This week, the Artist Laureates program by Silicon Valley Creates will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Professional working artists apply each year for several categories of grants to assist them in their creative work.
The program was launched back in the late ’80s as the Artist Fellowship Program, when Silicon Valley Creates was known as the Arts Council of Santa Clara County. Now, 25 years later and after several ways in which the categories and operations have evolved, the program is stronger than ever. Institutions like the Knight Foundation now provide support at different levels.
The Artist Laureate Awards come in the following categories: On the Wall, Off the Wall, On Stage, Off Stage and Emerging Artists. The last award deals with new art forms and less experienced artists. A final category, Legacy Laureate, acknowledges a lifetime of achievement in the arts. The awards are $5,000, except for the Emerging Artist Laureate, which is $2,500.
This Wednesday, from 5:30-7:30pm, a party at the Mexican Heritage Plaza will celebrate this year’s laureates. The 2015 Legacy Laureate is Mythili Kumar of the Abhinaya Dance Company. Mixed media artists Victoria May and Stephanie Metz take home the goods for the On the Wall and Off the Wall categories, respectively. Choreographer David Popalisky is the 2015 On Stage laureate, while SJSU Jazz professor Aaron Lington is the new Off Stage Laureate. The Emerging Artist Laureates are Roberto Romo and Ken Savage.
The celebration doesn’t stop there. As of right now, a new website, www.svlaureates.org, enables anyone to search through the whole quarter century’s worth of fellowship winners and laureates. One can search by type of artist, style, medium or even city. You don’t have to be a crazy taxonomic database type of weirdo to enjoy looking through it, but I found myself inspecting the records of 100 previous artist laureates from all over Santa Clara County. It was inspiring just to see the breadth of creativity represented, whether it’s literary arts, music, dance, ethnic diasporas or photography. Many were personal friends or even former professors. And everyone knows it’s impossible to live and work as an artist in this valley, thanks to the real-estate-bullshitter mentality that tends to poison the landscape around here, so it’s inspiring to know that these awards often trigger a new dose of optimism.
Joshua Russell, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Creates, says that after 25 years of laureate awards, what’s grown is the recognition the awards bring to the artist’s practice.
“Being recognized, now, as an Artist Laureate, has helped springboard a lot of careers,” Russell said. “It’s helped increase credibility among the artists, which has led to more projects and more funding and more support. So the recognition is one of the things that’s been most impactful.”
It’s true. Several former winners talk about how becoming an artist fellow or laureate has aided their creative careers, especially since the artists can do whatever they want with the money. There are no restrictions.
Shannon Amidon, for example, was a 2011 laureate for photography. The grant allowed her to attend a month-long artist residency in Iceland.
“During the residency I was able to create a new body work as well as explore and experiment with the encaustic medium on a deeper level,” she said. “As for the larger impact on my career, I believe it has provided me with opportunities and connections that I may not have had without being a laureate. I have been able to meet, contribute and work with a variety of talented people throughout the community.”
Local photographer Robert Ragazza had similar things to say about his experience as an Emerging Artist Laureate. The award bestowed on him a degree of legitimacy he hadn’t previously felt.
“What it did for me is—because I don’t have a degree in photography, but I love photography—it pushed me to the next level,” he said. “It actually validated what I’m doing. It changed the whole landscape of how I see my work.”