Doctoral student Zach Layton has received one of the most prestigious awards in the contemporary arts—a 2015 Grant to Artists from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in recognition of his groundbreaking work and potential.
The award carries extraordinary weight, in part, because recipients are nominated and chosen by distinguished fellow artists, via a confidential selection process. Applications are not accepted. As a result, in addition to receiving financial support, honorees typically benefit from a boost in confidence at a pivotal point in their careers. There are no restrictions on how the grant funds may be used.
A composer, performer, visual artist, curator, and educator, Layton is one of 14 recipients chosen this year. Previous notable honorees include visual artist Julie Mehretu in 2000, composer John Luther Adams in 1993, writer Susan Sontag in 1986, composer Philip Glass in 1970 and 1974, and composer Pauline Oliveros, Rensselaer Distinguished Research Professor of Music, in 1990.
“When you look at the list of past recipients, it’s humbling and inspiring to be in such company,” Layton said. “Being an artist can be very difficult, and an award like this can make an enormous difference in your financial and emotional well-being and your faith in yourself.
“I am stunned and honored,” he added, “and I am grateful.”
Layton also has performed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and has served as curator for ISSUE Project Room, an internationally renowned Brooklyn-based performance venue. It was there that he met Michael Century, professor of new media and music, and Curtis Bahn, associate professor of music composition/interactive performance—both of whom influenced Layton’s decision to pursue a Ph.D. at Rensselaer. His dissertation focuses on historical and theoretical representations of sound.
Layton traces his interest in contemporary and experimental music to his teenage years. He grew up just outside New York City and took advantage of every opportunity to see avant-garde groups such as Naked City and The Lounge Lizards. After earning a bachelor’s degree in composition at Oberlin College, he returned to New York and became a fixture in the Brooklyn arts scene.
Layton is the founder and artistic director of Darmstadt: Classics of the Avant-Garde, a new-music/media series held annually in Brooklyn. He has taught at New York University and has been a guest lecturer at Brooklyn College, Parsons School of Design, and the Columbia University Sound Arts Program. Layton also has performed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and has served as curator for ISSUE Project Room, an internationally renowned Brooklyn-based performance venue. It was there that he met Michael Century, professor of new media and music, and Curtis Bahn, associate professor of music composition/interactive performance—both of whom influenced Layton’s decision to pursue a Ph.D. at Rensselaer. His dissertation focuses on historical and theoretical representations of sound.
“Our program is particularly suited to interdisciplinary artists like Zach,” said Century, who is Layton’s dissertation adviser. “He is taking advantage of all that we have to offer—the breadth of the faculty, the CCC (Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture), and EMPAC (Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center), and all the resources that are unique to Rensselaer.”
Layton expects to complete his Ph.D. in 2017. He also has master’s degrees in interactive telecommunications from New York University and in fine arts from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.
The Foundation for Contemporary Arts was founded in 1963 by artists—including Jasper Johns and John Cage—to benefit artists. Since then, the foundation has awarded more than 2,300 grants totaling over $11 million. More than 900 artists have donated work to raise funds for those grants.