Dr. Beth Stephens '79 was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the creative arts. Dr. Stephens, a professor of art at the University of California Santa Cruz, was one of 184 artists, writers, scholars, and scientists to receive a 2021 Fellowship.
"I am a multimedia artist, and I have worked in many different forms and media throughout my career," said Stephens.
"I began incorporating video into my sculptural work while studying for my masters of fine arts at Rutgers University. Throughout the nineties, I continued creating video installations and making short films. When I became a collaborator and partner with Annie Sprinkle Ph.D. in 2002, we began creating a seven-year art project about love. The centerpiece of this project was a series of performance art weddings. We performed at least one per year for seven years. Each year would have a different color and a different theme, and by the time the fourth year rolled around, which also happened to be the green year, we married the Earth. Our large-scale Green Wedding took place at UC Santa Cruz. This inspired me to make a documentary film about mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, where I am from originally. Goodbye Gauley Mountain was finished in 2014, we signed with film distributor Kino Lorber, and the rest is herstory!"
As a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, Stephens joins a program well-known for the range of backgrounds, fields of study, and accomplishments of its fellows. This year, 29 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields, 73 academic institutions, 28 states, and two Canadian provinces are represented in the class of fellows, who range in age from 31 to 85.
"Chatham Hall prepared me for being an artist and filmmaker by introducing me to different ideas and ways of seeing the world," said Stephens. "The School also provided access to art studios where I could draw, paint, and make ceramics. Chatham encouraged making art and celebrated creativity. This made me feel at home in a world where I didn't quite fit and allowed me to follow my passions. I also met other students at Chatham who were equally artistic, and their creativity influenced me. These long-lasting friendships are models for the kinds of relationships that nurture an artist's art and film practices. To become an artist or filmmaker, one has to develop one's work with care just as one must foster their friendships."
Among the friendships that Stephens has maintained include those with fellow Class of 1979 graduates Xandra Coe, Clare Bolduc Richards, and Nancy Whittaker.
In addition to receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship, Stephens has been honored as a Eureka Fellow and a Rydell Fellow. She has also won grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Initiative, UCSC’s Arts Research Institute, and Palimpsest Productions.
For Stephens, three Chatham Hall teachers especially impacted her as a student: English teacher Claudia Gallant and art teachers Leslie Crowell and Annie Webb, who all supported her and her work, providing the self-confidence needed to persevere as an artist.
To those current Chatham Hall students considering a career in the arts, Stephens has some advice.
"Go for it! If you really want to be an artist, then at least try. Nothing is worse than believing that your dreams are not important enough to pursue because they are deemed irrational or impractical. Our world needs art, creativity, and truth to address the monumental challenges we presently face as we move into the future. Artists see things differently than practitioners in other fields and disciplines. Because of our unique vision(s), we have the potential to come up with ideas and perspectives that can inspire the changes needed to make life more livable. So, if you want to be an artist, do it! You may have the creative vision that the world needs to heal its wounds and thrive. I could not imagine being anything other than an artist."