This Artist Residency Is Specifically Designed for Artists with Children

Alexxa Gotthardt
Aug 22, 2018 2:10PM

Children at Momm and Popp, an artist residency for parents. Photo by Garlia Cornelia. Courtesy of Momm and Popp.

Artists Faina Lerman and Graem Whyte know how difficult it is to simultaneously raise kids and maintain a studio practice. “Just finding headspace to think like an artist can be tricky, because your mind is so filled with raising a family, taking care of day-to-day things,” Lerman told Artsy from her Detroit home on a recent morning.

As we spoke, she was also helping her six-year-old daughter, Isadora, choose a bathing suit for their upcoming camping trip (they settled on a pink two-piece covered in pineapples). Through the phone, I could hear Isadora running around, tugging at her mom.

“Your mind is thinking about other people all the time,” Lerman continued. “It’s almost a luxury to stop and say, ‘What do I want to make?’”

Kaitlynn Redell, not her(e) (rug), 2017. Courtesy of the artist.


It was this conundrum that propelled Lerman and Whyte to open Momm and Popp, an artist residency for parents in 2016.

By that point, they’d become parents twice—to Isadora, in 2011, and Joseph “JoJo,” in 2013—and had already faced the challenge of juggling parenthood and their respective practices for several years. (Lerman is a performance artist and Whyte is a sculptor and builder.)

Simultaneously, they’d begun to build out their homestead in Hamtramck, a small city located in the center of Detroit (an area hit particularly hard by the city’s 2013 bankruptcy). There, they’ve hosted shows in a nonprofit gallery at the front of their home, which became known as Popps Packing, and invited artists for short stays on their property, which includes a woodshop; multiple bedrooms and studios; and two large yards complete with a chicken coop, two pet dogs, a vintage-van-turned-sauna, and a colorful smattering of outdoor sculptures and toys—sometimes delightfully difficult to distinguish from each other.

Photo by Garlia Cornelia. Courtesy of Momm and Popp.

In this environment, their kids ran around freely within their parents’ creative community. Before long, Lerman and Whyte realized they’d created a unique space, in which “our life, art, and community all mix,” explained Lerman. “Our children became part of our practices and creative experience.” And they found that fellow artist-parents were looking for a similar experience.

In 2016, after two years of mulling over the idea of a residency geared towards artists with children, they received a small grant from the Knight Arts Challenge, and the Momm and Popps residency was born.

The Swiss family of Isamu Krieger, a visual artist; Marion Neumann, a filmmaker; and their daughter, Frida, arrived at Popps in the summer of 2016. Through the Knight grant, Lerman and Whyte were able to subsidize the family’s travel and give them a stipend of $1,000, as well as access to childcare through trusted babysitters (some of whom are artists). They also provided housing in the Popps Guest House, a standalone bungalow complete with a porch and grass-covered yard, around the corner from the main building; and access to the Popps workshop, studio space, and community garden.

Photo by Garlia Cornelia. Courtesy of Momm and Popp.

Lerman recalls fond memories of that first residency, including communal barbecue dinners in the shared yard at golden hour; Frida playing with Isadora and Jojo for hours; and Krieger completing his drawing installation in the Popps Emporium gallery, with Frida occasionally popping in to see his progress. For the first two weeks, Krieger looked after Frida, while Neumann worked on a new film. Then halfway through, they switched: She took the main childcare role, while he worked intensely in the studio.

It was a successful test run, and Lerman and Whyte began to take steps to evolve the budding residency. Along with a stipend and paid childcare, they understood that flexibility around a given residents’ working habits and family situation would be essential moving forward. “We realized there are all sorts of scenarios we’d need to adapt to,” said Lerman, “whether it’s leaving your children at home, bringing a partner to help, or leaving a partner behind and having us help you find childcare here.”

Since then, Lerman and Whyte have hosted some six artists at Momm and Popp, each with different needs when it comes to childcare, studio space, and housing. (After Kreiger and Neumann’s stay, financial support for Momm and Popp residents has primarily been provided by the Sustainable Arts Foundation, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit supporting artists and writers with families.)

Photo by Garlia Cornelia. Courtesy of Momm and Popp.

Last year, when Los Angeles-based artist Kaitlynn Redell was accepted to Momm and Popp, she came alone with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Rosie. Because her partner wasn’t able to join due to work constraints, most of Redell’s stipend went towards childcare—one of the main draws of Momm and Popp for her. Redell was also drawn to the residency’s funding, in addition to the ability to bring her daughter along; she considers it “a parent-artist dream.”

During her stay, Redell stayed in the guest house and worked next door in Popps Emporium, a gallery-cum-studio space. Serendipitously, the baby monitor extended from the house to the studio, so she was able to do a significant amount of work during Rosie’s naptime, or after she’d put her to bed.

Fittingly, Redell was working on a series of photographs called “not her(e),” which explores the caregiver role as someone who is simultaneously “being used as well as being invisible,” the artist explained. Across several images staged around the Popps homestead, Redell camouflaged her body while performing everyday acts of care for her daughter. In the resulting photographs, Redell’s body vanishes behind (or becomes consumed by) pieces of furniture, so that Rosie looks as if she’s behind cradled lovingly by a couch or fed by a table from which a single hand protrudes.

Photo by Garlia Cornelia. Courtesy of Momm and Popp.

The opportunity for alone time and childcare that Redell enjoyed was also extremely desirable for New York-based playwright Garlia Cornelia. “For me, the ability to have uninterrupted time has never been a thing I have in New York,” she explained over the phone from her home in Harrison.

The residency appealed to Cornelia, who has two kids—Aïda, who is six, and Malachi, who is four—for a multitude of reasons. In addition to the travel stipend, which helped to cover the cost of plane tickets for three, she was also attracted to the fact that she would be close to family; Cornelia was raised in Detroit. In this way, she could have her parents provide childcare, have quiet time to write, and put more of the stipend towards research and development for new plays.

At Popps, Cornelia’s children became part of her new community—they played with Lerman and Whyte’s kids, and met the Detroit-based writers, directors, and actors their mother befriended during her stay.

Marion Neumann and daughter Frida in the Popps Community Garden, 2016. Photo by Isamu Krieger. Courtesy of Momm and Popp.

“There were endless hours of playtime, which is what you want,” Cornelia explained. “You want to be able to sit down, do your work, interact with your friends, and simultaneously have the kids in a safe space—and they were.”

When I spoke with Cornelia, she’d left Momm and Popp several weeks before, but she knew she’d be going back. Not only had she made a significant amount of progress on a play in two weeks, but she’d made a new community—one she described as family. “I told Faina that I’m going to find a house on the block,” she said. “The thing that also makes Popps so special is that Faina and Graem have built such a strong community. You’re just completely surrounded by friends there.”

The families that have touched down at Momm and Popp have become an important and nourishing part of Lerman and Whyte’s life, too. “With the right chemistry of residents, it is all interwoven, everyone is family, it feels like home,” Lerman said. “It makes us happy to see that [the families] had a good time—and that they accomplished something that their children can, to some capacity, experience with them.”

Alexxa Gotthardt

Corrections: An earlier version of this story misstated that Isadora Lerman was born in 2012; she was born in 2011. Graem Whyte’s first name was misspelled as Graham. Garlia Cornelia does not reside in Brooklyn; she lives in Harrison, New York. Additionally, Cornelia did not complete an entire play at Momm and Popp.