MasterMinds

Dallas Observer Masterminds 2014: Meet the Winners of Our Annual Art Awards

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Janeil Engelstad: A Purposeful Artist
Janeil Engelstad was generous enough to meet me just hours after she finished five weeks of travel and returned home to her Oak Lawn apartment, where she greeted me with a pot of Alishan oolong tea. Just before returning to Dallas she was in Hawaii, working on sound recordings for a new project.

Engelstad is a world traveler with a talent for networking (she and her partner have even started a tea importing business, Zakti, which supplies tea from plantations and farms she's visited to places like Bolsa and The Hospitality Sweet), and it's her extended web of connections that gave rise to the collaborative Make Art with Purpose.

MAP is an international program that focuses on art with a bent toward social justice and advocacy. The exact focus can be anything: immigration, climate change, education reform.

Engelstad describes it as broad with many points of depth, spanning all the continents and burrowing deep into thorny issues like asylum seeking and refugee communities. MAP was established in 2010 and this past year was the first MAP Festival, which took place in Dallas. Around two dozen public art works went up in the city, the last of which has just been taken down: "Instrument for Listening," by Slovakian artist Oto Hudec, was a massive wooden megaphone at Belo Garden in Oak Cliff meant to amplify the concerns of the Latino youths Hudec worked with.

Engelstad is a former Fulbright Scholar and trained photographer, though she decided in the late '90s to stop physically making photographs since the process she used produced so much chemical waste. This was before the advent of digital photographs, so she committed herself to art that didn't involve producing objects.

A Seattle native, Engelstad now splits her time between Dallas and San Francisco and works as an affiliated artist at the University of California at Santa Cruz's Social Practice Arts Research Center. The collaboration and administration is an extension of the creative process for Engelstad, and she compares it to the group effort that goes into film production.

The MAP website is not an archive: It's a how-to manual. Along with descriptions of the various projects, there are instructions to replicate, rebuild, reinstall or re-enact them as the case may be. Updates have been spare this year since the festival was happening, but in 2014 Engelstad expects the number of cataloged projects to double.

Twenty years ago, while working on her MFA at New York University, Engelstad's work kept her fairly isolated. She still found time to volunteer, though, teaching photography to homeless youths, but she quickly learned that it wasn't enough to simply show up and then leave. The kids kept asking her, "What's next?" Though she eventually set up a summer program to continue the work, constantly trying to answer the question "What's next?" is what pushed her away from gallery work and toward MAP.

"That's not to negate studio art and the value of going to a museum or a gallery and seeing a beautiful painting and having the experience of transcendence, because it brings pleasure or a new depth of understanding," she says. "But for my own work, I can make a more valuable contribution doing this than putting up a series of landscapes."-- Luke Darby

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