PHOENIX – Dozens of Arizona artists are expanding their creative horizons, thanks to 30 $5,000 research and development grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
The grants were for artists at any stage of their careers to help them experiment with techniques, create new works and more. To fund the grants, the commission partnered with nonprofits.
Cronkite News spoke with several recipients to find how they’re spending the money to further their artistic visions and skills in public art, performance art, film, music and dance.
Stephen Fairfield of Cochise County, 78, is working on a sculpture that’s to be displayed in front of Avondale Fire Station 175. It’s a large outline of a heart made of twisted stainless steel plates with a quote from Cesar Chavez in English and Spanish: “Grant me courage to serve others; for in service there is true life.”
For the project, Fairfield needed a specialized plate roller that can bend steel plates, and that’s where the grant came in handy. With the roller, Fairfield already has assembled half the sculpture.
Fairfield has a Ph.D. in biomedical research and was head of the manufacturing program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but almost 20 years ago, he quit to pursue a career in sculpting.
Fairfield focuses on art created for public spaces, sometimes through a public process. He appreciates public art because each project is vastly different from the previous one and can be appreciated by everyone.
Grace Rolland-Redwood is a musician in Mesa who goes by Rising Sun Daughter and recently released her first EP, “I See Jane.” She applied for the grant so she could invest in new equipment and stay afloat while she took some time to focus on developing new skills and music.
She used the $5,000 to upgrade her home studio and purchase a camera to incorporate video into her music-writing process.
“It opens up the avenue for expression, when you have a certain tool,” said Rolland-Redwood, who has been performing music since she was 7. “An artist is only as good as his tools. That’s not always true, but you can make a bunch of stuff.”
Rolland-Redwood sings and plays piano, guitar and cello. She also has played violin, viola, mandolin and banjo at times. She comes from a family of artists and musicians and considers the arts a deeply ingrained part of her identity.
Sumana Sen Mandala, 49, is a Phoenix dancer and dance teacher of an Indian classical dance style called Bharata Nrityam. She has used the grant money for research and critique on her form of dancing to explore what it means for modern women.
“I’ve been very interested in a feedback process that’s called the critical response process,” she said. “It’s a process that helps bring different perspectives. So I want to kind of use that process in the documentation by inviting people around me in the community and even outside to help me as I develop whatever this research is going to be.”
She wants to use the research to make this style and tradition of dancing fit with her identity as an Indian American woman.
“If it’s something by a 16th century male composer from India from an Indian village, there are certain universal values, but there are certain things that just don’t reflect me,” Mandala said.
Jisun Myung, 36, is a Valley theatrical artist, performer and director from South Korea who uses theater and food as tools to explore traditions and culture. Her latest work, a participatory performance called the “Miyeokguk Project,” leads the audience on a journey of tradition, food and women’s stories about reproduction.
“I was curious to see other Korean women’s experiences and talk about how did they know they want kids or not as we discussed it over a bowl of miyeokguk,” Myung said.
Miyeokguk is a seaweed soup that Koreans eat on their birthdays and after giving birth. The soup forms a strong connection between mothers and daughters, Myung said.
Her motivation for the project is “annoyance of the cultural and family pressure to have children.”
She plans to use the grant to expand her production of the project, including a larger production, venue and props for a more immersive experience.
“The ideal vision for the show is that when the audience comes in, there is a really dark room and there is a giant pool filled with seaweed and you need to walk through it,” Myung said. “Make it uncomfortable, that’s the whole point – walk as if this is the tradition that the Korean women have to go through.”
Myung will have a small showing of the food performance at Arizona State University in Tempe on April 27. The larger production of “Miyeokguk Project” is expected to take place in October and next February.
Stephanie Rose Figgins, 33, of Phoenix, is a camera operator for documentaries and an independent filmmaker. Her Peruvian family inspired her to create the experimental documentary “Dreaming of Rosa,” which will explore connections between dreams and ancestral wisdom.
“Having someone put their faith behind your project is a huge confidence boost, and I feel extremely grateful for it,” Figgins said. The grant is helping fund her trip to Peru for two months to do research and start initial filming.
Figgins left April 7 for a village in the highlands of Peru called Caja Espiritu (Spiritual Box), where Figgins’ great-grandmother, Rosa, was born and the ruins of her house remain.
Before Figgins’ trip, she journaled about her dreams, took dream work classes and researched her family ancestry.
“I’m committed to the exploration of who I am and the constant unfolding of my ancestors with my own dream landscape,” Figgins said. “Most people don’t really remember their dreams, but it’s one of the oldest ways for us to know ourselves, to get direction, to heal, to become the best versions of ourselves, and so I’m just interested in exploring through film really how far dreams can take us.”