The rest of the time, artists are free to spend their days as they wish. Some spill out onto the porches of the homes to make art en plein air, others head to the boardwalk to meet and observe the denizens of Cherry Grove.
“Socializing certainly isn’t required, but when you’re in close quarters with four other people, it’s hard for it not to happen,” Bogia explains. “The residency is set up to be a very natural bonding experience.”
Indeed, it’s the opportunity to meet and make work adjacent to other LGBTQ creatives that attracts many artists to FIAR. It’s also the takeaway that tends to stick with them after they go. “It was so wonderful to not have to explain my queerness, and there was an automatic connection with people,” Jesse Harrod tells me via email. A sculptor and video artist, she was a 2016 resident and has since become FIAR’s studio manager.
It was this atmosphere of freedom and familiarity that gave Harrod “permission to take further risks in my work,” she explains. “Being on the island deepened my commitment to my queer community and the need for allies.”
Babirye Leilah, a 2015 resident from Uganda, echoes the sentiment. She came to FIAR after a lifetime of repression in her home country, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. “Free from discrimination, I felt so welcomed, which changed how I see everything and how I make work,” she explains. While at FIAR, Leilah made an ornate sculptural mirror from found materials, which she dedicated to the drag queens she met on the Island. She placed it outside, so that the community, and those she was honoring, could interact with it. Since then, Leilah has stayed in the U.S. and is in the process of securing asylum.