As I walked into my classroom at Columbia High School the morning of January 28th of this year, I noticed a call notification on my phone: NJSCA. I knew I wouldn’t be able to answer it until after my morning classes, but I had an oddly positive feeling. I tried to tamp down expectations, and got absorbed in my teaching. In that way, I got to enjoy the tremble of excitement a second time when I stopped for lunch and saw the caller ID again. Unbelievably, Danielle Bursk was calling to give me news I had hoped to hear for 30 years – I had won a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Individual Artist’s Grant in sculpture!
To receive this fellowship is profoundly meaningful to me. Despite my lifelong compulsion to make things, it took a good part of my young adulthood to accept that I was an artist whether or not I wanted to be, and that I would have to find a way to make room for my practice while simultaneously having a family and a demanding job. This balance has been tricky, and I have questioned the decisions I have made about how to divide my time over the years. I have received both encouragement and rejection for my choices, and have slowly gotten better at not taking those rejections as indicators on how worthwhile my art-making enterprise is. So each time I applied for the NJSCA Fellowship, for decades(!), I returned to my studio regardless.
And then, after so many years, to actually get that phone call! It felt like a total affirmation on two levels: both in regards to my artistic output AND my perseverance. To be told that what you are doing is right, is valued, is seen, and is supported by both professionals in the field AND the government, is nothing short of phenomenal.
Has my work changed since I first applied? Yes and no. My main focus is on site-specific installation, and it takes quite a few years to generate the opportunities needed to express myself this way. All of the curators who took risks by letting me transform their alternative arts venues – from parks to schools to public spaces – into my vision of how much more engaging a space could be, were instrumental in supporting my growth as an artist.
Our state is rich with the generosity of cultural workers. The outdoor piece I will be installing for Summit Public Art in May is a good example of this kind of collaboration.
I am surprised by the sense of artistic freedom receiving this honor has given me. It has made me feel supported in expressing my reactions to the issues the world is facing right now, even without plans for specific works laid out yet. Images related to coronavirus, and the omnipresence of other environmental threats, have already found their way into my drawings, which I use as a way to visualize how to live alongside that which I cannot ignore.
It is hard to express how deep my gratitude is, and how excited I am to continue to do more of what I have been doing, knowing that so many people have my back.