About the PrizeLaunched to recognize the center's 20th anniversary, the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics honors an artist or group of artists who has taken great risks to advance social justice in profound and visionary ways. International in scope, the biennial prize is awarded for a particular project's long-term impact, boldness, and artistic excellence.
The prize initiative unfolds across various platforms and over an extended period of time. It serves as a catalyst for activities that illuminate the important role of the arts in society, and strengthen teaching and learning at The New School in art and design, social science, philosophy, and civic engagement. More than a single moment of recognition, it represents a long-term commitment to the question of how the arts advance social justice, how we speak of, evaluate and teach such work.
An exhibition of the winning project, a conference, integration into classes, and a publication featuring select nominated projects complement a cash award and short-term New York City residency for the honoree. In the spirit of the center's twenty-year history, the prize provides the opportunity for an ongoing public conversation on art and social justice as a global issue that engages audiences in New York City, nationally and around the world
2016-2018 Prize Winner: Maria Thereza AlvesBrazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves' research-based practice, literally and metaphorically holds open a space at the intersection of art and science to challenge and think expansively about the social history and possible futures that germinating seeds hold within themselves. Though her project Seeds of Change Alvs explores the social, political and cultural history of ballast flora in port cities and, in so doing, reveals patterns, temporalities and instruments of colonialism, commerce and migration going back many centuries.
Seeds of Change is a long-term project that so far has been presented in several European port cities – Marseille, Liverpool, and Bristol among them. It examines the legacies of colonialism and the global commerce of goods and people through the displacement of plants, focusing on the scientific, social and political history of ballast, the waste material used to stabilize ships in maritime trade and dumped in ports at the end of the ships' passages. Ballast contains "dormant" seeds that can remain viable in the soil for hundreds of years before germinating and growing. As Alves grows young plants from these dormant seeds – often in floating barges or gardens, developed in collaboration with local communities and scientists – she examines how we understand the identity of a place and its sociopolitical histories. As such the project questions the official accounts of culture as well as the lands it is built on and through.
2014-2016 Prize Winner: AbounaddaraAbounaddara is an anonymous collective of volunteer, self-taught artists whose practice is founded on the principle of emergency and an attitude of defiance towards established powers and the culture industry. Since the onset of the Syrian revolution, Abounaddara has produced weekly self-funded, short films, made freely available to the public online since April 2011. These films are anonymous and open-ended. They offer a glimpse of ordinary Syrians without restricting them to political or religious affiliations, while focusing on the details of daily life and evoking horror without ever showing it. The films do not look to prove a point, but rather to defend the rights of the nameless to a dignified image.
As recipients of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, Abounaddara collaborates with the VLC to produce Abounaddara. The Right to the Image a series of interrelated public programs including an exhibition at Sheila C. Johnson Design Center's Aronson Galleries, a three day conference at The New School, and an online exhibition connecting arts institutions around the world. Additionally, students and faculty connect with Abounaddara's work through curricular integration, gallery visits, and related projects.
2012-2014 Prize Winner: Theaster GatesA bold American artist with a global vision, inaugural recipient of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics Theaster Gates and his work expand the discourse of political enfranchisement and social inclusion. Gates began Dorchester Projects in 2006 by transforming two buildings on Chicago's South Side into community gathering spaces with a library, slide archive, performance space, and soul food kitchen. The ongoing piece examines urban renewal and social justice through the lens of arts, spirituality, alternative economies, and community engagement.
Gates is recognized at The New School through Theaster Gates: A Way of Working, a series of interrelated public programs including a gallery presentation at Sheila C. Johnson Design Center's Aronson Galleries, and a two day forum at The New School. Additionally, students and faculty connect with Theaster's work through curricular integration, gallery visits, and related projects. Cumulatively Theaster Gates: A Way of Working offers a view into how the artist develops synergies within his far-reaching work, and examines the complex ways of creating and maintaining an expanded studio practice rooted in institutional engagement, object making, and the production of space.
Founding SupportersWe are grateful to the following who have made possible the establishment of the Vera List Center Prize.
James Keith (JK) Brown and Eric Diefenbach
Elizabeth R. Hilpman and Byron Tucker
The New School for Public Engagement