The Dominican Pillars of Service, Community...and Art?

Published on

Chelsea Nix was named the 2018 Public Vote Winner.

AQ alumna Chelsea Nix states that Aquinas College imparted a lifestyle to her. A lifestyle shaped by the art department and service learning while she was a student here. Is that why community and service, two of the Dominican pillars, ground her photography? Her 2018 ArtPrize entry The String Project, along with her husband Mariano Cortez, explores the idea that “we are all connected.” All the photographs in this series show people from all over the world holding the same string. From a distance, it looks as though they are physically connected (see the three examples of photographs from this series). Is it the idea behind these forty photographs that brings people together and makes them cry? Are the underlying values of community and service the reason why The String Project was nominated for a 2D juried prize, and was in the top 20 public vote this year?

A keen eye and sense of composition, developed while running a wedding photography business half of the year, also have something to do with their success. Yet, their wedding business did not fulfill this couple’s broader goals. In January of 2014, Nix and Cortez developed “Project Simple” as their longstanding contribution to relief work. Based in Guatemala, this low budget project has a big impact. They feed thirty people five meals a week and have more people on a waitlist. They focus on elderly, homeless women and abandoned children. Their goals reach beyond sustenance, and the project has made it easy for women to create a "family" and feel a sense of community (which was their intention from the start). Eventually, they hope to spread this model to other continents with the help of other NGOs.

Why Guatemala? After doing relief work all over the world, including volunteering during the recent earthquake in Nepal, they continued to visit and help a woman they met named María Theresa. This thirty-six year old mother of five shares a value system with Nix and Cortez. Over the past five years, they have developed a long-term relationship with her; she shares the same vision as “Project Simple” and serves as their on-site project manager and visionary (pictured). Nix and Cortez are passionate about growing this charity going forward. Both The String Project and “Project Simple” bring the values of community and service into the broader world. It seems that Aquinas instilled the Dominican pillars of community and service in this young artist and her husband. Beyond these, however, their work provokes thought about making art in the world, and how artistic practice can connect to the four pillars of prayer, study, service, and community.