It’s also no stranger to the fringes.
Pushing boundaries, producing events and creating the sort of work that takes an incredible amount of skilled artistry, theory and human power is not the safest business plan, but for the staff at A Ship in the Woods, that’s not always the point.
A Program in Flux
The organization’s Music Residency Benefit, held earlier this month, raised funds to support its new music residency program. The event also introduced the community to Amenta Abioto, a Portland-based musician, singer, songwriter and producer who recently served as the program’s first resident.
A Ship in the Woods has recently undergone a transformation, formally establishing its first executive director, Nikos Zoggas, and also bringing on Marina Grize — a long-time arts administrator in the city — to help with the transition and to form new structure in the organization, including working to develop a music residency and host the benefit.
Zoggas, who was initially hired to assess programming, was officially brought on in December to implement his recommendations.
“Since it had been an all-volunteer agency, a lot of management strategies weren’t in place. In order for them to grow they had to not only define clear programs but also clarify and strengthen how we’re going to manage those even with volunteers,” Zoggas said.
And as for building the music residency: “There aren’t a lot of models for this, especially not at a modest scale, so we invited Amenta as a way to open up the dialogue about what we can do better and what needs to get done before we can open the application to the public,” Grize said. Amenta, a seasoned musician and producer, could provide honest feedback about the project, space and resources.
A Ship in the Woods had previously operated on a word-of-mouth model for its visual art residencies. Moving forward, it will choose artist-in-residence participants via an outside committee.
What Is a Music Residency?
Without the tangible, visible practice and result to exhibit or save like with visual art residencies, host organizations looking to bolster community engagement through a nontraditional residency program struggle to find ways to share the resident’s work with their community.
A Ship in the Woods considers the service to the individual musician a priority, which will in turn build a vital music and sound community in San Diego through the exchange of culture. It is also presenting the residency as project-based.
“The musician has to apply with the intention of either starting or completing a project. We are open to however the artists will interpret this,” Grize said. Zoggas said that they plan to interview and film their residency programs, too, and approach the program with storytelling in mind.
The residencies are short-term: Each selected applicant will live and work at the Escondido space with full use of their sound studio space. And the program is open to not just traditional music-making, but all sound-based arts, including podcasting, field recording and more. Zoggas said the organization hopes to serve a mixture of local and visiting artists to build community, diversity and reach.
Beyond the Residency: Public Studio Space
Additionally, Grize sees a need in the sound community for affordable studio space. Many artists who wish to record or produce their work in studios face rental and producer fees that could reach hundreds of dollars per hour.
“Our hope, if we can get there, is to complete the humble recording studio so that it can serve the community beyond our residency program,” Grize said. While the residency program provides immersive use, they would also open it for public day-use sessions, with a small fee to cover insurance.
“My hopes have been to make the organization more accessible — this is meant in all ways and warrants a separate conversation because the property itself leans toward ableism, and unfortunately not thinking about such things has affected the ethos of the institution as a whole — to listen to the concerns and needs of the community and to find the ways Ship can enter its adulthood,” said Grize of the transition.