New York artist Caroline Woolard is the first recipient of the Jane and David Walentas Endowed Fellowship. This prestigious annual fellowship underscores Moore’s ongoing commitment to social engagement by offering opportunities to thoughtful artists who bring their vision for the future of cultural production to the Moore community and the larger artistic community of Philadelphia.
In this transcribed interview, part one of a series, Woolard talks with Chief Academic Officer/Academic Dean Patricia C. Phillips about what this opportunity means, and reveals what her family thought of her wanting to become a fine artist.
Patti: Caroline, could you just talk about what an opportunity like this means for you and, potentially, for other artists in the future?
Caroline: I think for me, and I imagine for other artists, future fellows in the program, what's possible is to develop ideas at the pace that is necessary for more ethical, I would say, community collaboration. And also a more sustainable pace for truly interdisciplinary and systems-wide change. So the kinds of projects that I like to do have a temporality or a scale that is much slower than what is typically expected of me from the commissioning institution. So for example, I'll be asked to work with three different community partners in one year with only two site visits and very little money, which makes the relationships really hard to develop and the speed of turnover so fast that it's hard to make mistakes and learn from them and truly push your thinking far enough that there will be inevitable failures that you can grow from and transform into something that's more deeply engaging and also hopefully materially sophisticated as an art object.
For the first time in my life, I'm feeling like this fellowship has expectations that align with the temporality that I need in order to do my best work. So it's such a relief and such a gift to feel that truly whatever interests I have that I want to explore, Patti, you and other people at Moore and now with this wonderful partnership with the Free Library that that'll be supported and that I can work at the pace of human relationships. And I would say also the pace of true experimentation with materials and techniques. I wish more institutions worked at the pace of a two-year project.
Patti: What about your background or your own disposition or your education prepared you to pursue this kind of work and this kind of process, where you're at once deeply embedded but also very expansive in terms of working with other people?
Caroline: My dad was the first person to go to college in his family. And so the idea that I would not become a doctor or a lawyer or be involved in a more upwardly mobile, in his mind, career with a clear salary and livelihood was very difficult. When I told him I wanted to go to art school, he was not pleased, but really wanted to support me and try to understand my decision. And, I think knowing that I had such a privilege of education and also kind of responsibility to my family legacy as a second generation person in college, I always thought that I would need to have a career in graphic design because it didn't seem feasible. I didn't know any people who made a living as fine artists. So yeah, I majored in graphic design and sculpture and it just happened that eventually when I graduated I was able to both make online platforms, websites and web 2.0 networks and immersive installations that these two parts of my skillset would come together.
And I think the people who introduced me to this kind of thinking include Natalie Jeremijenko, who I worked for right out of undergrad, right out of Cooper Union. And then Morgan Puett at Mildred's Lane, who invited me to be her first teaching assistant of sorts when she started Mildred's Lane formally in 2008 or 2009. So now I've been going there for almost a decade. And people like Claire Pentecost, Amy Yos, Pablo Helguera, this became a kind of cohort of wide-reaching interdisciplinary research-based art that allowed me to know when I was 23 that there was a path in this approach to working. And none of them really use websites or online platforms in a robust way. But I think I brought that skillset from design into this project-based way of working that they all embody in their own practices.