MFA student receives inaugural Art & Social Justice Award at arts-based research symposium

Patricia Leavy, Amanda Heidel and Michael Viega

Amanda Heidel ’18g (Sculpture) is the first-ever recipient of the Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice, a new recognition for SUNY New Paltz students using creative and artistic expression as a means of conducting research.

The award is named for Patricia Leavy, the best-selling author and renowned proponent of arts-based research.

Leavy helped inaugurate this new tradition at the College as the keynote speaker for “Arts-Based Research: Getting Messy & Asking Critical Questions,” a full-day symposium held on March 10, featuring experiential and interactive workshops and performances.

“As an artist, scholar and researcher, Dr. Leavy has made complex social issues come to life in her work,” said Michael Viega, director of the Music Therapy program at New Paltz and organizer of the Arts-Based Research Symposium. “She navigates us through the glorious blurred boundaries of art and research in ways that helps us discover and invent new paths forward.”

Still from “The Seed Between.” Courtesy the artist.

As an MFA student whose work in performance and sculpture aims to inspire dialogues around social and environmental issues, Heidel exemplifies the mission and purpose of the Leavy Award.

Her art has developed over time through an interest in material consciousness, which she has used to develop works that address sustainability, health and labor.

One instance of Heidel’s practice at work is “The Seed Between,” a project that centered on a public workshop and performance demonstrating the process of producing milk from peach seeds, and yogurt from that milk.

“‘The Seed Between’ is about planting the seed, starting a conversation, and broadening awareness of choice and possibilities,” she wrote in an essay on the project. “It is meant to nurture an ongoing dialogue around the ability for us to realize that everything we do in each moment makes a difference and is worth paying attention to.”

Heidel’s commitment to these ideas has led her to embrace a role as a community organizer. She coordinates the SUNY New Paltz Visiting Artist Lecture Series, has worked with Sodexo and other partners on campus to design new approaches to composting and offsetting food waste, and has developed other models for inviting community members to play a more active role in campus dialogues where art and social issues intersect.

“The Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice is a significant honor, and I can think of no better recipient than Amanda Heidel,” said MFA coordinator Matthew Friday. “Amanda’s community-based research into environmental sustainability addresses health not just as an individual issue, but as a cultural phenomenon that all of us need to collectively work towards.”

With Leavy’s keynote and Heidel’s award representing early highlights, the spring 2018 Arts-Based Research Symposium at SUNY New Paltz was a great success.

The program featured breakout sessions led by guest artists and experts from New York University, Temple University, Drexel University and the University of Cincinnati.

The Symposium culminated with “Mind Crossing,” a multi-media, ongoing arts-based research project by multi-instrumentalist Tal Gur. His performance fuses music, dance, video and documentary to tell a story of loss culled from World War II-era letters.

Learn more online about the School of Fine & Performing Arts.