MFA Student is First to Receive Social Justice Award

Amanda Heidel, a SUNY New Paltz MFA student was recognized for her use of environmental and social issues in her performances and sculptures. 

Heidel is the first student to win the Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice. This award recognizes students using creativity and artistic expression while conducting research.

SUNY New Paltz established the award in Leavy’s name at the Arts-based Research Symposium on March 1. Leavy, a best-selling author and art-based researcher, was shocked when the college named the award after her. Leavy’s “Arts-Based Research: Getting Messy & Asking Critical Questions,” explores the art contributing to social justice. Leavy learned more about Heidel’s work on the environmental injustices. She was excited about Heidel’s art-based research and said she was well deserving of the award.

“When you are selected as an example for others on this level you have a responsibility to continue your work with the highest level of integrity, and to do the most you can to shine a light on the field and all of those doing important work in it,” Leavy said.

Raising consciousness about social issues is something Heidel strives for. Receiving the award served as a great moment of honor for her. 

“The award gives me confidence in moving forward in my work,” Heidel said.

Linking social justice to art addresses different opportunities, including Heidel’s focus on sustainable food sourcing. Experimenting with this issue through art allows for collaboration and conversation about what is happening locally. Finding where the source of materials came from has been a key element in her work, focusing on food production and waste management.

Collaboration and an environmental impact are elements involved with the following work from Heidel. By embodied research, she involves collaborative partnerships between community members. Through these conversations, information is gathered to help carve out the next step in the process. 

Heidel’s recent project is a collaboration with the New Paltz Bagel Cafe. She saw a lot of food waste and decided to collect leftover bagels to grind them up to make flour. With the flour, she made loaves of bread to give to people. 

Through community based research, Heidel has a conversational approach. She has been meeting with community members to start a dialogue with hopes of joining their shared interests to collaborate on forming a project. This project is rooted in social and environmental change. 

“I hope that my work plants seeds and can create opportunities for social and environmental change, which is a crucial factor in leading the way to our future,” Heidel said.

Art can contribute to social justice and the research that is performed by students like Heidel and authors like Leavy can support movements and change. Social justice and environmental movements can bring awareness to certain topics that need to be addressed, in a collaborative effort or by the individual’s research.

“At this particular historical moment when the arts and artists are under attack and our core cultural values of equality and democracy are also under attack, and our very earth is under attack, we have all been called to action,” said Leavy. “So it feels timely that the university decided to create this award at this moment, crystallizing the connection between our artistic research practices and the values underpinning them.”

The Patricia Leavy Award for Social Art and Social Justice has impacted the members in the New Paltz community, along with the artists who are making an effort. 

“A legacy of environmental and social justice movements are part of what makes New Paltz so special and Amanda’s award is indicative of the type of inspirational, caring and creative work carried out by our students,” said Matthew Friday, MFA coordinator.