Arkansas to New York: A Chautauqua Experience

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By Wes Hart, BFA Studio Art, Emphasis: Ceramics »

Emerging artist Wes Hart’s video performance work while at Chautauqua Institution. Photo by Wes Hart

In January of 2019 it was announced that the Chautauqua Institution and UCA would partner to match up to two competitive scholarships for art students to attend a seven-week residency . An amazing $5,000 in scholarship funding per student! This was an opportunity that I never considered being offered in undergrad. The excitement only grew when Artistic Director Sharon Louden skyped in with students to discuss the VACI (Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution) residency and its fresh, nimble pedagogy.

So of course I applied. Months later I remember waking up to an email that would change my summer and in turn, how I perceived myself as an artist.

Chautauqua is a community right off the Chautauqua Lake in New York State. I know this seems redundant, but it is important to note that when you think of Chautauqua you think of this Institution. Within the campus there is a unifying passion for Philosophy, Theater, Dance, Music, Voice, and the Visual Arts. Respectively, each of these practices have their own school or building to carry out their summer programing yet the environment of Chautauqua is one that emphasizes cross pollination in the arts. General programing was running almost non-stop, leaders ranging from writer and founder of the ‘me too’ movement Tarana J. Burke, to spiritual thinker Richard Rohr were brought in each week and all were encouraged to attend. It would be too lengthy to list the many lectures, performances, and exhibitions that occurred during my stay, but mainly you could find me swooning over the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

VACI is the name for those affiliated with the School of the Arts on the Institution’s grounds. This includes the VACI Partners who helped fund emerging artists such as myself, the core faculty who developed and taught a new form of pedagogy made with the emerging artists in mind, workshop leaders and technicians, apprentices, and those who supported us all, the VACI management team. The shining stars were the exceptional core faculty, who are all returning for 2020 programing. Core faculty included Sharon Louden, Raheleh Filsoofi, Yasmeen Siddiqui, Alpesh Kantilal Patel, Hrag Vartanian, Wendy Red Star, Jean Shin, Hasan Elahi, and Tia-Simone Gardner. Each of these artists, advocates, and thought leaders in the arts lead classes that were formulated for the interests and practices of the emerging artist. For example, a co-lead class between Yasmeen Siddiqui and Alpesh Kantilal was a discussion based class with weekly readings on art criticism in the contemporary world, while also offering a structure loosely based off the PechaKucha model, called ‘visual diaries.’ These presentations were for emerging artists to share incomplete thoughts or to flesh out the multiplicity of their work. This experience was curated by Yasmeen and Alpesh in response to seeing the majority of emerging artists whose work was identity based.

Emerging artists and core faculty at the first LGBTQ exhibition in Erie, Pennsylvania. Photo by Wes Hart

The environment within the School of the Arts quad was one of inclusivity. Leaders in this residency actively worked to create a space for artists from different backgrounds to thrive together.

Being around such amazing emerging artists was a beautiful privilege. The 36 artists ranged in interests from video, performance, glass making, painting, ceramics, weaving, sewing, and drag to working with white bread as personal narrative, that last one being myself. There was never a moment to stop learning. Even over conversations held during lunch, sometimes the most fruitful, artists would share experiences and knowledge. You grow close with those that you see every day for almost two months. Being a part of the lives of the other emerging artists was again, too much to describe in such a short overview. To see and learn more about these artists they can be found under the 2019 emerging artists tab on Chautauqua’s VACI page and on Instagram by @vaci.alumni2019 or

This fully-funded residency included food, lodging, a stipend for travels, and to reference Discover Card marketing, a priceless experience. As the first residency dedicated to the practice and implement a new form of pedagogy, VACI renames itself as a place of growth and change in accommodation to the range of persons that occupy its studios. If you have the opportunity to apply for VACI 2020 programing I encourage you to do so! There is nothing to lose and so very much to gain.

Emerging artists perform in “Genesis: The First VACI Drag Show.” Photo by Sharon Louden

I leave you with an excerpt from my personal notes while at Chautauqua… I don’t know if it’s because I’m closer to the sun here or what but the people smile so bright sometimes I have to be careful not to get burnt from their warmth.