Fountainhead Fellowship program gives emerging artists the opportunity to teach, work, and engage with the local arts community
Each strand in Jeanne Medina’s textiles has a distinct identity. Her latest pieces use contemporary Japanese weaving techniques and rayon raffia strands that emulate tropical Africa fibers. They’re also fashion objects that come to life on the bodies of performers strutting and dancing across a gallery room.
Her creative process is rhythmic and meditative, even logical, she says, and best achieved when she produces materials by hand. Soon after coming to VCUarts, where she took a position as an adjunct craft professor in 2016, Medina bought a 40-inch Harrisville loom—but finding a large enough workspace quickly become a challenge.
“I had the loom in the bedroom. It’s like the size of a piano,” she says. “In some ways, it was really productive. In other ways, it was horrible.”
Luckily, Medina landed a dedicated workspace as part of the Fountainhead Fellowship, a VCUarts program that gives recent MFA graduates an opportunity to teach and work. As a 2017–18 fellow with Craft/Material Studies, Medina receives a $16,000 stipend, a furnished apartment, and 24-hour access to a private studio with plenty of space to work.
“Now I can move the loom all around the space,” she says, laughing.
Fountainhead Fellows begin their nine-month residency every fall. During that time, they teach four classes at VCUarts, present a public lecture and participate in a group exhibition.
The fellowship’s promise of providing new MFAs invaluable experience at a leading art and design school has drawn graduates from all over the country.
Sara Stern, a 2017-18 Fountainhead Fellow in Sculpture + Extended Media, is currently working on a series of pieces that ventriloquize and animate architectural sites and materials. Her interest in responding to particular sites carries over to her teaching.
“I often approach my work as a form of expanded site-specificity, and I bring that to my teaching as well,” she says. “I like to adapt my classes to build on the interests of my students.”
Those interests led her to organize a trip to New York, host numerous Skype visiting artists, co-organize a class exhibition at the Anderson, and facilitate a school-wide Intermediate/Advanced sculpture class happening at the Cary Street Gym called “SPARTS.”
While Fountainhead Fellows are deeply involved in VCUarts, another key perk is the chance to catch the wave of artistic growth in Richmond and play an active role in revitalizing the community.
Stern and Medina—along with Ryan Lucero, a fellow in Painting + Printmaking—balance weekly classes with studio work, researching the history of Richmond politics and urban development, and local collaborations. Medina works with the Highland Support Project, a nonprofit that supports the community-building efforts of indigenous peoples. All three fellows are participating in a group exhibition at Reynolds Gallery beginning in March.
The Fountainhead Fellowship has invited emerging arts professionals to Richmond since 2010. The program reflects the mission of donor Tom Papa and sponsor Fountainhead Properties, which has focused on developing eco-friendly, multi-family buildings, medical facilities and supportive housing to revitalize downtown Richmond.
Papa believes that the strength of experimentation and innovation at VCUarts will continue to expand possibilities for the arts in Richmond.
“There is a great talent pool at VCUarts,” Papa says. “[VCUarts dean] Shawn Brixey is creating incubators and opportunities for symbiotic thought, bringing together disciplines that nobody imagined before. It’s great to see these bright young minds succeed and unleash their creativity, and become part of the fabric of Richmond.”
The work of Fountainhead Fellows Ryan Lucero, Jeanne Medina and Sara Stern will be on view at Reynolds Gallery from March 16 to April 27, 2018. An opening reception is scheduled for March 16 at 7 p.m. Learn more about the exhibition and this year’s fellows.