Time sure does fly, doesn't it? It seemed like only yesterday — it was actually September 22, 2014 — that we looked at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation's "Artist as Activist" fellowship, a two-year grant designed to support the growing body of independent artists who are leveraging art in service of a larger social purpose.
Since that time, other foundations have come around to the Rauschenberg Foundation's way of thinking. New York's A Blade of Grass, for example, announced its Fellowship for Engaged Art, a program focused on artists who were "conduits for social change." And we also took a look at the emerging field of "social practice," a type of art that combines hands-on participation with — you guessed it — social activism.
But terms like "social activism," particularly when mixed with "art," can lead into a nebulous gray area. This of course, isn't a bad thing. It's the essence of art itself. Definitions and interpretations inevitably vary across foundations, donors, and artists, so when the Rauschenberg Foundation announces the winners of its "Artist as Activist" fellowship, everyone should pay attention.
You're paying attention, right?
The foundation received more than 600 applications for the inaugural year of the fellowship, with representation from 42 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. After a competitive application process, the foundation awarded six grants totaling $400,000 to four artists and two artist collectives. Over the next two years, the fellows will receive support ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 to pursue ambitious creative projects that address a spectrum of timely social challenges, "devising artistic strategies that go beyond awareness-building to spur action."
And here are the winners:
Chemi M. Rosado-Seijo. Rosado-Seijo will collaborate with local leaders in El Cerro, a rural working-class community embedded in the mountains of Naranjito, Puerto Rico, to devise creative workshops that facilitate local business creation, shared identity, and a sense of belonging.
Dalit Diva. This collective provides a multimedia platform for Dalit women who have survived sexual violence to tell their stories through shared artmaking and social actions tied to the Dalit Women’s Self-Respect March, an international movement to end caste-based sexual violence in India.
Deanna Van Buren. To address social challenges that both lead to and have been created by mass incarceration, VanBuren has created the Pop-up Resource Village in Oakland, CA, converting de-commissioned MUNI buses into portable classrooms, computer labs, and safe houses for young adults trying to re-enter their communities after time in jail or prison.
Jasiri X. Pittsburgh native Jasiri X is developing a tool to help young, African-American men analyze and broaden their experience with media in order to dispel stereotypes and provide a positive forum of self-expression through a medium in which African-American males are either under-represented or misrepresented.
People’s Climate Arts. The collective is building a network of artists, laborers, immigrants, youth, faith leaders, and environmental justice organizations to create new narratives and strategies that ignite the public imagination around issues of social, economic, and climate justice.
Susan McAllister and Naomi Natale. The artists will work with Chilean partners to organize a series of community gatherings that excavate the competing, rarely discussed memories of the 1973 coup d’état, culminating in a physical and virtual Constellation of Chilean Memory.