The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers is proud to announce Kristi Cavataro, Jakob Hochendoner, Siri Lee, Tinan Nguyen, Natalie Richardson, and Arden Surdam as the 2020 Alumni Microgrant recipients, selected by judge Ryan Lee Wong. Currently in its fifth year, the Alumni Microgrant program awards up to $1,000 to support the projects of past Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recipients in any and all creative fields. Below, read more about the inspired projects proposed by these artists.


A stained glass sculpture by Kristi Cavataro

A stained glass sculpture by Kristi Cavataro


Kristi Cavataro (’10): Light Sculptures in Stained Glass

Kristi Cavataro is an artist whose work employs modular, repeated, abstract forms as vehicles for building sculptural compositions that explore permutations, geometry, and visual vocabularies. With their microgrant, Kristi will make a series of stained glass sculptures that pull from the rich history of an ancient medium but integrate contemporary tools while engaging with the contemporary art history of minimalist and post-minimalist sculpture. Using 3D modeling software as a patternmaking tool and LED technology, Kristi hopes to expand the technical possibilities of stained glass.



Jakob Hochendoner (’04): Fireboys

Jake Hochendoner is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and educator currently residing in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to producing, directing and shooting independent documentaries, Jake works as a freelance video producer with clients such as: Google, National Geographic, Barnes and Noble, and various northeast Ohio nonprofits. With their microgrant, Jakob will partially fund post-production costs for their full-length feature documentary, Fireboys. Fireboys tells the crucial, untold story of young men incarcerated in California who are offered a way out by fighting wildfires. The film follows the lives of inmates at Pine Grove Conservation Camp, California’s only “fire camp” for youth offenders. Can these young men who have committed serious crimes break the cycle of incarceration? After serving their time at Pine Grove, they will face an even greater challenge: re-entry into society.



A full-page spread from ZÀO.

A full-page spread from ZÀO.

Siri Lee (’14): ZÀO: A History of Chinese Dishcourse through Famine and Revolution

Siri Lee is an NYC-based interdisciplinary visual storyteller. Interweaving the personal, historical, and fictional, Siri constructs image-based narratives using writing, illustration, and archival materials. Lee will use her microgrant to print a limited edition run of ZÀO: A History of Chinese Dishcourse through Famine and Revolution. ZÀO—a 334-page, full-color, bilingual artist’s book—satirically reconstructs the events leading up to and during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Maoist movements that were supposed to shepherd China into an unprecedented communist utopia but instead ushered in the worst famine in all of recorded human history, decades of the most successful and pervasive ideological indoctrination of a population, and a near civil war in which citizens murdered each other for being “counterrevolutionaries.” ZÀO reimagines 20th-century Chinese society as an alternative civilization that practiced “linguaculture,” a conflation of language and agriculture wherein words and food are literally the same. In linguaculture, language is eaten as “dishcourse,” propaganda is force-fed as “cropaganda,” and the intellectual destitution of the Cultural Revolution and physical famine of the Great Leap Forward become identical.


A view of Tinan Nguyen's 2018 installation, Frogman Nationalism

A view of Tinan Nguyen’s 2018 installation, Frogman Nationalism

Tinan Nguyen (’14, ’15): Blue Buddha Store

Tinan Nguyen is a Brooklyn-based contemporary conceptual artist born and raised in Maryland and Washington D.C. Coming from a family of Southeast Asian refugees from Laos and Vietnam, Nguyen’s work is heavily influenced by the Secret War and the Vietnam War, as well as their family’s military history and the contemporary sociopolitics of Southeast Asian individuals around the world today. Tinan will use their microgrant to fabricate four neon light pieces that are crucial to the completion of an installation, Blue Buddha Store, a Vietnamese-Laotian tourist gift shop selling textile-based beach/rainforest “merchandise” that draws upon the significance of the ocean and other bodies of water in Southeast Asian refugee stories.


Natalie Richardson (’13): A History of Loving

Natalie Rose Richardson is a graduate of the University of Chicago and a current MA+MFA candidate at the Litowitz Creative Writing Program. Richardson’s research areas include Comparative Race & Ethnic Studies, magical realism, and contemporary American literature. Natalie will use their microgrant to fund travel to Washington, D.C. to view national archives and see the house where Mildred and Richard Loving (of Loving v. Virginia, 1967) lived in Central Point, Virginia. This research is in support of Richardson’s chapbook A History of Loving, which interrogates the intersection between their personal, mixed-race ancestral history, and a collective American history of interracial intimacy. This project is an attempt to contribute a new perspective to the archive, interrogating what an “American story” or an “American family” looks like.


A photograph by Arden Surdam from Offal, solo exhibition at ABXY, New York, NY, June - August 2019

A photograph by Arden Surdam from Offal, solo exhibition at ABXY, New York, NY, June – August 2019

Arden Surdam (’02, ’03): Offal – A Visual Consideration of American and Turkish Food

Arden Surdam is a Turkish-American artist working in photography and sculpture currently living in Los Angeles. Arden will use the microgrant to publish their first book of photographs, Offal – A Visual Consideration of American and Turkish Food. Offal considers society’s inconstant approach to food, with a particular animal part considered precious in one century or country but repugnant in another. This erratic system of values has become a focal point of Surdam’s current practice. Their desire is to question the intentionality of food worldliness, shifting traditional value systems of food loathing (elementary and archaic forms of abjection) and food worship.

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