Residency Unlimited



2014.1 ~ on Pacing

By Todd Lester

Question of the month:  Can you tell us about the progression and developments of that have occurred since you first started the project over a year ago – you and I had a first discussion a year ago that viewers can watch on the RU Vimeo Channel. 

It appears that is advancing by leaps and bounds.  I am curious to know if the project is following the course such as you originally envisaged it or if it has taken (or is taking) unexpected directions.  I am delighted that RU alumni Jakub Szczesny has been invited to participate. Can you tell us about his intervention?  Are there other artists that are confirmed?

Hi RU! I hear your questions to be about ‘pacing’.  I personally feel that pacing is one of the most important variables for the project.  One of the questions I get most often when presenting it publically (both inside and out of São Paulo) is: How can you be sure the project won’t become a part of the problem?  Here, I should mention that while the project seeks to accommodate multiple storylines reflecting daily life – and conditions, such as aggressive real estate speculation – in the center of São Paulo, we will rent a commercial storefront to house the lanchonete (or lunch counter).  I also hear this question to be about pacing, and that the only way that the restaurant can be seen and used as a space of dialogue is if we ‘hit’ the right pace for building community engagement and ownership in its start-up phase.  My goal is to have local folks either appreciate (because it is authentic) or – better yet – understand why we’re doing the project, and how we’re using a business (as Trojan Horse) to interrogate the characteristics of capital in a specific place ... their neighborhood.

I deeply believe that the way  to ‘manage’ the project’s pacing is to be there – and referee all the moving parts – as the project moves from a conceptual to a practical phase, and in so doing, to know intuitively when things need to speed up or slow down.

While we’ve not made huge headways on the funding side, I’m headed to São Paulo next week in order to put in our Lei Rouanet application (for Brazilian tax exempt funds), and we’ve received small grants to be in last year’s architecture biennial and to invite our first artist to São Paulo (thank you Musagetes!).  All else is pretty much on track.  The cultural association (and membership body) – Associação Espaço Cultural Lanchonete – that will own the restaurant is now a legal entity, and thus able to receive Lei Rouanet funds.  I’m close to having my work permit for Brazil.  As I type this entry, I realize that a lot of the developments pertain to my own personal readiness for living and working in São Paulo.  I recently took a restaurant course at the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-NY) and this Summer I’ll be at Middlebury College’s intensive Portuguese language school.  But actually a lot is happening with the other team members as well.  Budget guru and project coordinator, Isabel Gandia will make her first trip to São Paulo to get to know the location and help manage Jakub Szczesny’s residency.  Brazilian team members, Lorena Vicini, Raphael Daibert, Leandro Viana and Joel Borges are all making deep investments in the project in the forms of time, advice, cultural translation, and general ‘sweat equity’.  They are, by default, the first members of the Cultural Association, even though we haven’t officially published the guidelines for joining yet … it’s pretty high stakes in that the members will co-own the restaurant.

While I’ve worked with Joel (the Association’s President) for almost a decade, the rest of us are still learning how to work together and be a team.  This is also a function of pacing.  Based on previous collective projects that I’ve instigated, I suspect that part of the challenge of claiming ownership is that people associate the project with me; I get the speaking opportunities and other perks for now.  But I also believe that this will evolve as the restaurant materializes, at which point they’ll get credit … and compensation too.  From my side, I am trying to embed mechanisms (such as the membership body) and learn management approaches that literally and symbolically transfer ownership to those working for the project.  Why? Because frankly it’s lonely (if not scary) to be the main ‘driver’ of the project.  I have never been interested in doing it alone!

Here I am rambling on about everything but the residency component.  You asked about Jakub Szczesny, a Residency Unlimited alum who you introduced to the project.  His preliminary two-week research residency – for which he’ll be hosted by our partner, Occupation São Joao – is actually premature given the project timeline (accessible from the homepage).  That’s OK … we always had a hunch that we’d need to ‘draw outside the lines’ a bit.  Two things happened:  the São Paulo team hustled to produce an amazing series of urban actions for three days during the 2013 architecture biennial.  Right after those events and through a lens of fatigue, it dawned on me that there is no need (nor is it possible) to prepare everything before the artists start coming.  In fact, we need the insight of both local and international artists in order to test and improve different aspects of the project, and the sooner the better.  While we were doing one of those events at the Occupation São Joao, Leandro Viana (who is also an accomplished photographer) got to know folks living there and ended up making portraits a few weeks later for all families that wanted them.  Back to Jakub.  In our discussions about the overall project, he too honed in on the Occupation São Joao and had a rather insightful idea that both honors their struggle and creates a framework for forthcoming artist residents … here’s what he wrote me after our talks:

The idea is basing on a belief that São Joao community requires a legitimization, which will help them become an important element of São Paulo’s city centre. On legal level, this can be achieved through semi-institutionalization and by adopting a status of an NGO. What appears to be even more important is a consolidating effect of defining and expressing it's identity both inside and outside the community. This, in turn, is possible through an effort of self-branding, being a communitarian adaptation of corporate branding strategies, in which the board is being replaced by members of São Joao. "We are like this and we offer you that" will be a way to voice the interest of the people but also create an effect of recognition. Several techniques can be foreseen as potentials for adaptation, thus the very beginning, the moment of defining values and positive associations São Joao inhabitants would like to provoke, is crucial. This paradoxical auto-branding will require time and participation of active members of community along with well-profiled artists and consultants. To avoid the danger of over-formalizing the status quo of the group, a very sensitive, long-term cooperation is required. The effects can be manifested as smaller exhibitions inside and outside the building, as well as in creation of a unique visual code people will associate with Sao Joao, in a way parallel to heraldic motives and logotypes used by work unions, street gangs, political parties and municipalities. How to do it without mimicking the above mentioned organizations will be a subject of my research in-situ. I believe, this could be a unique, prototypal process in which inhabitants and artists of different specializations will have to be involved.

All told, I expect that the work of Leandro and Jacub, both focusing on a specific sub-set of the project – one insider and one outsider – will (1) be quite interesting and (2) will provide me with concrete examples of how artists get involved and add value when their residency is the city itself.  I need this in order to get some funders excited about the overall project and local-artist/artist-resident collaborations yet to come.  Now, I'm off to present to my esteemed colleagues at Makan House in Amman, Jordan.


Todd Lester writes a monthly blog post on RU’s Dialogues detailing the preparation and implementation of, a 5-year residency project in Sao Paulo. celebrates São Paulo‘s ubiquitous lunch counters and their role in the life of the Center. invites a group of international artists to reside in – and thus develop a relationship with – the Center of São Paulo, its citizens, institutions, issues and patterns. Begun as a research process, the project materializes into a community-owned restaurant over its five-year duration, and leaves behind a management structure - Associação Espaço Cultural Lanchonete - to contend with the inherent responsibilities of such an endeavor.

View all Lanchonete posts here.

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Photo Raphael Daibert