Janet Echelman As If It Were Already Here

Six New England Artists Earn National Recognition

Barr joins funders supporting exemplary artists to take risks and create new work.

Last month, 46 artists were recognized as some of America’s most accomplished and innovative. United States Artists, Inc. (USA) annually awards artists, ranging in creative disciplines, with nationally competitive fellowships that grant $50,000 in unrestricted support. The USA Fellowship was created in 2006 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson, and Prudential foundations to address the lack of unrestricted funding for individual artists and has since distributed nearly $25 million in support of more than 450 artists. This year, Barr joined a growing collection of funders sponsoring the award, and early this month we celebrated the inaugural class of USA Barr Fellows: six innovative, accomplished artists based in New England.

From Massachusetts is Janet Echelman, whose aerial sculpture “As If It Were Already Here” (featured above) was suspended over Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway for much of 2015. Crafts and visual artists include Laura Fensterstock and Anna Hepler from Maine, Roberto Lugo from Vermont, and Winfred Rembert from Connecticut. Choreographer Steve Paxton in Vermont is recognized as the leading pioneer of contact improvisation. Read more about these artists in the short bios below (and click their photos to see sample imagery of their work and their full bios at the USA website).

Receiving a USA grant can be a milestone achievement in an artist’s career. These funds can enable them to take new steps in their work and artistic risks with new materials, equipment, collaborators, or travel. Artists can direct their fellowship funds where most needed, such as purchasing equipment and materials, paying for health insurance, or taking time off from their “day jobs” to focus on art making. Some artists have used their awards to give grants to emerging artists.

But the rewards are more than just financial. As USA Fellows, they join a diverse and extraordinary network of top artists who range in age from 26 to 81, hail from 48 states and Puerto Rico, and are diverse in race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. At the annual Artists Assembly, the year’s Fellows network, share ideas, and attend forums on vital professional and creative issues facing artists.

Barr is pleased to support artists as innovators and risk-takers.

Barr is pleased to support artists as innovators and risk-takers who infuse beauty, connect communities, and provoke new understanding to societal challenges. Support of the USA Fellows builds on our commitment to elevate local and regional artists to new audiences throughout and beyond New England. This grant to USA follows Barr’s recent contributions to The Boston Foundation’s Live Arts Boston fund, supporting local and individual artists in Boston, and the Creative City program at the New England Foundation for the Arts, which aids artists in creating temporary public art projects and social interventions (like this one we featured on our blog in July). Barr also funded local artists to actively participate in the City of Boston’s cultural planning process, infusing it with creativity and exemplifying the unique skills artists bring to the table.

We look forward to following the USA Barr Fellows and watching the impacts on their work and careers of this additional capacity to pause, reflect, innovate, and create. In 2017, we plan to convene the Fellows in Boston so that they can present about their artistic process to the broader community. To receive details about this upcoming convening, be sure to subscribe to our email list and select “Arts & Creativity” among your interests.

Congratulations to the USA Barr Fellows:

Janet Echelman – Architecture & Design (Brookline, MA)

Janet Echelman creates experiential sculpture at the scale of buildings that transform with wind and light. Exploring the potential of unlikely materials, from fishing net to atomized water particles, Echelman combines ancient craft with cutting-edge technology to create permanent sculpture city-scale. She recently received the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Visual Arts, honoring “the greatest innovators in America today.”

Lauren Fensterstock – Crafts (Portland, ME)

Based in Portland, Maine, Lauren Fensterstock is an artist, writer, curator, critic, and educator. She served as academic program director of the Interdisciplinary MFA in Studio Arts at Maine College of Art and as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Her curatorial projects and published writings have been featured internationally as the subject of major solo exhibitions.

Anna Hepler – Crafts (Eastport, ME)

Anna Hepler was born in Boston and has been based in Maine since 2001, working as a sculptor. She says, “I learned early when I had an idea—new pants, a desk—to make it myself, no doubt because I loved making things, but also because that was what I knew. I gathered skills…and developed a maker’s confidence, and fluency across materials, scale, and dimension.”

Roberto Lugo – Crafts (Marlboro, VT)

Roberto Lugo is a potter, social activist, spoken word poet, and educator. He says, “I see my pottery as a process of transforming the ground we walk on into something we eat from…In many ways this transformation of tragedy into triumph is a metaphor for my life’s story…I bring art to those that do not believe they need to see it and engage in deeper ways of knowing, learning, and thinking.”

Steve Paxton – Dance (East Charleston, VT)

Steve Paxton has researched the fiction of cultured dance and the “truth” of improvisation for 40 years. He was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater, Grand Union, Contact Improvisation, and Touchdown Dance for the visually disabled (UK). He has been awarded two NY Bessie Awards plus a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, the Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1994, and the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award from the Venice Biennale in 2014.

Winfred Rembert – Visual Arts (New Haven, CT)

With his intensely autobiographical “paintings” (dye on carved and tooled leather) depicting the day-to-day existence of African Americans in the segregated South, Winfred has preserved an important, if often disturbing, chapter of American history. In the award-winning documentary ALL ME: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert, the artist relives his turbulent life and shows us how even the most painful memories can be transformed into something meaningful and beautiful.

See the full list of 2016 USA Fellows

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San San Wong

E. San San Wong

Senior Program Officer, Arts & Creativity (Program Lead)