As an interdisciplinary artist, Carla Brown often uses printmaking and photography to explore themes of gender, race and family in her artwork.
That personal exploration grew to encompass her family and make a documentary about her grandparents' experience traveling across the country in the 1960s and '70s.
Last week, the Catonsville resident learned she had been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance that she will use to continue her filming
Brown plans to travel to all 48 states her grandparents visited as well as Alaska and Hawaii, the two states they never saw.
"Everyone But Two: The Life, Love and Travel of Benjamin and Frances Graham" will document the experience of following an itinerary prepared by her grandparents. The film will include film her grandparents captured during their travels, interviews with family members and video of her trip.
Brown, 37, was one of 13 to receive an award from 200 applicants. The 2014 Rubys Artist Project grants were given by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA) to, "support artists that reflect a diversity of talent and creativity for projects including immersive theater, interactive media experiences, documentary film and musical composition," said a statement released by the organization.
"These artists reflect the depth of talent in the Baltimore region's creative community. GBCA is thrilled to launch the first Rubys grants with such extraordinary projects," said Jeannie Howe, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.
Brown said she was "completely beside" herself when she discovered she was a recipient of a 2014 Rubys Artist Project grant.
"I was very excited. It was hard not to tell everyone right away," said Brown, who received the news April 22.
Brown earned a master of fine arts degree from University of Maryland in 2001 and a bachelor's degree in art from the school in 1998. She currently works as an office manager for the exhibitions department at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
It was in College Park that she began visually questioning racial and gender stereotypes, she said.
As a student she began asking, "what does it mean to be black in America and what does it mean to be a woman?"
"It was always about who I was and what my role was in this world," Brown said of her art, which has always been personal.
Her grandparents, Benjamin Graham, a postal worker, and Frances Graham, a teacher, began their travels across the U.S. by trailer in 1965. Their journeys began the year that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress.
The law, which established federal oversight to prevent discrimination in registering voters and voting, raised racial tensions across the country. Riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, for example, resulted in the deaths of 34 people while 4,000 were jailed.
Her grandparents traveled on weekends and during summer breaks, unaware of what was going on in the country. They did so for 35 years, in three different trailers, covering 94,219 miles and spending $32,000 in 48 states.
"To me, they're interesting and smart people, and I just couldn't believe they didn't know what was happening," Brown said. "It's brought up a lot of questions with my family."
Her grandfather kept a log of the trip, tracking routes driven and expenses.
"Talking with them, I've realized things that I never knew about them. Like their attitude about life and traveling," Brown said.
Brown said she hopes the documentary will allow her grandparents to relive their memories of traveling.
"My grandmother has been homebound for years now. Knowing all that she's experienced in life, it's comforting," Brown said. "I hope this project will allow her to relive those years."
Brown said she hopes her film will inspire others to want to get out and see the world.
"There's no point of having this life that we have if you're not going to use it to the fullest extent," Brown said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun