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The 50 States Project

In times of national uncertainty and distress, artists seek out the freedom of the open road, taking visual stock of the state of the nation. It is a distinctly American reaction, undertaken by artists and writers again and again over the past century. With the deep ideological chasms in our nation suddenly laid bare in the current turbulent atmosphere of America, Capitol Hill Arts Workshop has decided to provide a platform for artists to engage with the cultural legacy of the American road trip. Beginning in the fall of 2019, CHAW will create a mobile residency program called The 50 States Project. During the project, two artists will spend a year traveling to all 50 states, making art in the field, and visiting arts and community organizations at each stop. They will concurrently serve as a mobile classroom for students at CHAW, facilitating dialogue on their findings and sharing their work via Skype, a project website, and a blog. Upon returning to DC in the fall of 2020, the artists will present their research through an exhibition, public programs and an exhibit catalogue which will be shared with the communities they will have visited. For more information, please visit www.the50statesproject.com and follow the artists on Instagram at @the50statesproject_.

Artist Kate Fleming Artist Tom Woodruff

The 50 States Project’s two resident artists are Kate Fleming and Tom Woodruff. Kate Fleming is a painter, printmaker, muralist, and installation artist based in her hometown of Arlington, Virginia. She has shown her work throughout the DC area and across the U.S. at galleries and mural festivals including POW! WOW! DC; Site:Brooklyn in New York; and Flatbed Press in Austin. Kate was artist-in-residence at CHAW in the Spring of 2018 and she has also completed residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia and Penland School of Craft in Bakersville, NC. Additionally, Kate has worked as a set designer with CHAW’s resident theater company, Taffety Punk, whom she met during her residency at CHAW. Kate conducted an artistic survey of biodiversity in North Carolina in 2017 with fellow artist Kristen Orr, painting her way across the state on an intensive seven-day road trip.

Tom Woodruff is a photojournalism graduate student at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, with an expected completion date of May 2019. He has undertaken multiple long-term photographic studies of place, including photo essays on tourism and the National Mall, gentrification of DC’s Massachusetts Avenue, and perseverance of community in the small coal mining town of Hemlock, Ohio. Tom works to develop trust with the communities he photographs through his working philosophy of empathy, rather than of exploitation. In 2019, Tom was a finalist for the Reinke Grant for Visual Storytelling. Kate and Tom spent six months traveling around Australia in 2016, living and traveling in a camper van for two months of the trip. In 2017, the pair presented their Australian artworks in a two-person collaborative exhibition at Falls Church Arts in Falls Church, Virginia.

Fleming Nelsonville Shell Station
Kate Fleming
Yellowstone
Tom Woodruff

As they travel to all 50 states in a small camper van, the artists will conduct their own individual research. They will produce works of visual art while on the road, each engaging with a particular theme or research question of their choosing. At the end of their travels, the artists will return to DC and begin reflecting on the work. They will spend three months organizing, curating, processing, and analyzing their research before presenting it in a gallery setting. During the run of their exhibition, the artists will present their work to the public in community workshops and artist talks. Meanwhile, the artists will also craft a book through which to showcase their research and share it with the many communities they will have visited. By physically immersing themselves in other American cultures, the artists will learn and share the stories of their fellow Americans. The artworks they create along the way will act as a vehicle through which others can experience and develop empathy for these people and places

The artists will anchor their trip with stops at arts organizations across the country, engaging with at least one formal arts community in each state. These communities will then be linked together through the 50 States Project, creating a nationwide network of arts organizations.

Near Toyota Dealership
Kate Fleming

100 Shoot
Tom Woodruff

Alongside the residency, CHAW will launch a Social Justice track to its Youth Arts Program. The program will strive to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate students to promote social change through artistic means. Participants will explore how art has been used as a means to record history, shape culture, cultivate imagination, and harness individual and social transformation. The artists will correspond regularly with the students, sharing their experiences from the field. The first session will focus on photojournalism, and the second will explore public art. The program will be the first of its kind at CHAW, helping to establish the organization as a champion for social justice and encouraging children in our nation’s capital to consider America beyond the beltway.

Our country is in a constant state of change, and thus, in a constant state of self-discovery. As long as the American identity continues to change and grow, we will have need for artists who make the trek across our country to look and to share what they have seen. These projects, much like the US Census, have the most meaning in the context of comparison with one another. We can only measure what has changed over time by continuing to repeat this ritual, placing each new artistic survey against and within the legacy of the American road trip.