Since 2008, the Charlotte Street Foundation has recognized creative Kansas Citians who, within their various genres, consistently produce original and innovative work that often falls outside the mainstream.
Selected for this year's Generative Performing Artist Awards are composer and musician Patrick Conway and theater artist Heidi Van.
Receiving an honor like the Charlotte Street Foundation's Generative Performing Artist Award can prompt honorees to think about their work – where it’s been and where it’s going. Conway and Van take the opportunity to describe themselves as artists lest anyone else do it for them.
Wearing Multiple Hats
"This may sound odd but I think of myself as musically schizophrenic," Conway says, "I think because I have a variety of interests that run the gamut from totally improvised music to totally hyper-composed music.
"And I'm interested in avant-garde music from the Western European tradition but also have a deep connection to Afro-centric traditional music and world music in general, particularly Gamelan music."
"I'm a student of different kinds of theater," Van says of her career. "Theater with text (and) traditional theater where you're hired as an actress. I like doing that but I also like making my own work.
"And when I make my own work, I primarily do it in a non-verbal physical style accompanied by live music. I'm influenced by dance. I'm influenced by visual art. I'm influenced by pictures. But at the end of the day, I like to tell stories three-dimensionally."
As a way of defining what a generative performing artist is, Van and Conway describe what the honor means to them.
"To me, it means validation for what I do," Van says. "Because I feel, like a lot of generative artists - which is what we're categorized as - we are not people who wait for others to hire us. We are people who make our own work.
"Like for me, as a performance artist and as a traditionally trained actress, I don't wait for someone to call me on the phone and ask me to audition to be in a play. I make my own plays. So this means a lot to those of us who walk outside of the norm and think outside of the box and who've taken our careers into our own hands. It means the world."
Conway says at first that he couldn't top Van's assessment.
"But I agree - just, you know, being recognized for your work. And of course the financial support is great and helpful. It takes the pressure off.
"When we're living as free-lance artists , the opportunity to present our work bolsters our careers. Like Heidi said, It's a chance to have more visibility in the community. People may hear about you who otherwise might not have."
Because both Conway and Van seem so comfortable with their artistic endeavors, it begs the question as to when in their younger lives that artist emerged.
"I started studying piano with my mom when I was about six years old," Conway recalls. "And I've always been kind of ADD with instruments because I took up French horn then bassoon then I took up percussion, and then got a guitar and started writing songs. I started playing bass when I was a teenager.
"So from a young age, I was interested in creating music. I played at church and school a lot so there were ample opportunities."
"Ironically I just came across a box of videotapes from 1989 in which I was doing some sketch comedy , some stop-animation film with some Easter decorations.
"I had lunch with someone recently who asked how did I get into this , and I realized that what I'm doing I've always done."
Each year's Generative Performing Artist fellows is celebrated in a public performance their work. Perhaps inspired by each other, Van and Conway are taking the opportunity at this year's event to collaborate on one piece: a window play called "Voyeur: An Urban Rhapsody" by Heidi Van with musical accompaniment by Patrick Conway that will be staged October 5 at Van's performance space The Fishtank in the Crossroads.
The Artists in Their Own Words series is sponsored by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.