As Raven Chacon and Rhodessa Jones—the Center’s current Pew Fellows-in-Residence—approach the halfway point of their residency work in Philadelphia, we asked the artists about their time here so far and how they plan to spend the duration of their residencies.
The Center introduced the Pew Fellows-in-Residence program to bring artists from outside the region to live and work in Philadelphia for one year, with the aim to foster creative exchanges between the visiting artists and the city’s vibrant arts scene. We hosted our first two resident artists in 2021.
Chacon is a composer, performer, and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, and now based in the Hudson Valley. Jones, from San Francisco, has spent more than 50 years as a theater performer, director, writer, and teacher. Since last summer, the artists have been developing their practices and collaborating with creative partners in and around Philadelphia.
If you are interested in connecting with or offering research resources to our Fellows-in-Residence, please reach out to the Pew Fellowships program assistant, Jordan Garlic, at email@example.com.
Chacon received a Pulitzer Prize in Music for Voiceless Mass, a 2021 site-specific piece composed for a large ensemble and the pipe organ at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. With the prize announced just before his arrival in Philadelphia, along with an installation in the 2022 Whitney Biennial, his residency time has been busier than he expected. Still, Chacon says he’s spent valuable time at work in the studio and other facilities at the University of the Arts, where he’s been constructing new work with vintage synthesizers and revisiting recording projects that he began in the early, isolated days of the pandemic.
“I think this fellowship is kind of a next level of motivation for me to make some kind of work that I never made before,” Chacon says. “I don't know what that is yet—because we're talking about the future—but I can tell that already I've shifted my pace and even my methods of doing things. I'm just having more of a workspace than I've ever had.”
In the time remaining in his residency, he is connecting and collaborating with area musicians. “My knowledge of musicians who are based in or have come out of this city was something that was exciting to me about this fellowship.”
Chacon has several upcoming local performances and events. He will give an artist talk on February 15 and perform on February 19 with percussionists Christopher Shultis and Simone Mancuso, with video by Hee Sook Kim, both at Haverford College. On February 20, he will perform an improvised solo electronic set at West Chester University.
In Philadelphia, Jones is continuing the work she’s been doing for decades in San Francisco and around the world: collaborating with women to tell their own stories.
“Storytelling becomes the key to looking at your past and to dreaming about a possibility for the future,” Jones says. “I feel very hopeful, given what art can do in the lives of people who have been down under so long.”
Much of Jones’ residency work has been centered on further developing a theater handbook, which she expects to complete by the summer. She has been connecting with local arts organizations, like The Barnes Foundation and Painted Bride Art Center, as well as community agencies, with whom she hopes to collaborate on developing and hosting workshops, conversations, and performances.
Through The Medea Project, where Jones currently serves as artistic director, she has spent more than three decades developing performance pieces with incarcerated women and women living with HIV. She plans to work with women in similar circumstances in Philadelphia, with methods that range from asking participants to write letters to their younger selves to hosting a series of gatherings for people to make banana pudding, using food as a means to stimulate conversation and build community.
Jones is also curious about Philadelphia’s history of transformation and about her own family’s history in the area. “Philadelphia makes so much sense as a place to explore the possibilities of using art as social change to help women heal and move on,” she says. “Philadelphia is fertile with history. History just kind of calls out as you’re moving through the city. It’s an incredible portal through which to look at the 21st century.”
On January 28, Jones will co-host “You Are Loved: An Interactive Community Conversation” with Shavon Norris at Painted Bride Art Center. The event includes a screening of a documentary about The Medea Project.
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