How Stephen Vitiello Made Use of the Creative Capital Award

What happens after an artist receives a Creative Capital Award? What happens after their Creative Capital project goes out into the world? To get a sense of how artists use the organization’s resources to their advantage, I reached out to Stephen Vitiello, a vanguard in the world of sound art, who received a Creative Capital Award for his project Dogs in the Yard, Birds Overhead. The project pits divergent soundscapes from the city and countryside against one another, and it premiered in 2007 at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.

I asked Vitiello how receiving the Creative Capital Award in 2006 was helpful in his career. He told me it came at just the right moment for him: “The funding was so important, and it came at a point where I had moved away from New York and was wondering if support and opportunities would decrease. In fact, they increased.”

Stephen Vitiello recording in a forest in Virginia

Dedicated money toward producing the project wasn’t the only thing that was crucial for him: “Creative Capital’s belief and support in what I was doing was (and still is) invaluable.”

Lessons Learned

While the project premiered in Virginia, it did not travel much after that. I asked Vitiello if there was anything he wished he had done differently looking back. “I would have liked that show to travel, but still, individual elements were presented at various spaces throughout the country, and a lot of it informed future investigations through field recording.”

Vitiello explained that through his research creating sound works throughout Virginia while working on his Creative Capital Project, he learned of a newly discovered forest that contained some of the largest cypress and tupelo trees in the state. “I was granted permission to photograph and record sounds there. I recently learned that the biggest of the trees—called ‘Big Mama’—had expired, which is one of many reasons I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to spend quiet mornings and nights alone in that forest.”

Getting one’s work out into the world is so important. I think most of us suddenly see and hear the work with an amplified critical eye and ear when something is presented publicly in a much different way than when it is just in the studio.

Advice to Other Artists

Since receiving the Creative Capital Award, Vitiello’s works have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, among other organizations. After receiving support from Creative Funding he soon after moved to Richmond, VA. He accepted a professor position at Virginia Commonwealth University and has since become the Program Director for the Department of Kinetic Imaging—a media arts program that “really should have ‘Sound’ in the title,” Vitiello said, “but I’ve also learned that change in academia is a slow battle.”

I asked if he had any advice for newer artists getting started, especially ones working in sound and experimental disciplines. “Getting one’s work out into the world is so important,” he said. “I think most of us suddenly see and hear the work with an amplified critical eye and ear when something is presented publicly in a much different way than when it is just in the studio.

“Rather than waiting to be invited to exhibit, or to perform, creating one’s own opportunities is worth considering—staging exhibitions or performances in found or borrowed spaces that you seek out and manage yourself.” For Vitiello, a “DIY” approach was critical, and he cautioned against going “the traditional routes of trying to send out promotional packages that pile up in some unknown office or hard drive.” Creating your own opportunities could lead to new audiences, as it had for him: “Others will hear about your work and approach you.”

I wondered how he found those atypical routes if they didn’t already exist. “For me, collaboration—creating soundtracks for and with other artists—was vital for my own education as well as finding new outlets for people to hear what I do.”

A Move to More Atypical Venues

In the 10 years since his Creative Capital Project premiered, Vitiello finds his experimental work is more suitable in “unusual spaces and public art projects,” rather than in gallery and museum spaces. In fact, he had responded to my questions from West Palm Beach, Florida, where he had recently opened a large public art exhibition of sound works, video, and photos on an entire floor of an abandoned Macy’s department store [installation pictured above]. His contribution to the exhibition is called You Are the Magic on view through 2019.

But after a decade of proven success, he still had to make an effort to seek funding and inspiration. He has recently been researching “rare wind phenomena heard coming off a mountain that borders Virginia and West Virginia.”

“Last month, after two years of failed attempts,” he said, “I made an amazing breakthrough with that project. Now I’m trying to find a small grant to support two more returns to what has turned out to be a dream location and new set of contacts for the project.”

See Stephen Vitiello’s You Are the Magic in West Palm Beach, Florida through 2019. Learn more about his work on his website.