The Vilcek Foundation invites you to Talk Back!

Hello and welcome back to GIA 2011 Talk Back series!

As the Executive Director of The Vilcek Foundation and guest blogger for Talk Back, I invite you to join my colleagues and me at The Vilcek Foundation, in a conversation about immigrant artists, about the Foundation’s unique model of supporting individual artists, and our thoughts on the role of technology in arts.

The mission of the Vilcek Foundation is to spotlight and support immigrant artists and scientists. We carry out this mission in three main ways: Prizes, Programs and Grants.

  • Prizes: awarding annual prizes to foreign-born biomedical scientists and artists;
  • Programs: hosting cultural events and exhibitions;
  • Grants: awarding grants to nonprofit organizations for projects related to our mission.

Our grantees, across all prizes and programs, originally hail from 44 different countries and six continents.

We at the Vilcek Foundation value diversity and recognize it as a major contributing factor to the cultural vibrancy of the United States. We work to honor life long achievements of distinguished immigrant artists and scientists, to highlight young foreign-born talents, and overall, to raise awareness of the important contributions of immigrants to the sciences and arts.

In this first blog entry, I would like to clear a common misconception of immigrant art.  It is important to bring to the surface the difference between successful foreign artists displaying work in the United States and foreign-born artists who have chosen to be part of the American art community. These individuals make up a group of very accomplished artists whose careers, but not always their origins, are recognized by the public, including Christo and Jeanne-Claude – Bulgarian and French-born visual artists, Denise Scott Brown – South African-born architect, Carlton Cuse – Mexican-born film producer, Jose Andres – Spanish-born chef, etc.

For some foreign-born artists, even though their homelands may inspire their artwork, art is simply a form of self-expression and not an outlet for political or social messages. In an essay written about her own experiences immigrating to the United States, Marica Vilcek, co-founder of the Vilcek Foundation, expressed that art was her way of integrating into a new life in New York City. Without the opportunity to continue her passion for art history, she would never have been able to begin her own process of assimilation as an immigrant.

For others, art is a vehicle to present their beliefs and fight for social justice. For instance, the Queens Museum of Art and Creative Time collaborated to sponsor Tania Bruguera’s initiative Immigrant Movement International (IMI). Ms. Bruguera is a Cuban-born performing artist who is using IMI to organize participatory performance art pieces that reflect the immigrants’ stories in the neighborhood of Corona, Queens. She is working on revealing a very human side of a community “densely populated with immigrants who largely live in cramped, potentially unsafe conditions.”

Despite the differences in ethnicities or artist statements, foreign-born individuals bring to our culture artwork that possesses great artistic merit and values that certainly enrich American culture.

Lastly, I would like to invite you to visit the Foundation’s website for inspiration from amazing foreign-born artists whom we’ve worked with in the past and an exclusive collection of essays by exceptional writers such as Yvonne Abraham – Immigration Reporter of the Boston Globe, Ken Chen – Executive Director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, novelist Francine Prose, etc.

Do you have a favorite immigrant artist? What do you think about the role of immigrants in American art? I hope to hear from you as our staff put together an exciting collection of blog entries!

Rick Kinsel