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Antarctic Artists and Writers Program embraces avant garde, emerging artists

Today, the program supports as many as a half-dozen artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, painters and others each year. From 1982 to 2005 and from more than 400 proposals, 60 participants representing 90-plus projects received grants.

Fifteen artists have been selected multiple times, with Crawford sharing the record of five deployments with fellow photographer Stuart Klipper, painter Alan Campbell and writer Barry Lopez.

During that first trip, Crawford shot 6,000 photos. But he wanted more. “You can really overdo it if you have 24 hours of sunlight and you’re a photographer,” he says. “I came out and realized no one had said you can’t go down again.”

Pearse Valley
Photo Credit: Neelon Crawford
The Pearse Valley by Neelon Crawford.

Kim Silverman took over the program at NSF after Guthridge retired in 2005. The number of proposals she receives has doubled in the last few years. This year, her office received 81 proposals, which a panel judges based on NSF’s merit review criteria.

Silverman says there are several factors that have likely contributed to the increase in the number of grants, such as changes in the grant process and the success of past award recipients She also attributes the growth to word of mouth and the success of Antarctica in Hollywood.

“As more and more artists have gone through the program … more people have found out about it,” she says. “Penguins and Antarctica are very much a pop culture thing right now.”

The program has also begun to embrace a wider range of art. Guthridge says the movement of abstract and avant-garde work into the Antarctic culture is a sign of a maturing arts scene.

“That’s what should happen in the arts,” he says, paraphrasing NSF writer grantee Bill Fox. “You have an Antarctic culture that is evolving.”

Like her predecessor, Silverman has encountered a few raised eyebrows for projects that operate on the fringe of established and recognizable art forms.

“People still interpret the polar science that they see, the landscape they see, in different ways, and I just think it’s a different way of expressing what they experience in Antarctica,” she says.

Over the years, the program has also taken on lesser-known artists, and Silverman says she receives proposals each year from U.S. Antarctic Program participants who want to ply their talents in other ways. Anthony Powell, who recently worked as a satellite communications engineer, is an Antarctic Artists and Writers grantee this year working on time lapse photography.

“I definitely do get proposal every year from former inhabitants of McMurdo or one of the other stations,” she says. “That’s good. The stations have a wealth of talented people at them, artistically and literary talents, so I certainly encourage people to apply.”

Guthridge says he’s pleased with how the program turned out and how it continues to evolve. While the continent still speaks to him in his dreams, Guthridge devotes his days to a book project with his wife, Lynn, concerning environmental issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are not living comfortably with our land,” Guthridge says, explaining his ecological consciousness. “Something is going terribly wrong with the way humans are interfacing with their planet.”

It’s a lesson he first learned in the Antarctic through the eyes of science. But it’s a message that the arts can deliver with power and conviction.  

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