I arrived at the Chautauqua Institute in New York a few days ago for the official beginning of my 18 months of the Marion International Fellowship for the Visual and Performing Arts. This fellowship is among the most unusual and exciting artistic grants I have ever heard of. It offers $18,000 to support a special project. $5,000 may support the artist directly and $13,000 supports the project and travel to the partner institutions during the creation of project. The Marion International Fellowship partners include the Chautauqua Institute, SUNY Fredonia, the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, the Alley Theatre Company in Houston, and the Alberta School of Art and Design. The Marions, a couple from Texas, generously support all of these arts organizations. They created the fellowship to tie their interests into one special fellowship that supports a big vision project. Artists connected to one of the partner organizations are invited to apply, which I did in March 2018. I was named a finalist while traveling in Spain this past April and conducted a midnight phone interview from a small condo in Costa Brava before being named the 2018-2019 fellow.
I applied for the Fellowship with a project called Mao’s China, which I will describe in a later blog post. This is a passion project which I have contemplated for seven years. This 75-minute multimedia piece will include live classical performers, dance, film, and electronic music. It is designed for a space with large projection, dance, modest theatrical lighting, and a good set-up for electronic and acoustic music (including a piano). This project is unlike anything I have created before and represents a push into two new-to-me creative paths – electronic music and film. Ideas about structure and content have been percolating for years. A couple of times I attempted to set aside the months required to create the piece but other excellent projects crept in and caused delays.
2018 is a sabbatical year and I already hoped to spend several months working on Mao’s China. The Marion Fellowship has solidified plans. It provides funding, visibility, and a clear performance target date. My proposal culminates with a fall 2019 premiere and I am now in discussion with SUNY Fredonia for a full or partial performance on their campus around October 2019. SUNY Fredonia has a robust school for the visual and performing arts. They are one of the partner organizations for the Marion Fellowship and administer the details of the fellowship.
As I’ve met people at Chautauqua I’ve quickly realized there is no easy or neat way to explain my presence at Chautauqua. The best I can offer is that I am here to listen, watch, observe, and think. My time straddles two themed weeks which are both connected to my project – The Arts and Global Understanding & The Forgotten: History and Memory in the 21st Century. My project has to deal with the terrible times my in laws lived through in China that made them leave China and make a new life in the United States. Each week, lectures, artistic performances, and guest artists/speakers are scheduled around these themes. One morning might include a talk by the director of the Holocaust Museum in DC while the afternoon features a discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr in continued racial difficulty in the US (author Bryan Stevenson – Just Mercy).
My time here involves moving from event to event in a process of invigorating adult learning and artistic consumption. In between formal activities I’m often finding a quiet spot to sit and write, read, brainstorm, or otherwise foster the rich and patient process of allowing my project to percolate. This allows a luxurious and important time for conceptualization and planning. My 75-minute piece is substantially different than anything I have done before and it is connected to a complex and lesser known period of recent Chinese history. There are a lot of decisions to make and questions to answer. My week here is the perfect way to begin the formal process of finally making this piece happen. This week is a formal beginning – a firing of the starting gun.