And you thought the Walking Dead crew’s been keeping a weighty secret under its hat. It’s been nearly a month since Olivebridge visual artist Mary Reid Kelley, 37, got the call that she and 22 other American artists, scientists, thinkers, and innovators had been selected as recipients of the MacArthur Foundation 2016 fellowship grant.
“It was the classic MacArthur, springing it on you out of the blue,” she laughs from Belgium, where she’s touring a museum with her partner Patrick Kelley. “I guess they must think you need about this long of a time to think it over, which is probably true. You can’t really rationalize a gift of this magnitude.”
Certainly, being gifted a no-strings-attached endowment of $625,000 to pursue your life’s work is a lot to process. But the Foundation—which was started by namesake philanthropists John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur in 1970 and has been striving to support those whose vision encourages a “more just, verdant, and peaceful world”—evidently had the utmost confidence in Reid Kelley’s medium and mission, which can best be summed up as avant-garde videos that examine the female condition through a deeply historical prism. The Foundation’s acknowledgment has, in turn, left her both humbled and heartened.
“Some of my greatest heroes have gotten this award, and steam comes out of my ears when I start thinking about that,” she shares. “I told the MacArthur people I always knew they gave the award sometimes to people in the earlier stages of their career, and I think that’s great, because that means they’re not afraid to give someone a lot of backing and confidence even though they’re at or near the beginning. So I intend to carry on and make the mistakes and experiments that I feel like someone should be making at the stage that [Patrick and I] are at.”
Reid Kelley, who grew up in South Carolina and moved with Patrick from Minnesota by way of Rome to the Hudson Valley in 2012, plans to begin furthering her work—newly granted—from her home base in Olivebridge upon returning from Belgium. She feels at home in Ulster County, and very much part of a tradition.
“We realized we had more friends in the Hudson Valley than anywhere else,” she says, recalling their decision to relocate here. “Artists have been in the Hudson Valley for decades because people want their own studios. They want time and privacy to think and expand. We have plenty of all of that in Olivebridge.”