Fund For the Arts-Fuel For Three Artists

by Jeanne Belovitch

South End artists Dennis Didley, Bruce Wells and Joseph Wheelwright are among the 18 artists and 16 arts organizations to share $60,000 in grants from WBZ-TV's Fund For The Arts.

After a preliminary screening by a Massachusetts Reviewing Panel, an out-of-state jury of nationally-known artists selected 16 projects for funding. Grants ranging from $2,000-$5,000 were awarded to those who had taken the initiative to pair themselves with a non-profit organization in an effort to create artistic works for the public's enjoyment.

What do the South End artists have planned for us?

Dennis Didley, in conjunction with United South End Settlements(USES), will create a sculpted form of a male and female antelope that will be cemented outside the Harriet Tubman House at 566 Columbus Avenue.

"They (the antelopes) are symbolic," according to Didley, "because during harvest in certain African countries, they symbolize the fruits of the seeds that have been planted and that of the male and female." He was awarded $2,500 to accomplish his work.

Didley feels that the Harriet Tubman House, a division of USES, epitomizes the unity and equality of men and women.

"The Harriet Tubman House is obviously female by name," he explained. "But it's through the workings of males and females that the house exists the way it does. It's a very tight union between men and women. You feel a balance. In a lot of organizations, the male thing is top-heavy, with not that serious of input from women. I always felt a strong female presence with this building."

In his work, Didley said, he focuses "on developing a legitimate synthesis between certain traditional African sculpted forms and forms that I have developed out of my own African-American experience."

Three of Didley's public pieces are in Cambridge. A volunteer at the Harriet Tubman House for the past six years, Didley presently is volunteer co-director of the gallery there.

Bruce Wells, a classical dancer and choreographer, received $2,000 with the Boston Lyric Opera to choreograph Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice.

Wells is the resident choreographer at the Boston Ballet and was its principal dancer for two yhears before taking on his present position. "of the Boston Lyric Opera applied for the grant," Wells said, "and he asked to put my name in."

Wells is also director of "Summer Dance," an ensemble performing on the Esplanade through September 3.

At age 33, Wells has achieved considerable experience and recognition in the world of classical dance. Appriciative of his work with the Boston Bllet in China, the Australian Ballet asked him to choreograph Bartok's score for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" there.

Originally from Takoma, Washington, Wells has been in the South End since 1979, when he first moved to Boston. "I fell in love with Boston and the Boston Ballet," he said. "When I walked into the studio, I knew I belonged there."

The Society of Arts and crafts, along with Joseph Wheelwright and two other artists, received a grant of $4,500. They are working on a show for the visually impaired with a special emphasis on sculptures blind people can touch.

Wheelwright is a wood carver who now sculpts human forms using bones, stones and shells. His interest in bones as a material is a logical throwback to the days when he was a pre-med major Yale University before "going with the flow," as he puts it, and pursuing a career in art.

Much of his work is shown in New York, predominantly at the Allan Stone Gallery. His work has been exhibitedin Boston at the Thomas Segal Gallery.

The idea for creating a program for the blind evolved a visit Wheelwrightmade to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

"I had given a talk at the art museum a couple of years ago to blind people," he explained. "Their sense of touch is so highly utilized that in a way, they are sculptors. The tiniest nuances are in their fingers."

Wheelwright said that he and the other artists will develop sculptures that aren't fragile and can be touched. "It's a show for people who just can't keep their hands off, blind or not. It's for people who love to touch."

Wheelwright, who is affiliated with the Boston Center for the Artis(BCA), said the South End is "tucked in magically" to Boston. "It's for real, it's a very mixed community---all kinds of styles and modes of existence. It's a hot-bed for artists. There's plenty of stimulation. The BCA is a wonderful organization. I've never seen anything like it."


Source: South End News, Boston, MA; 1984