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Artist for a community: Fitzgerald works with schoolkids on painting project

Karen Fitzgerald, a visual artist based in Woodside and member of the Queens Council on the Arts is currently working with composer Carl MaultsBy of Rejoicensemble! on a collaborative project entitled “Eye on the Sparrow,” inspired by an African-American spiritual. The project additionally involves the participation of a group of high school students, who will work with a writer-in-residence to create a text, exploring the themes that are reflected in the song.

Fitzgerald and MaultsBy will present the song and lyrical text to the students, along with original artwork and music that they created in response to the song, and other literary texts that evoke a similar theme.

“The content and the area that we want to explore with the students is how they view the relationship of themselves with the spiritual world or with their own spiritual reality, and how they would verbalize that: what is that reality to them; how do they relate to energy, for instance; how do they relate to light; what does the universe mean in their perception,” Fitzgerald said.

The students will develop text exploring this theme, and Fitzgerald and MaultsBy will use the students’ writing as the basis for the works they create for the final presentation of “Eye on the Sparrow.” The project will culminate in a musical concert and exhibition, where Fitzgerald’s paintings will be paired back to back and suspended above — or intermingling with — the audience.

Fitzgerald, a Queens Community Arts Fund grant recipient in 2000, emphasized the importance of the multiple layers of this collaboration, particularly the involvement of young people. “It is a collaboration between a number of different levels of our community,” she said. “I’ve really been interested for a long time in my professional career in not becoming that sort of isolated specialist in our culture, but really being integrated within my community. I think this project is very much about that.”

As yet another component to “Eye on the Sparrow,” Fitzgerald hopes to revisit the students’ writing with them following the premiere of the project, to give them the opportunity to review their works and perhaps reset them in book form, possibly incorporating visual art as well.

“What happens oftentimes,” she said, “is that a theme gets revisited in some form or another and recycled on down the line ... and that’s what I think makes artists’ work so rich. They take the time to look at all the different facets that a theme might present,” Fitzgerald said. Having the students reexamine their work after the project’s premier will allow the students to “experience this process that professional artists regularly go through.”

“Eye on the Sparrow” will debut sometime in late 2003, early 2004.

Fitzgerald’s work has been widely exhibited in the United States. In addition to two grants from the Queens Community Arts Fund, she has also received funds from the Greenwall Foundation and the Women’s Studio Workshop. Her work is in the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Union Gas collection, the Rienhart Collection of Germany, the Museum of New Art in Detroit, and many other public and private collections. Since Sept. 11, as project director for a new initiative, ArtistCares, she has overseen the development of the project in NYC.

Karen Fitzgerald’s work can be seen at guest/fitzgerald/fitzgerald.html,,, and She can be reached at or 718-274-9755.

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