Valley artists land grants for their work

Four generations of Deerfield fruit farmers have stewarded the land at Clarkdale Fruit Farms for more than a century, harvesting an heirloom apple variety that measures just around 1 inch in diameter, a bite-sized Lady apple most popular among the farm’s youngest visitors.

“Farmer momma” Lori Holmes Clark lives at Clarkdale, where she raises her children and is employed as the farm’s resident artist. In art and in motherhood, she imparts the understanding that “food doesn’t come from the store, it comes from the soil.”

Clark is a New York whose roots in Broadway performance art inspired an audiovisual installation at the farm, an ongoing project that, among 19 other local artistic endeavors, recently secured $4,000 in grant funding from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts through its Project Evolution grant program.

Her installation, “Doorways — Mirth and Memory,” functions both as an immersive theater experience and as an audio guided tour of the farm, offering children a fictitious tale of apple-growing fairies and recounting for parents and other adults the true, calloused stories of Clarkdale’s elder farmers.

“Performance art is ephemeral, it happens — and if it’s going to happen again, the body responsible for its production has to make a deliberate effort,” Clark says on Monday afternoon while waiting for her children’s school bus to arrive. “I have lupus and my body is changing and my stamina is changing, so I wanted to create something more long lasting.”

That’s where Project Evolution comes in. The new program is an expansion of the Community Foundation’s ValleyCreates working capital grants initiative, which since February 2020 has awarded four rounds of $1,000 microgrants to 85 artists. These small grants provided needed financial relief throughout the pandemic to pay for things such as studio space and supplies, says Molly Rideout, the Community Foundation’s assets for artists assistant director.

Those artists were then eligible to apply to Project Evolution, which aims to go further, allowing artists to pay themselves for their time and labor and offset expenditures associated with creative production.

For Northampton creative Mark Gugglielmo, the grant facilitates a long-awaited transition to mixed media, a “second act” in his career as a photo collage artist.

His project pays tribute to the Italian-American immigrant experience and envisions capturing through fine art and layered textiles a cultural marriage that gets the “short end of the stick on the big screen.”

“Italian-American representation gets essentially limited to ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Jersey Shore.’ The truth of our experience is invisible, and it is when a multicultural people come here and are forced and coerced into embracing whiteness,” Guglielmo said. “You embrace the financial benefits of whiteness, but you lose your soul, you lose your language.”

He says the support through Project Evolution will be transformative.

“Everybody else works and expects to get paid,” he says. “To be able to get paid to examine history through art and simply to create art is foundational — you can’t make beautiful work without financial support.”

Project Evolution’s start

Clark and Gugglielmo are two of 20 western Massachusetts visual artists, musicians, poets and performers to receive a total of $80,000 through Project Evolution. The program is supported in part by the Barr Foundation’s Boston-based Creative Commonwealth program, a 10-year philanthropic partnership benefiting five regional foundations across the state.

Grantees also gain access to a trove of professional development resources made available through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s Assets for Artists program.

Rideout says that up to half of Project Evolution applicants identified that structured projects are new to them and said they would welcome guidance on the noncreative components of producing art professionally, such as marketing and grant writing.

Grant recipients can elect to attend workshops and up to two hourlong coaching sessions until May 2023, when the grants expire. The funding’s yearlong shelf life is designed to encourage growth and fruition in projects that simply began as pitches at the application stage.

Diana Alvarez, a Holyoke artist originally from Texas, has worked on her “chosen família” play “Quiero Volver, A Xicanx Ritual Opera” for eight years — she’s staged it four times already, only with borrowed equipment.

The piece is participatory, and relies on a field recorder, a microphone, and a projector to feature documentary portraits of BIPOC artists and to facilitate an open mic for BIPOC audience members during the performance.

“Quiero Volver” resembles neither a traditional theater piece nor a traditional opera, and, like each of the other grant recipient’s pieces, Alvarez’s performance centers community by cultivating audience engagement.

“I always knew I wanted to be a musician, but it took me a long time to accept that about myself. On the stage, it’s important that I invite participants to meditate and reflect,” Alvarez said. “[The stage] is really a space for reflection where I’m trying to nudge people to not do what I did.”

“It’s an attempt at encouraging people to be artists in a world that urgently needs us,” she said.

Other artists to land grants through Project Evolution include: Faith Alkiewicz, Northampton; María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado, Springfield; Rachel Blackman, Northampton; Frankie Borrero, Springfield; Keshawn Dodds, Springfield; Michelle Falcón Fontánez, Indian Orchard; Magdalena Gómez, Springfield; Imo Imeh, Holyoke; Maria Kenison, Springfield; Robert Markey, Ashfield; Kurt Meyer, Shelburne Falls; Heshima Moja, Indian Orchard; Ivonne Montoya, Northampton; Samuel Perry, Turners Falls; Rochelle Shicoff, Monson; JaJa Swinton, West Springfield; and Shandyce Willis, Springfield.

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