Fountainhead fellows ‘become part of the fabric of Richmond’

Featured photo
"Aimless Migration & Alternate Considerations, 2016," from "Ancestral Offerings" by Jeanne Medina. Medina, a recent MFA graduate, is a Fountainhead fellow at VCU. (Photo courtesy VCU School of the Arts)

Each strand in Jeanne Medina’s textiles has a distinct identity. Her latest pieces use contemporary Japanese weaving techniques and rayon raffia strands that emulate tropical African fibers. They’re also fashion objects that come to life on the bodies of performers strutting and dancing across a gallery room.

In "Ancestral Offerings," 2018 Fountainhead fellow Jeanne Medina presents a series of textiles embedded with codified language. This piece features mutable garments, performance and a sound track. (Photo courtesy VCU School of the Arts)

Her creative process is rhythmic and meditative, even logical, she said, and best achieved when she produces materials by hand. Soon after coming to the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, where she took a position as an adjunct craft professor in 2016, Medina bought a 40-inch Harrisville loom — but finding a large enough workspace quickly became a challenge.

“I had the loom in the bedroom. It’s like the size of a piano,” she said. “In some ways, it was really productive. In other ways, it was horrible.”

Luckily, with an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art under her belt, Medina landed a dedicated workspace as part of the Fountainhead Fellowship. The VCU School of the Arts program provides three recent MFA graduates in the areas of sculpture, painting + printmaking, and craft an opportunity to teach and work. Each of the 2017-18 fellows received a $16,000 stipend, a furnished apartment, and 24-hour access to a private studio with plenty of space to work.

“Now I can move the loom all around the space,” Medina said.

Fountainhead fellows begin the nine-month residency every fall. Over the course of the fellowship, they each teach four classes in the School of the Arts, present a public lecture and participate in a group exhibition.

The fellowship’s promise of providing new MFAs invaluable experience at a leading art and design school has drawn graduates from all over the country.

2018 Fountainhead fellows Jeanne Medina, left, Sara Stern and Ryan Lucero.
2018 Fountainhead fellows Jeanne Medina, left, Sara Stern and Ryan Lucero.

Fresh out of graduate school at Columbia University, Sara Stern, a 2017-18 Fountainhead Fellow in Sculpture + Extended Media, is working on a series that ventriloquizes and animates architectural sites and materials. Her interest in responding to particular sites carries over to her teaching.

"I often approach my work as a form of expanded site-specificity, and I bring that to my teaching as well," she says. "I like to adapt my classes to build on the interests of my students."

Those interests led her to organize a trip to New York, host numerous Skype visiting artists, co-organize a class exhibition at the Anderson, and facilitate a schoolwide intermediate/advanced sculpture class at the Cary Street Gym called "SPARTS."

While Fountainhead fellows are deeply involved in the School of the Arts, another perk is an opportunity to catch the wave of artistic growth in Richmond and play an active role in revitalizing the community.

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Video still from "Night Talk" by Fountainhead fellow Sara Stern. (Photo courtesy VCU School of the Arts)

Stern and Medina — along with Ryan Lucero, a fellow in Painting + Printmaking with an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College — balance weekly classes with studio work and local collaborations. Stern researches the history of Richmond politics and urban development, while Medina works with the Highland Support Project, a nonprofit that supports the community-building efforts of indigenous peoples. All three fellows are participating in a group exhibition at Reynolds Gallery beginning March 16.

The Fountainhead Fellowship has invited emerging arts professionals to Richmond since 2010. The program reflects the mission of donor Tom Papa to fuel a community’s vitality as a place to live, work and connect with others. Papa cofounded Fountainhead Properties, which has focused on developing eco-friendly, multifamily buildings, medical facilities and supportive housing to revitalize downtown Richmond.

Papa believes that the strength of experimentation and innovation at VCUarts will continue to expand possibilities for the arts in Richmond.

“There is a great talent pool at VCUarts,” Papa said. “[VCUarts Dean] Shawn Brixey is creating incubators and opportunities for symbiotic thought, bringing together disciplines that nobody imagined before. It's great to see these bright young minds succeed and unleash their creativity, and become part of the fabric of Richmond.”


The work of Fountainhead fellows Ryan Lucero, Jeanne Medina and Sara Stern will be on view at Reynolds Gallery from March 16 to April 27. An opening reception is scheduled for March 16 at 7 p.m. Learn more about the exhibition and this year’s fellows.