MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Mamaroneck photographer John Rizzo was the recipient of an Arts Alive grant awarded by the New York State Council on the Arts and ArtsWestchester. Rizzo was one of 35 to receive grants, and one of only three solo artists, to receive a share of the $41,000 that was given out to mostly arts organizations and special projects.
Rizzo's proposal, "Mount Vernon's Heartbeat," is a photographic portrait campaign of leaders in Mount Vernon, beginning with New York State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson. The objective is to tell a story about people who are making a difference in the community. He doesn't have a final list of who else will be photographed yet, but he knows he wants to shed light on inspiring individuals such as Hassell-Thompson as well as those who might be less well-known but are making a meaningful impact.
“These are the people who are doing the real hard work in the community, and they don’t get profiled," Rizzo said. "I think it's fascinating to learn about them because these are not silver spoon people; these are people who came up the hard way."
The desire to focus on Mount Vernon stemmed from Rizzo's feeling that there is rarely positive press about the area.
“It was a prospering suburb of New York City and there are many beautiful homes there, but it’s fallen on hard times," he said. "In my opinion Mount Vernon is pretty much the underdog, or under served, in terms of the position that Westchester County has in the country as one of the most prosperous counties.”
Rizzo has a diverse photography background, having started his career as a photojournalist more than 30 years ago working for Newsweek, The New York Times, Bloomberg, and others, and also doing commercial work, some of which has been overseas. He has covered the Maasai tribes of northern Tanzania, and he is leaving shortly to shoot Buddhist monks in Cambodia. He'll begin "Mount Vernon's Heartbeat" when he returns.
"The plan is to use portraits to tell this story," he said, mentioning his admiration of the late Yousuf Karsh, who shot the most famous portrait of Winston Churchill for the cover of Life magazine. "Along with photos, there will be short profiles about the people, their work, why they do it, what the possible future impact is on future generations."
Rizzo said he wants to get local youth aware of the show, which will be a traveling exhibition in Westchester. He hopes to give a presentation to highlight how he got his images so that the exhibit has an educational element to it.
New York State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins was at the awards breakfast where the grants were presented.
“The partnership between New York State Council on the Arts and local arts councils such as ArtsWestchester, ensures that the arts are at the heart of community life,” she said in a news release. “This is how young people become engaged, where careers begin, and where talents emerge and grow.”