While the image of the “starving artist” may be the stereotype that many people picture at the mention of an artistic career, two Emory University graduate students have turned that image on its head, proving that it is possible to find success in the arts.
Emory graduate students Meredith Kooi and Amina McIntyre were both selected as recipients of the Emerging Artist Award by the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
According to a press release from the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, the award seeks to “recognize talented professional artists living and creating art in the City of Atlanta, with the aim of increasing awareness for their work and furthering their professional development and careers.”
The winners received an award of $1,500 each, as well as the opportunity to display their art in an exhibition at the Chastain Arts Center. The exhibit will be free and open to the public, running from April 17 through April 30.
Kooi, a student in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, is a conceptual artist who works in a variety of mediums. Her work has been shown at venues including the High Museum of Art and MINT Gallery. She works as the editor of Radius, a project dealing with experimental radio broadcasts, which is preparing to release a book about the curatorial process.
McIntyre, a graduate student in the Candler School of Theology working toward a Master in Divinity, is a playwright who draws inspiration from real life situations. Her plays have been presented by multiple universities, conferences and companies. She holds the position of Managing Director of Karibu Performing Arts, LLC and an apprenticeship at Horizon Theatre Company.
Both Kooi and McIntyre were excited and honored to receive the award.
“I screamed,” McIntyre said in a phone interview with the Wheel of the moment when she found out that she won.
While McIntyre has created poetry and fiction throughout her life, she was first drawn to playwriting in a graduate program at Indiana University while working in African American and African Diaspora studies in 2005.
I felt like [playwriting] was the best way [to express the subject]. It would be able to encapsulate all of it.
While McIntyre is most comfortable working with words, Kooi’s creative process as a conceptual artist allows her to work with many different mediums.
Her current focus is installation-based work, which has recently centered around the thickness of space. She hopes that her artwork provokes a feeling of strangeness in her audience that causes people to look at each space in a new way.
“[I want it to] lead you to reconsider maybe how you typically experience that space and understand that space,” Kooi said in a phone interview with the Wheel. “[I want to make] the typical unfamiliar to you.”
She hopes to include artwork in her dissertation, which is about looking at art installations as a means of understanding the world and its strangeness.
“[My dissertation] looks at immersive art installations that use immaterial mediums [including] sound, light or radio,” Kooi explained. “I’m interested in looking at these installations and theorizing them as somehow related to the womb space, and then where that leads in terms of experiencing and understanding.”
She believes that art is a powerful means of looking at the world in an incredibly personal way.
“I think that any artwork sets up the conditions for inner confrontation,” Kooi said. “That’s super important in different ways of thinking about things in approaching and understanding the world.”
Not only has Kooi created multiple pieces of her own artwork in the form of installations and performances, but she also inspires others in their own creative endeavors.
She described one of her proudest moments as when a former student told her that her class affected the student to the point where she wrote about it in application essays.
“That felt like a real achievement on my part,” Kooi shared.
McIntyre also sees art as a valuable outlet for college students, particularly in a society where there seems to be more emphasis on mastering a certain set of skills.
“There’s just more to life than getting a job and being done,” McIntyre said. “I think that the arts can encourage a sense of play.”
McIntyre also emphasized the importance of collaboration in the arts.
I love helping other artists do things. There’s no competition in theater for me. There’s competition [in art], but if we’re competing for an award and [if] you win, I’m going to celebrate you.
Both artists’ advice to aspiring artists was to keep going and to stay true to themselves.
“You’re constantly making yourself vulnerable to an audience,” Kooi said. “A lot of times [you’ll] get rejected from things.”
McIntyre also offered her own words of wisdom.
“Be who you are,” McIntyre said. “Don’t try to compare yourself to other people because you’re not other people. You’re you.”
Kooi’s future plans include releasing a book and and starting a personal curatorial project. McIntyre intends to write a short play about a family that has to decide whether or not to recommend the death penalty for a relative.
Kooi and McIntyre will receive their awards at the Chastain Arts Center on Friday, April 17 at 7 p.m. The event will include an opening of the exhibition, celebration of the awards, a visual arts exhibition, dance performances and readings from the artists.