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Artfully Won

Meadows Prize winners Nadia Sirota and Tania Bruguera are on a mission

Since the re-boot of the Meadows Prize in 2009, those awarded the honor have produced pioneering work ranging from a thought-provoking report on the local arts community to a choreographic premiere featuring dancers splashed in paint and an urban take on a classic fairytale. This year’s winners are no different, promising bold, visionary work and a lasting impact on Meadows students and the Dallas arts community.

When violist Nadia Sirota (opposite above) visited SMU Meadows School of the Arts last fall, she told faculty that as one of two winners of the Meadows Prize for 2013, she is looking forward to working with students on techniques and ideas for broadening their career options as professional musicians.

“I want to help students feel comfortable with the concept of working with living composers and to understand the value of modern music,” says Sirota, a classically trained musician who champions new music around the world and who has been praised by The New York Times as “a bold new music interpreter.”

The 2013 Meadows Prize was also awarded to Tania Bruguera (opposite below), a socio-political artist and activist from Cuba whose work focuses on social/public art practice. She is the driving force behind Immigrant Movement International, a project in Queens, N.Y., offering free educational, artistic and consciousnessraising activities to a community of immigrants.

“Tania is a visionary artist who has inventively engaged social and political content,” says Noah Simblist, associate professor of art at Meadows. “Rather than using artwork as a soothing device to decorate the spaces that we live and work in, she uses art as a way of reckoning with issues we would rather ignore, and calls attention to a wide range of pressing problems that need a second look.”

“Both artists have successfully forged nontraditional paths in their disciplines,” says Meadows Dean José Bowen. “Nadia is a new music pioneer and Tania is an outstanding example of how artists can engage with their cities and communities. They will be an inspiration to the students at Meadows, who are exploring ways to make a living from their creativity and find their voices as artists.”

Inaugurated in October 2009, the Meadows Prize is presented by SMU Meadows each year to two pioneering artists. Sponsored by The Meadows Foundation, the prize includes support for a four-week residency in Dallas, in addition to a $25,000 stipend. In return, recipients are expected to interact in a substantive way with Meadows students and collaborating arts organizations and to leave a lasting legacy in Dallas, such as a work of art that remains in the community, a composition or piece of dramatic writing that would be performed locally or a new way of teaching in a particular discipline.

The Classically Trained, Contemporary Music Advocate

Sirota, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Juilliard, is a highly sought-after violist known for her compelling energy and unique interpretation of new scores. She has commissioned and premiered works by some of the most talented composers of her generation, including Marcos Balter, Caleb Burhans, Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly. Her debut album, First Things First, was a New York Times 2009 record of the year. She also has collaborated with major classical artists, songwriters and bands worldwide, and on such recordings as Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning album The Suburbs.

Sirota will undertake the first half of her Meadows Prize residency April 1-14 and return October 7-19.

During an introductory visit to Meadows in early November, she conducted a master class and coaching sessions with two chamber music groups, met with Dean Bowen and discussed ideas for her residency with faculty members. She said she was especially happy to win the prize because it would give her time to slow down and think about her career and what she has learned that might be useful for Meadows students.

“I’m hoping to bring my ensemble yMusic to SMU to work with student composers and performers, and I want to show students how to incorporate audio equipment and electronics into their arsenal of techniques for playing orchestral instruments,” she says. “These are some of the things I picked up in my career after college – I’d love to help students think about them as integral parts of the experience of being a professional musician as well. It’s an exciting time for the new music that’s being created – I hope students get from my residency that there’s a lot to take in and a lot to work with.”

Sirota maintains an extremely busy schedule, performing, recording and working with other musicians around the world, including 12 visits to Iceland in the past 18 months. She is a regular guest with such groups as The Meredith Monk Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound and Continuum, and is a founding member of ACME (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble), yMusic and the Wordless Music Orchestra.

During her residency, she will give two public performances in April in Caruth Auditorium: a concert with the Meadows new music ensemble SYZYGY on April 12 and a solo performance of music from her new CD Baroque on April 14.

Matt Albert, who won the Meadows Prize in 2010 as a member of the Grammy-winning new music ensemble eighth blackbird and is now artist-in-residence with the Meadows Division of Music, has known Sirota for the past five years.

“I think she’s an extremely exciting choice for the Meadows Prize,” says Albert. “The Meadows Prize is about recognizing people who are coming into a major career, and that’s just where Nadia is. She’s made great choices to take advantage of opportunities she’s been given and to stand out from the crowd while building on a foundation of solid conservatory training. That’s exactly the example we want to show to our students.”

Addressing Uncomfortable Issues Through Art

As an interdisciplinary artist, Tania Bruguera works primarily in behavior art, performance, installation and video. She has “eaten dirt, hung a dead lamb from her neck and served trays of cocaine to a gallery audience, all in the name of art,” according to The New York Times. Her work has been featured in the Venice, Johannesburg, São Paolo, Shanghai and Havana biennials and in exhibitions at some of the most prominent museums in Europe and the U.S., including the Tate Modern, IVAM and The New Museum of Contemporary Art, and is part of numerous art collections.

Bruguera is a graduate of the M.F.A. program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and of the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba, where she founded and directed Arte de Conducta, the first political art studies program in the world. She has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship (1998) and the Prince Claus Prize from The Netherlands (2000). Currently she is a visiting faculty member at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the IUAV in Venice and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.

Bruguera grew up in Cuba, and much of her art has political overtones. At the Havana Biennale in 2000, she had visitors walk over rotting sugar cane husks to reach a video showing historical clips of Fidel Castro; in front of the video naked men performed gestures of subjugation.

“I work with fear, vulnerability, empowerment, self-determination and freedom as well as submission and obedience as social survival strategies,” she says. “These tools and evidences are part of the process of resistance to entrenched power. I’m interested in human transformation as part and consequence of a relationship with power.”

In March 2011, Bruguera began a five-year social project, Immigrant Movement International, the first year of which was sponsored by the Queens Museum of Art and former Meadows Prize-winning public art organization Creative Time. Engaging both local and international communities, and working with social service organizations, elected officials and artists focused on immigration reform, IM International functions as a think tank for immigrant issues.

For the first 18 months of the project, Bruguera lived on minimum wage in a small apartment with a group of recently arrived, undocumented immigrants in the multinational neighborhood of Corona, Queens. The apartment sits over a storefront where IM International staff and volunteers offer free services to the community, including legal advice, computer classes and English tutoring as well as art and theatre workshops. One of the goals of the project is to raise awareness through what Bruguera calls “useful art,” meaning implementing art in people’s lives in ways that address social and political problems. For example, in one performance art piece, volunteers interviewed immigrants in the subway about their experiences in the U.S.

David Strauss, director of external affairs at the Queens Museum of Art, says the concept of useful art is also behind a new project launched in February 2013 by Bruguera and the Queens Museum, together with the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands. The project will include research, an online platform, an association of useful art practitioners, a series of public projects and a lab presentation at the Queens Museum, culminating in the transformation of the old building of the Van Abbemuseum into the Museum of Arte Útil in the fall of 2013 and a publication.

“The Museum of Arte Útil will build on Tania’s decade of research into socially informed art practice that emphasizes effectiveness and implementation over representation,” says Strauss. “A survey of past and present projects will be included that meet the criteria for useful art: projects that propose new uses for art within society, are implemented and function in real situations, and have practical, beneficial outcomes for users, among other goals.”

Bruguera’s Meadows Prize residency will take place April 7-20 and September 22-October 5. The April visit will focus on work with students; the fall visit will include a major public event the week of September 30. “The Meadows Prize is bringing artists to Dallas who are looking at things in very new ways,” says Dean Bowen. “These artists take risks and rethink conventions. Our state has always attracted people willing to take risks – the oil industry is a classic example – and has benefited from their successes. In the artistic process, just as in oil exploration, you have to drill some dry wells to find the gushers. “The more we can connect our students and community with innovative thinkers, the more we hope to spark creative, entrepreneurial ideas that ultimately benefit both Dallas and our next generation of leaders.”

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