— by Mellany Armstrong, Associate Director of Communications

Janet Biggs '81 has won a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts. Biggs, a 2016 Distinguished Alumna, is an accomplished multimedia artist who has traveled the world for her art.

As a Guggenheim Fellow, Biggs will continue working with and filming refugees in the Horn of Africa and will return to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. She plans to explore the far ends of the spectrum of human movement and ambition in pursuit of hope and new possibilities.

How did you learn of the Guggenheim award?

As a self-supporting visual artist, you learn early on to be aware and resourceful regarding all funding possibilities. The Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship is a high-profile award given to individuals in both the arts and the sciences. It’s been on my radar for some time. My work is funded by a combination of sales and grants, and also by museums, institutions and individuals who support specific projects. I’ve always said, I don’t need to be rich, but I need to be able to afford to make the next project.

What did you do when you found out you had won?

I learned about the award when I was in Texas visiting my parents. My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She and my father live in a facility that assists in living and memory care. I was on my laptop, showing my dad a rough edit of footage I’d filmed when visiting a Yemeni refugee camp in Djibouti.

We were talking about my desire to combine that footage with footage from the Mars Desert Research Station, a full-simulation analog Martian base station run by the Mars Society in the desert of Utah. It’s a difficult project, looking at far ends of the spectrum of human movement in pursuit of new possibilities — difficult conceptually, difficult to edit, and difficult to figure out how I was going to keep funding the project through to its completion.

I had received an email a few days earlier from a different organization saying that I had not been awarded their grant. My phone buzzed. There was a new incoming email. It was the Guggenheim Foundation saying that I had been selected as a fellow. No screams (not a good thing to do in a memory/assisted living care facility) and no tears, but a big smile and sigh of relief!

How has Moore shaped your success?

When I was a student at Moore, I was lucky enough to have some professors who made their careers and studio lives, their successes and their struggles, visible to their students. This was incredibly generous and allowed students to witness and learn from creative lives as they were being lived. Moore also brought in inspiring visiting artists and alumni to interact with the students. Through talks, individual critiques, and by assisting professional artists as they installed in Moore’s galleries, I began to understand the commitment and vision necessary to push yourself, your work and your career.

At Moore, I was just an art student, evaluated for the work I was producing, and not for my gender, race or orientation. It wasn’t until I got to graduate school that I realized men who made art were often taken more seriously for doing so. Moore gave me a glimpse of a world where there were no societal barriers. It gave me the confidence to navigate the world and my work without reservation, even in my gendered body.

What is your advice for young artists?
Don’t give up. Perseverance is an essential element for a working artist, and it’s worth the effort! I never take for granted the experiences my career has given me, from expeditions in the Arctic and inside active volcanoes, to areas of conflict and to Mars (or at least as close as one can get these days). I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with neuroscientists, Arctic explorers, aerospace engineers, astrophysicists, Yemeni refugees, a gospel choir and a robot. It’s been well worth the effort!