Bard College Receives $2,000,000 from the Mellon Foundation to Support the Work of Artist Tania El Khoury

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY The Fisher Center at Bard (Gideon Lester, Artistic Director and Chief Executive; Aaron Mattocks, Chief Operating Officer) today announces that, in partnership with the OSUN Center for Human Rights and the Arts at Bard (CHRA), it has received a $2,000,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation  to support the work and livelihood of Tania El Khoury, a commissioned artist and guest co-curator at the Fisher Center, Founding Director of CHRA, and a Distinguished Artist in Residence at Bard’s Theater & Performance Program. El Khoury’s live art engages the audience in close encounters with narratives drawn from the political realities of borders, displacement, and state violence. The grant will support her live art production and touring, her scholarly and artistic research, and her curatorial work at the Fisher Center and CHRA.

Over the next three years, the Fisher Center and El Khoury will re-imagine the collaboration between an institution and an artist and will develop ways in which an institution becomes a holistic home for an artist. El Khoury’s relationship with Bard began in 2017, when Gideon Lester, the Fisher Center’s Artistic Director and Chief Executive, invited her to co-curate Where No Wall Remains, the 2019 edition of the institution’s biennial festival, which focused that year on the subject of borders and comprised eight new interdisciplinary artworks commissioned by El Khoury and Lester. El Khoury created a new work of her own for the festival, Cultural Exchange Rate, a multi-sensory performance installation that invites the audience to follow her own family’s relationship to borders and migration across a century of time. Cultural Exchange Rate continues to tour internationally in various languages, as do several other works by El Khoury.

While developing Where No Wall Remains, El Khoury and Lester began to imagine a longer collaboration. Their work on the biennial led them, along with Tom Keenan, Director of the Human Rights Program at Bard, to envision a center that explores art practices that intersect with human rights advocacy through public programming and an international low-cost MA Program in Human Rights & the Arts. In 2021, the three of them, along with scholar Ziad Abu-Rish, founded the Center for Human Rights and the Arts (CHRA), which is funded by the Open Society University Network (OSUN). El Khoury directs CHRA while continuing to pursue her artistic practice and teaching.

Lester and El Khoury have continued their curatorial work together with a second joint edition of the biennial, Common Ground: an international festival on the politics of land and food, produced by the Fisher Center in two installments: October 2022 and May 2023. In this festival, El Khoury premiered her work Memory of Birds, an interactive sound installation in the trees around the Fisher Center that evoked the imprint of political violence on contested lands. Common Ground also included three international editions, curated by artists in Palestine, Colombia, and South Africa, all of which were funded by CHRA.

Tania El Khoury said, “This generous grant from Mellon Foundation comes at a time when the live performance industry is experiencing a fundamental restructuring due to the recent pandemic and major shifts in public and private funding streams. The grant will allow me to further pursue my artistic and curatorial practices, deepen my experimentation with new models of collaboration and institution-building, and reflect on my trajectory as an artist working at the intersection of politics and research.”

The $2,000,000 Mellon Foundation grant makes it possible for the Fisher Center and CHRA to offer El Khoury tangible resources to develop and disseminate ambitious, forward-thinking work, of her own and by other artists. This new model of artist-institution engagement follows the Fisher Center awarding Pam Tanowitz an ongoing residency in which the institution has taken over touring (of work including Four Quartets and Song of Songs, which the Fisher Center commissioned and premiered to immense acclaim) and other administrative support for her company, including a salary for Tanowitz. The Mellon grant helps the Fisher Center become an artistic home for El Khoury, providing resources in three key areas:

  • Practice
  • Infrastructure
  • Livelihood

Gideon Lester says, “We are delighted to be partnering with Mellon to develop a new, comprehensive model of support for Tania that will allow her not only to create and disseminate her work, but to live an artist’s life with dignity. Tania is a visionary artist, curator, and thought leader, and it’s an honor for us to be able to help steward her creative practice and research. Institutions of higher learning have an essential role to play in the country’s artistic infrastructure. Mellon’s visionary philanthropy will help deepen and extend the Fisher Center’s commitment to long-term, holistic support for artists’ practice, infrastructure, and livelihood.”

The $2,000,000 Mellon Foundation grant comes amid a banner 20th anniversary year for the Fisher Center. The institution is currently producing its 20th Anniversary Season: Breaking Ground, including the 2023 Bard SummerScape festival, which also celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The season culminates in a groundbreaking ceremony, on October 21, for The Fisher Center’s new 25,000-square-foot performing arts studio building, designed by Maya Lin, which will offer artists at all stages of their careers vastly expanded room to explore as they build works from the ground up.

About Tania El Khoury

Tania El Khoury creates interactive and immersive installations and performances that reflect on the production of collective memory and the cultivation of solidarity. Her work is activated by tactile, auditory and visual traces collected and curated by the artist and her collaborators, and they are ultimately transformed through audience interaction.

El Khoury’s work has been translated to multiple languages and shown in 33 countries across 6 continents in spaces ranging from museums to cable cars. She is the recipient of the Herb Alpert Award, the Soros Art Fellowship, the Bessies Outstanding Production Award, the International Live Art Prize, the Total Theatre Innovation Award, and the Arches Brick Award.

El Khoury is a Distinguished Artist in Residence at the Theater and Performance Program and Founding Director of the OSUN Center for Human Rights & the Arts at Bard College. She holds a PhD in Theater Studies from Royal Holloway, University of London. El Khoury is a co-founder of Dictaphone Group, a research and live art collective in Lebanon, and is associated with the Forest Fringe collective of artists in the UK.

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Written by Theatrefullstop