The day I speak to Gullichsen, three artists are working and living on the boat: a textile designer, a printmaker, and a digital artist. Like each of the 40 residents Gullichsen has invited to the boat since 2015, they’re given a bedroom and studio space (together, their “cabin”)—plus a box of local produce each week, and personal views of the Bay. “Then, we just give them a key to the boat and free them,” Gullichsen says, smiling.
The concept of artistic freedom lies at the core of Varda’s mission. There are no requirements to make or present work while on board. Instead, artists are free to craft the experience they desire from the SS Vallejo, and its unusual surroundings—the sea, fishermen, fellow creatives, and perhaps even the ghosts of artists past.
“The most important aspect of the residency is autonomy—and respect and appreciation for everyone’s intellect,” says Gullichsen. “When we grant freedom, without trying to control people’s actions and thoughts, it means we believe in their capacities.”
And while Gullichsen doesn’t set expectations around the work artists make or how they interact with other residents, rituals and patterns have developed over the past two years. Namely, a strong spirit of friendship and collaboration has emerged.