Individual Artist Grant Awards Announced

Published on February 7, 2014

Greene County Council on the Arts is pleased to announce the Columbia & Greene County recipients of Individual Artist regrant awards through the Community Arts Grants Fund Decentralization Program. The grants are competitive and represent the presentation of two $2,500 awards.

The Decentralization – Individual Artist Tier is funded by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) to provide support for artists in the production of new, original work. The awards are intended to benefit the artist by creating a dialogue with a community that inspires or impacts the artist’s creative process and by encouraging personal artistic growth. Proposals are sought from the areas of music composition, choreography, literary arts, playwriting, film, and visual arts. There were several excellent candidates with imaginative ideas and high quality support materials, making the 2014 review a difficult process. After much deliberation, a panel of working artists from Greene and Columbia Counties recommended Jill Skupin Burkholder of Palenville (Greene County) and Melissa Sarris of Chatham (Columbia County) as this year’s Individual Artist Grant recipients.

Skupin Burkholder began working in photography in 1985, studying both traditional and digital processes.  Building on a history of experimentation with alternative techniques, her recent work explores textures and surface dimension with bromoil and encaustics.  The years 2010 – 2013 have garnered Skupin Burkholder recognition including solo exhibitions at Gallery 308 (Muncie, Indiana); Gallery at R & F Paints (Circus of Memories, Kingston, NY and Soho Photo, NY) and group show opportunities in Garrison, Woodstock, Troy, Westchester, and Dallas, Texas.   Awards include Best of Show at the PhotoCentric Exhibition in Garrison juried by Malcolm Daniel of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (2009) and Second Place at Barrett Art Center in New Directions, juried by Joan Young, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim (2009).  Her work is in the permanent collections of the Houston Museum of Fine Art (TX); the Wright Collection of Texas Photography (Abilene, TX) and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (Austin, TX).

Rhino, pigmented ink photograph, 2012, Jill Skupin Burkholder. The original camera captures are courtesy of the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) species program by the Zoological Society of London.

Rhino, pigmented ink photograph, 2012, Jill Skupin Burkholder. The original camera captures are courtesy of the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered) species program by the Zoological Society of London.

The $2,500 Individual Artist award will enable Jill to develop a project entitled “Hidden Worlds in the Catskills” which will use a digital trail camera to collect images of the region’s feathery and furry wild inhabitants. The twelve 24” X 24” digitally manipulated prints will require several levels of community involvement – from  interaction with local hunters in decisions about camera placement based on field experience; hosting of a Facebook page documenting the project’s progress and challenges; evaluation from photography peers in salon/presentation settings, and an exhibition. Skupin Burkholder’s personal goal for the project is to “take literal imagery and transform it into an evocative, expressive” body of work by alteration and the incorporation of public response and comment.

Melissa Sarris is no stranger to innovative collaborative projects. Equally fluent in fiber arts as well as the construction of socially engaged installations, she holds a MFA in Sculpture from the University of Albany and a BFA with honors in Photography from the School of Visual Arts.  Human interaction, exchange, and curiosity fuel her professional explorations whether serving as three-dimensional design instructor, nonprofit board member, or artist. 

Selected recent community-based projects include “Type A Letter” at Dumbo Arts Festival (2013) which generated 300 letters in five languages in just six hours; “Drawing from Memory” at CollarWorks Gallery (Troy, 2012), DUMBO (2012), and University of Albany Museum (2013); and the “Everyday Experts” series in the Village of Chatham (2010-11).  Sarris’s $2,500 Individual Artist award will support the creation of “ArtAgency,” a year-long “investigation and partnership with her community on the subject and contemplation of Contemporary Art with a participatory/collaborative flavor that elicits connection and exchange.” 

Drawing from Memory, Melissa Sarris, 2013

Drawing from Memory, Melissa Sarris, 2013

Sarris’s projects are not object-based but exist, not unlike theater, in an ephemeral and experiential space created by the artist. Distinct from theater however, Sarris’s environments are animated by the dynamic architecture of outside engagement.  Asked to define her less common art practice she states, “Authorship of the work is shared, and participant involvement is a necessary ingredient to the success of each project.”

Components of “Art Agency” include a contemporary art reading group; “Rethinking the Façade” a series of temporary installations at the Bank of America; an audio and smart phone accessible walking tour generated from a live storytelling event; and “Collections,” an explorations of what we collect and why.  “Agency” is already well underway, with the reading/discussion group on Contemporary Art launched at the Chatham library. Sarris has set up a blogspot – for the project so interested individuals from anywhere nationwide can login, follow its evolution and participate. Notified of her award in mid-January, Sarris was avidly enthusiastic about its potential.  She envisions her community as “an incubator and a safe place for experimentation, while offering the feedback and discourse” she “needs to progress.”

Please join us in congratulating Jill and Melissa and watch this space for updates on their projects as the year unfolds. For more information on the Individual Artist grants program, contact Director of Community Arts Grants Colette Lemmon at 518-943-3400 or