ANU glass alumna wins 2016 USA Ford Fellowship

 April Surgent and a frigate bird. Image supplied by April Surgent; photo taken under NMFS permit # 16632-01 and PMNM-2016-011-F.
April Surgent and a frigate bird. Image supplied by April Surgent; photo taken under NMFS permit # 16632-01 and PMNM-2016-011-F.
Tuesday 6 December 2016
ANU School of Art alumna and glass artist April Surgent has won a prestigious 2016 USA Ford Fellowship.
The fellowships, valued at $50,000, are awarded to America’s most accomplished and innovative artists working in fields ranging from visual arts to literature.
April, who hails from Seattle, Washington, came to Canberra in 2000 after conducting a global search for art schools and universities with glass programs.
“The work of ANU School of Art and Glass Workshop graduates really stood out,” she says. 
“I was also interested in traveling and living abroad; it was the perfect fit for me.”
Her four years bore out her optimism. April found the School and the Workshop to be supportive and the community an inclusive one that fosters experimentation and freedom of expression.
“The support I received from my lecturers and fellow students both challenged and encouraged me to find my voice within the material,” April says. 
“With an equally strong focus on conceptual merit and craft, my education at the ANU laid the groundwork for the way that I approach my work.”
Head of the ANU Glass Workshop, Associate Professor Richard Whiteley, described April as having developed her voice in a thoughtful and articulate way as a student.
“She drew on a traditional process, cameo cut glass, and has been central to the rethinking of this medium, not just in relation to her own practice, but also for another generation of artists,” he says.
“What she has achieved really is amazing, and we are incredibly proud of her.”
April sees her role as an artist as being to “illuminate thoughtful and knowledgeable observations on issues critically relevant to our times”.
An issue April believes to be critical is anthropogenic climate change. She has worked with conservation scientists and applied her learnings to her art.
“Art is a powerful way of informing the public because it offers an accessible and visceral means of inspiring people across all social and political spectrums,” she says.
“It is my intention to use my work as a means of advocating for wildlife conservation and environmental stewardship.”
This year, April was the artist in resident at the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She spent six months with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, working as part of a three-person team in a remote field camp based at an atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
April worked as a field biologist at the Pearl & Hermes atoll, collecting population assessment data on the Hawaiian monk seal – one of the world’s most endangered marine animals. 
She hopes that the body of art she produces after her trip will highlight the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal and the effects of anthropogenic climate change on the vulnerable ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and beyond. 
“My interest in fieldwork lies in the ideology that the dialogue between artists and scientists is imperative for a most informed and diversified understanding of life,” April says.
“It also lies in Eckhart Tolle’s philosophy that, ‘Awareness is the greatest agent for change’.”
April says that she will spend a portion of her fellowship funds on buying new equipment for her studio.
“The majority of it, though, will go to paying the proverbial, ‘bills’; to support my studio work while I focus on my research objectives and outreach goals of my recent collaboration with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program.”

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Updated:  6 December 2016/Responsible Officer:  CASS Marketing & Communications/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications