Faces from the Nation Inside video Storybank
A few months ago I had the opportunity to talk to Nick Szuberla, a 2006 Emerging Fields grantee, about the development of his Creative Capital project, Thousand Kites, a multimedia, community-based project centered on the criminal justice system in the U.S. Only part of that story made it into my original blog post, so I followed up with him so that we could share the whole, fantastic story.
Lisa Dent: When you first applied for the Creative Capital grant in 2005, what was your most important goal?
Nick Szuberla: When I moved from my hometown of Toledo, OH and into the Appalachian coalfields in 1998, I was interested in learning more about the impact that prisons, as a form of economic development, were having on the Appalachian community. I made contact with local prisoners after I began a weekly radio program, “Holler to the Hood,” that became popular with them. I was playing hip-hop in a sea of bluegrass. The prisoners I spoke with cued me in to the human rights abuses taking place at two supermax prisons near my home. Among the numerous tragedies I learned about, two ended in the death of an inmate. Continue reading
Shih Chieh Huang, Seductive Evolution of Animated Illumination, 2013
The art world has gotten used to managing their calendars around the Venice Biennale every two years. In 2009, a collateral event was added to the offerings. In an effort to connect the history of Venetian glass production to the slew of contemporary art enthusiasts coming to town, Glasstress was formed. Seeking to illuminate the “…limitless possibilities inherent in glass,” organizers invited leading contemporary artists to collaborate with Murano glass blowers to create new work. Artists in 2009 and 2011 included Mona Hatoum, Chen Zhen, Fred Wilson, Dan Graham, Tony Oursler, Kiki Smith, Vik Muniz and Monica Bonvicini.
The 2013 iteration of Glasstress includes new work by Shih Chieh Huang (2009 Emerging Fields). Huang combined his process of making sculptures with household materials, animated by using original computer algorithims, with the traditional Venetian chandelier. The result connects Huang’s interest in technology and commercial culture with the great history of design from the islands of Murano. Continue reading
Nick Szuberla’s Campaign for Prison Phone Justice
Nick Szuberla, after working on his Creative Capital project Thousand Kites for several months, found himself sitting in front of what he described as “an amazing database.” He and his collaborators, Amelia Kirby and Donna Porterfield, had been in contact with hundreds of community members in the Appalachian region, interviewing them about their experiences with two local super-maximum security prisons. The artists intended to compile the material into scripts to read aloud and broadcast over the radio in the communities most affected by the nearby prison complexes. While people had a lot to say about their experiences, to Szuberla’s surprise, the most prevalent concern from family members was the high cost of phone calls to their loved ones behind bars. Szuberla discovered that under many states current communications systems, phone calls to incarcerated individuals cost up to $3.80 a minute. Some families found themselves paying $20-30,000 a year on phone calls alone.
Szuberla found that many state governments are receiving kickbacks from local phone companies for these calls—up to 60% of the cost. Although there are currently eight states that have banned prison phone kickbacks, Szuberla and grassroots partners felt that more could be done. So they started the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, an advocacy group committed to changing the price of these phone calls and giving families the opportunity to be connected again.
Over the years Creative Capital has noticed that an increasing number of grantees have decided to start their own organizations. We’re realizing that the financial and advisory services we provide our grantees help them not only complete their artistic projects but also find ways to address other needs in our society. These new institutions have focused on issues of social justice, food, product development and critical thinking skills. Continue reading