I loved being part of the process of helping develop a play with a playwright. And one day I suddenly thought, I’m really giving a lot of energy to help develop someone else’s artistic vision – you know, as an actor – but do I have an artistic vision? I stayed here because I was determined to have a career, an artistic career, here. At the time I made that choice, a lot of people told me that that wasn’t going to happen, that it wasn’t possible to do, because you had to go to New York, you had to go to L.A. Massachusetts saw a future for me in the Commonwealth. The biggest thing that the grant did for me over the course of this year is given me time. Time to be here in my studio painting, but also just looking. To be thinking about the work that I’m making and how it is in the world. Engineers from MIT were in there working on computers while I was working on my painting. We had a lot of great conversations. They’d be like, what you are doing? (Laughs) One day, they had a poet in schools, come to visit, who was Martin Espada. They decided to have at the end of the day a voluntary workshop. And at the end of it, he pulled me aside and said, “You seem as if you actually, really write poems.” And I was telling him I do, just as a hobby. He’s the one who said, “You know, there are grants here.” It was amazing to me. Because it was $10,000. It was more money than I’d ever had at one time. But also, it was the first time I’d ever tried anything like that. That sort of changed everything. I’ve always been drawn to very slow, time-consuming art-making techniques, and I encountered an antique piece of quilling when I was out junking one day. Through a series of weird connections, people who, online, pay attention to this paper technique that I use, the work went viral, and I got a lot of really nice attention and just, a lot of doors opened for me, one of which was a gallery I had been interested in for 10 years. And he’s sold my first body of work. The fellowship was great because I had been in the middle of the biggest, most ambitious piece I had made, to date. It took about 6 months to make it. So that was 6 months where the money I had made from my previous body of work was dwindling. And so there’s this nice infusion. Like, Oh! This long, slow piece – the gods are smiling on it. One of just three Cambodian master potters to survive the brutal Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s, Yary Livan is the only keeper of this tradition known to be living in the United States today. I’m plant the art tree on the land of Lowell. Right now, the tree will grow up and the roots, a lot of roots. Be hard to move out. The roots grow longer and longer and the root communicates to the people. Yary’s mastery has twice been recognized by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. First, with a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant in 2010, and then a prestigious Artist Fellowship in the Traditional Arts in 2012. The latter enabled him to rent space at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell and helped him realize a decades-long dream of building a wood-burning kiln. In 2015, Yary received a National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Despite this achievement, Yary’s humility and devotion to the Cambodian tradition continues.