Environmental art projects led by women-identifying artists receive grants totalling $250,000

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Fourteen projects that engage with environmental concerns have received grants of up to $20,000 from Anonymous Was A Woman (AWAW) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), from a study of seaweed cultivation in New York’s polluted Newtown Creek to a performance installation that underscores the hurricane-caused coastal erosion in Louisiana.

The funds, which total $250,000, are supported by AWAW’s inaugural Environmental Art Grants programme, which targets eco-minded projects led by women-identifying artists nationwide. AWAW has funded works by women artists over the age of 40 since 1996, through unrestricted grants of $25,000. According to Artnet News, the new grant came about after the programme’s founder Susan Unterberg—who until 2018 remained anonymous—worked with artist and AWAW grantee Jeanne Silverthorne on Silverthorne’s climate change-focused book Disaster Diary: August 2019-December 2020 (2021).

“With this grant, Anonymous Was A Woman is expanding our impact to fund work that addresses the climate crisis,” Unterberg says in a statement. “The enormous response received is proof that artists are eager to confront the practical and existential crises of our current moment creatively, and that this kind of work deserves much more attention and resources.”

Nansi Guevara and Monica Sosa, The Magic Valley y Nuestra Delta Magica : settler imaginaries and community resistance, from The colonization of Boca Chica, 2022 Courtesy the artist

More than 900 applicants vied for this year’s grants. Selected projects have to demonstrate a strong intended impact, and each will involve public engagement. The Newtown Creek proposal, for instance, by Shanjana Mahmud and Luke Eddins, aims to extract pollutants from the water through the cultivation of native sugar kelp; the artists plan to lead boat tours as they monitor growth. In the border town of Brownsville, Texas, Nansi Guevera and Monica Sosa will mount an exhibition that explores environmental racism through land exploitation over centuries, from settler-colonial projects to the arrival of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The 14 projects involve a diverse range of media to address the climate crisis and will be scattered across the US. This includes Puerto Rico, where Amara Abdal Figueroa will create a ceramic water filter to study mineral composition and water quality. In Iowa, former state poet laureate Mary Swanders will work with the Meskwaki Settlement to present a play about pre-colonial agricultural systems. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, the artist paris cyan cian is collaborating Cameron Mitchell Ware and jeremy d’jon to produce a multisite performance that responds to the ever-present threat of hurricanes. The work, titled modjeskamodjeskamodjeska, “seeks to combine movement, moving image, masquerade regalia fashioned from recycled oyster shells and poetic sonic repetition as tools for storytelling and worldbuilding”, according to a press release.

Amara Abdal Figueroa, arcilla y asserrín / clay and sawdust, 2021 Courtesy the artist

The public events of the 14 projects will take place by June 2023, but the programme aims to create impact beyond a set timeline.

“NYFA received more than 900 applications for this program, underscoring that the environment is at the forefront of many artists’ minds and that there is impactful work being done by women-identifying artists to spur thought and action in their communities and beyond,” Michael Royce, the foundation’s executive director says. “We hope that a lot of momentum will be generated through the projects that were recognized with environmental arts grants.”

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