AOL Gives $25,000 Grant to Bassoonist, Photographer of Bacteria

A bassoon-player, a photographer of Appalachian snake handlers and an 82-year-old painter are among 25 winners of AOL Inc.’s new $25,000 grants for creative work.

Titled “25 for 25,” the $625,000 investment is part of AOL’s “Project on Creativity,” a rebranding campaign for the company’s 25th anniversary. The company, which receives 14 million visitors a day on its homepage, said it’s sponsoring artistic innovation to position itself as a destination for original, creative content.

“We do a heck of a lot more than just connect people to the Internet,” said Maureen Sullivan, AOL’s senior vice president of marketing, in a telephone interview.

More than 9,000 people applied for the grant, she said. The judges included Whitney Museum of American Art director Adam Weinberg, entrepreneur Andy Spade and AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong.

Artist Chuck Close was tapped by AOL to photograph Alec Baldwin, Claire Danes and Segway inventor Dean Kamen for a new advertising campaign.

“The reason that I collaborate with AOL is because they agreed to do a program every year to give $25,000 to young and emerging artists,” said Close, in an interview at the AOL- sponsored Whitney Museum’s gala this week, which raised $2.7 million. “I agreed to photograph with them and try to help them rebrand themselves as an arts-oriented site.”

Photographer Rachel Sussman, one of the winners, plans to use the money to finance her project, “The Oldest Living Things in the World.” She travels the globe researching and photographing living organisms that are at least 2,000 years old.

Siberian Bacteria

“It’s mostly plants, trees or strange shrubs,” said Sussman, 35, in a telephone interview. She recently found 100,000-year-old sea grass in Spain and 4,000-year-old olive trees in Italy. The oldest thing she found was a 400,000 to 600,000-year-old bacterium in the permafrost in Siberia.

“I will use the money for the trips to Antarctica, Australia and Tasmania,” said Sussman. “There are a few things that are incredibly old there.”

Dantes Rameau, a bassoonist and executive director of Atlanta Music Project, said he’ll use his prize money to fund a recently formed after-school youth orchestra and choir program for the low-income community in Atlanta.

“We are modeled on El Sistema, Venezuela’s orchestra system,” Rameau, 28, said in a telephone interview. “Not many people think of music as a tool to be successful in life. You have to be organized. You have to persevere. You have to get along with the team.”

Snake Handlers

New York-based artist Anthony Feyer, another recipient, focuses on unusual aspects of North American culture in photography and painting. His current project involves documenting a fundamentalist sect of snake handlers that lives in the Appalachian region.

AOL announced the winners on its website where it will feature their work, said Sullivan.

“We’ll find a way to amplify their work so that they can reach a wider audience,” she said. “That’s what we bring to the table beyond writing a $25,000 check.”

The 25 Recipients

Adital Ela: Product designer who runs a sustainable design studio and teaches a social-environmental design program in Israel.

Angela Riechers: Working on an idea for a documentary/boat tour of forgotten historical places in New York.

Anthony Feyer: Documenting a fundamentalist sect of snake handlers in the Appalachian region.

Christopher Johnson: Reports and produces for NPR and other public radio outfits.

Coke O’Neal: Working on a project called “The Box,” taking a 28 foot-tall box sculpture to locations in New York, San Isidro, Texas and Columbus, Ohio.

Daniel McCabe: A photojournalist and filmmaker working on a project featuring tribal conflict in Kenya and conflict resource issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dantes Rameau: A Bassoonist who wants to contribute to social justice through his music.

Davide Balliano: A performance, installation, and video artist who has shown at the Tate Modern, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, and the Watermill Center in South Hampton.

Eleonore Hendricks: Photographs everyday people and creates cohesive books.

Evelyn Davis: A graphic designer and visual communication professor.

Jason Polan: Creates project ideas such as potato printing and drawing hundreds of New Yorkers for a collective book.

Jeremy Dziedzic: Aims to start a community music event called “output: Noise.”

Jimmy McBride: Collects scraps of fabric and thread to create celestial-themed quilts inspired by Intergalactic Transport.

Josh Safdie: A filmmaker who focuses on the importance of detail and highlights small moments in the height of chaos.

Julio F. Torres-Santana: An architect who developed a prototype for a portable shelter system.

Kristen Campbell: Illustrates characters and brings them to life through animated films.

Lauren Seiden: A visual artist working mainly in ink and graphite drawings showing the relationship between line and light.

Marc Horowitz: A self-described “maximalist” who comments on popular American culture with social projects and enterprises.

Marian Pierce Hoffart: An 82-year-old retired teacher who took up painting in 1989, and paints in the impressionist style.

Michael Duva: A photographer working on a project called Animal Portraits, which shows animals’ similarities with humans.

Rachel Sussman: A photographer working on a project called “The Oldest Living Things in the World.”

Sara Lamm: A filmmaker whose first film was “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox,” a documentary about a soap-making eccentric.

Taj Forer: A photographer specializing in portrait and landscape photography.

Tema Stauffer: A photographer whose work is represented by Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery in New York.

Zach Lieberman: An innovator who uses technology to create experiences for people in public spaces or galleries.

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the reporter of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at kkazakina@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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