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Liz Lee awarded first Marion Fellowship for Visual and Performing Arts

The 2013 Marion Fellowship for the Visual and Performing Arts has been awarded to SUNY Fredonia photography professor Liz Lee, who will create, “Cosmological Process,” a body of photographic work inspired by, “Our Elegant Universe,” the opening week theme of the 2013 Chautauqua Institution season.  Lee will come to Ucross Foundation in March 2014 for a residency. 

The fellowship will support Lee at Chautauqua and two additional locations in the creation of a photographic series designed to inspire a new, closer relationship with the universe during a period of growing environmental and social crisis. She derived the series from “A New Story,” an article written by Thomas Berry, a 20th century priest and eco-theologian, which explored whether thinkers and theologians are closer to answering the most basic questions of existence.

Cathy (’79) and Jesse Marion created the fellowship to bring together the arts from both public and private sectors and facilitate community outreach at Chautauqua Institution, the Alberta College of Art and Design, Alley Theatre in Houston, the Ucross Foundation’s artist retreat in Wyoming and the Springboard Schools in Egypt. Lee’s fellowship is the first of three annual awards the Marions, whose philanthropy has benefitted these institutions, are funding.

“Based on her creative and comprehensive approach, articulate presentation and enthusiasm, Jesse and I feel that Ms. Lee is an excellent choice as our first fellow. She is uniquely qualified to further our long-term goal to enrich cooperation and collaboration between SUNY Fredonia and other institutions within the Marion Fellowship Circle,” Cathy Marion said.

The concept of the Marion Fellowship was developed by June Miller-Spann, associate director of the Fredonia College Foundation and a selection committee member. “The goal was to initiate collaboration between arts and educational institutions in a way that results in a reciprocal benefit for these Marion Fellowship Circle members, while also aligning with the philanthropic interests of Cathy and Jesse Marion,” Miller-Spann said.

Launch of the Marion Fellowship coincides with formation of SUNY Fredonia’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Marions’ desire to support the new college in a unique way.

“We are very grateful to Cathy and Jesse Marion for making this opportunity available,” Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences John Kijinski and a member of the selection committee, said. “It is a great way for us to showcase our Fredonia talent at other institutions. Furthermore, it is an innovative example of public and private institutions working together in a common cause made possible by the philanthropy of the Marions.”

Dean Kijinski indicated that, “Cosmological Process,” is particularly suited for this fellowship, and that her project fits in perfectly with the, “Our Elegant Universe,” theme. The project will pose interdisciplinary questions about patterns of order and connections in the world and how those patterns and connections are both captured by and constructed through art, Kijinski said. Lee combines old and new technologies and puts them at the heart of the artistic process.

Lee’s proposal was an overwhelming favorite of the selection committee.

“Of all the applications reviewed, Liz Lee’s stood out as one of the most comprehensive in its focus and fit with the goals of the fellowship. In that her proposal encompasses an underlying spirit of discovery rich in potential, as well as strong collaborative opportunities, I think Liz is an excellence choice as the inaugural recipient,” said SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Bob Booth and a selection committee member.

Proposed projects for the Marion Fellowship represented music, dance, theater and visual arts, said School of Music Director Karl Boelter and a selection committee member. “We looked for advantageous and creative use of the opportunities that the Marions made available through this fellowship, and Liz Lee wrote a particularly compelling narrative that clearly defined this in every aspect of her project.”

The fellowship covers travel and lodging costs associated with artistic experiences at three or more Marion Fellow Circle Member destinations within a 12-month period and development of a final project.

Attendance at Chautauqua lectures, presentations and performances will enable Lee to gain a more complete understanding of, “A New Story,” and whether the thinkers and theologians assembled at the institution’s first week have come any closer to answering the most basic questions of existence posed by Berry in his 1978 article.

Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, will be Lee’s second destination in late November. She will discuss and demonstrate SUNY Fredonia’s more interdisciplinary arts-based photographic study at ACAD.

Student critiques, a public lecture, small process workshop and meeting with fine arts administrators to conduct a program review and discuss the B.F.A. option will be key elements of the week-long visit by Lee, who grew up in Alberta.

A one-week residency in March 2014 at the Ucross artist retreat in Clearmont, Wyo., will be dedicated to compiling thoughts and creating a presentation of Lee’s artistic journey that she will give at SUNY Fredonia in the spring of 2014. Lee, who participated in a Vermont Studio Center artist program that resulted in her, “Sun Prints,” series, is looking forward to gaining a fresh perspective on her ideas through interaction with other artists and writers at the renowned Ucross program.

Department of Theater and Dance Chair Tom Loughlin, another selection committee member, is particularly fond of Lee’s views and insight into technological and natural worlds, referring to her as a modern artist who has not abandoned many of the traditional views of art and its connection to nature and the human experience.

Students will benefit from Lee’s fellowship experience by seeing a working visual artist move from conceptualization through the entire process leading to the eventual creation of an artistic product, Loughlin explained. “That thought and imaginative process, I think, will be the big pay-off for students and the new College of Visual and Performing Arts alike. The skills and intellect she brings to the creation of artwork is something that all students should strive to emulate and achieve,” Loughlin said.

Lee is a meticulous and demanding artist whose work over the years has taken her on incredible intellectual as well as artistic journeys, he added.

The Marions anticipate students in the new college will be inspired not only by her finished work, but also the observations, interactions and insights she may find along the way during her travels on this creative journey.

The fellowship will allow Lee to work on new art, Kijinski said, “and nothing is more important for our students than getting to work with artists who are actively expending their own work and having that work recognized by others in the world of art.” Moreover, Lee will be introduced to other artists at the three Circle Member locations, and that could lead to internship and graduate opportunities for SUNY Fredonia students.

Boelter said the fellowship, which demands collaboration between people and among artists, represents a model of what the new College of Visual and Performing Arts offers to the campus community. “I feel that the Marions understand that their fellowship, made possible at this particular point in time, is a catalyst toward a college that unites our work and mission.”

Lee, who earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design and a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Calgary, has held numerous leadership positions, including chair and associate chair of the Department of Visual Arts and New Media and vice chair of the Academic Affairs committee. She also served on the College of Visual and Performing Arts Founding Dean search committee and is the accreditation coordinator for the Department of Visual Arts and New Media as it undergoes accreditation with the National Association of Colleges of Art and Design. Lee’s work has appeared in numerous national and international exhibitions.

“Liz is a very gifted photographer. Her work expands the concept of what the art of photography should be about,” Kijinski said. “I’m sure her work will be of real interest to people at the other institutions which she will visit during her fellowship travels.”


June Miller-Spann '94, '02
Associate Director of Development
Fredonia College Foundation
Liaison SUNY Fredonia School of Music
Liaison Hillman Memorial Opera Association
272 Central Avenue
Fredonia, NY 14063
716-673-3325 (fax)
716-269-4511 (cell)