2022 - 2023 Rydell Fellows Exhibit

A Flourishing Arts Community

By Serena Ramirez, Community Engagement Intern

Walking into the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship Exhibit–on display January 19 - March 24, 2024 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH)–is like looking into a mirror where the artists reflect their unique origins, motivations, and passions back at you. As you gaze at brightly woven tapestries, intricately illustrated oil paintings, striking ceramic pots, and expansive aerial views of salt flat plains, they tell the tale of Santa Cruz County’s diverse and flourishing artistic community, sustained by a philanthropic vision to provide a permanent resource for visual artists.

Every artist at this year’s Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship Exhibit (Janette Gross, Kristiana 莊礼恩 Chan, Anna Friz, and Kajahl Benes-Trapp) embeds their work with a distinctive story. But each fellow echoes a similar sentiment; the Rydell Fellowship gave them the opportunity to thrive and expand their artistic horizons.

Roy and Frances Rydell established the Roy and Frances Rydell Visual Arts Fund in 1985 to promote local visual artists and arts organizations. Following their passing, their estate was bequeathed to the Foundation, with the proceeds of the sale helping to grow the fund to its current level of over $2.2 million. The Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship program was developed by Community Foundation Santa Cruz County in collaboration with the local arts community, to honor the wishes and intent of the Rydells. Now, in its 18th year, the fellowship program, has awarded $760,000 directly to artists.

Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation, says, “Roy and Frances believed that Santa Cruz County needed to be a place not just where one artist could do well, not just where one art organization could thrive, but where we would have a community that honored, celebrated and built art and the artistic careers of so many.”

2022 -2023 Rydell Fellows (L to R): Kajahl Benes-Trapp, Janette Gross, Kristiana 莊礼恩 Chan, and Anna Friz

Funding to Expand Horizons

The exhibition hosts the work of the 2022-2023 cohort. Janette Gross, a Rydell fellow and tapestry weaver whose pieces are inspired by the indigenous Diné Nation, reflected on the “perfect timing” of the fellowship in the face of hardship. She had just learned that she and her colleagues were losing a studio they shared for over 16 years. “The fellowship kept me going and kept me focused on my work. I was motivated to continue creating pieces that address the environmental issues I care about very deeply,” she said. The Rydell Fellowship also allowed Janette to ethically source the materials for her projects, including natural dyes and wool from the Diné-owned co-op Rainbow Vibrant.

In her work in paper and ceramics, Kristiana 莊礼恩 Chan, a first-generation Malaysian-Chinese artist, writer, and educator, centers the excluded histories of displaced Chinese immigrants who once resided in Santa Cruz and Monterey County. Anna Friz, a filmmaker and artist who teaches at UC Santa Cruz, explores the concept of galactic colonialism by creating a knit “earth suit,” questioning the human ability to adapt and build relationships without exploitation.

For Santa Cruz native and oil painter Kajahl Benes-Trapp, the fellowship allowed him to build a new beginning–literally. In an effort to return to his roots and connect with nature, Kajahl built a studio in his hometown after living on the East Coast for over ten years. He said, “A lot of New York is about being cooped up inside. Moving back to Santa Cruz had a profound impact on my work. As I worked in my new studio, the fictional characters in my work went from enclosed interior settings to expansive views immersed in the natural world.”

New Fellows Announced

At the recent opening reception for the exhibition, local artists Christian Rex van Minnen, Shirin Towfiq, Louise Leong, and Maria Isabel LeBlanc were announced as the 2024-2025 Rydell Visual Arts fellows. Their work–just like the fellows before them–will be hung in the next exhibition, continuing a tradition driven by the generosity of the Rydells and the abundant talent of artists living and working in Santa Cruz County.

Rydell Fellows Celebration Continues!

MK Gallery, just down the street from the MAH, is also celebrating Rydell Fellows with their retrospective exhibit “Selections: Rydell Visual Arts Fellows 2006-2021” which presents a collection of artworks from 23 past Rydell award recipients. The exhibition will be on display from January 27–March 24, 2024.

See the current Rydell Exhibition

January 19 - March 24, 2024