There are a lot of art residencies in this world, though there is probably only one that lasts the length of a single cup of coffee—free refills notwithstanding. Since April, the artist and musician Jacob Berendes has been staging CTRI (Coffee/Tea Rhode Island) Innovations Residency, a Providence-based “limited residency program” that offers up coffee or tea, along with conversation, for around an hour or two.
“I feel like every culture has some kind of chemical stimulant that serves as an opportunity to sit around and talk. America has coffee,” Berendes told me over email. “I feel that framing this residency program around coffee (or tea) is a good breezy way to declare the main activity, which is conversation, and a general time frame, which is not all afternoon.”
The application process, which is open to all, is quite straightforward and takes only a few minutes to complete. There is no travel stipend, but Berendes—who for five years ran the Providence newspaper Mother’s News, and before that, the Worcester, Massachusetts junk shop and arts space HBML—does foot the bill for the beverages.
Most local coffee shops are fair game—even New England mainstay Dunkin’ Donuts, which recently shortened its namesake simply to Dunkin’, qualifies—but Berendes draws the line at Starbucks. It should also be noted that “fancy coffee drinks” are not allowed. “I like the simplicity of ‘just a cup of coffee,’ ” Berendes said, as a way to explain his thinking on the matter. “It’s too easy to be a snob about anything nowadays, I find it extremely pleasant to walk up to the coffee person and say ‘a hot cup of coffee, please.’ ”
Berendes keeps an online log of past residencies, each one coming with a short writeup recapping the visit. So far, 52 separate residencies have been completed, including conversations with such Providence mainstays as the musician Jeremy Harris and the multidisciplinary artist Xander Marro. Though there is no endpoint planned, Berendes assumes the application rate will gradually simmer. Until then, the project rolls on. “Unless the cost of coffee goes through the roof or I fail to have an extra $14 a week or whatever (rough current budget for this project), I’ll probably just keep the application live,” Berendes said. He pointed to a PayPal address (firstname.lastname@example.org) that is currently open for donations.
Though Berendes has never taken part in any formal residencies, he has applied for grants in the past, an ordeal that he found to be “intimidating, discouraging, and ultimately depressing.” Now that he is on the other side of that very administrative process, he remarked that “it’s a delight to try to identify the aspects of the nonprofit complex that I abhor, and to build a world that disincludes these things.”
When asked for parting words, Berendes offered up some sage advice for coffee shops in the area. “Consider advertising that you don’t have wifi, that’s a bonus to me, as it means it’s easier to get a seat, and there’s fewer people sitting there frowning all day with headphones on,” he said. “Headphones are bad for morale. Also please consider playing more jazz on the stereo. It’s one of America’s greatest contributions to human culture, and it goes great with coffee and conversation.”