Katayoun Bahrami, Resilience of Poppies, 2023–24. Courtesy of the artist.

Propelling bold ideas forward

CCA students like Katayoun Bahrami grow their visionary projects into murals, installations, and more with the Center for Art and Public Life’s (CAPL) annual Impact Award.

A crowd gathers listening to a speaker in a mural-filled alley

Bahrami's mural The Resilience of Poppies debuts in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District. Courtesy of the artist.

In 2023, CCA Visual and Critical Studies student Katayoun Bahrami received the Impact Award from the Center for Art and Public Life (CAPL) for her project Resilience of Poppies. Bahrami, who was born in Iran, created the project in response to the violent suppression of widespread protests in her home country, which began in September 2022 after Mahsa Amini, who had allegedly violated the mandatory hijab law, died in police custody.

Activists and the media reported that protesters’ eyes were deliberately blinded by security forces. In Resilience of Poppies, Bahrami explores how people have overcome such tragedies by crocheting poppies and distributing them as tools to reflect the power of collective solidarity.

“I made this crochet flower that could represent their eyes,” says Bahrami, “This flower is really popular throughout the world as a symbol of freedom. And in my country it’s also a symbol of bravery and courage, as well as people fighting for their freedom.”

The Impact Award gives students an opportunity to receive funding and mentorship which can grow their project beyond the college. Past recipients have included the Rubber Impact Awareness & Action project as well as Buoyant Ecologies, which was an initiative to combine architectural design, marine ecology, and digital fabrication to develop resilient waterfront structures, enhance biodiversity, and mitigate coastal erosion.

“Students have a lot of great ideas but don't always know how or lack resources to grow them," says Tracy Tanner, assistant director of the Center for Art and Public Life. “The Impact Award helps bridge this gap.”

Bahrami expanded her project with the support from the Impact Award into a new mural in collaboration with Clarion Alley and Manifest Differently project, a video work for a group show at Minnesota Street Project, and a screenprinting project with Artivate at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She says, “I was so honored because with the grant I was able to carry this project across different platforms and projects.”

She adds, “For any student who has a big idea, the Impact Award is amazing because the $10,000 grant goes a long way to support your vision to make a difference in society, in your community, or in this city.”

Bahrami’s mural in Clarion Alley is particularly impactful given its location among other murals and a popular hub for people visiting San Francisco’s Mission District from across the city and beyond. “It sparks people to pass by, ask what is happening, and search more about the story of the people of Iran,” she says.

Self-portrait of Katayoun Bahrami holding a crocheted red poppie

Bahrami's project began by crocheting poppies to represent those protesters who were deliberately blinded by Iranian security forces. Courtesy of the artist.

Bahrami has long been called to make a difference. She previously earned an MFA in Fine Arts from CCA and maintains a practice largely using textiles. Now pursuing her MA in Visual and Critical Studies at CCA, she’s continuing to shine a light on issues of gender equality.

“My practice has been about women and their bodies, which resonates for me particularly as a woman who was born and raised in Iran,” she says. “Here in the United States I have a chance to talk freely about the issues around women’s bodily autonomy, not only from my country of origin but also here in the U.S. under increasing abortion bans.”

She also continues to be involved with and support the Center for Art and Public Life (CAPL) and its community-driven and collaborative art and design projects that are at the heart of CAPL, as one of its fellows.

“It's a space that gives the students the freedom to bring their ideas to life,” she says of CAPL. “Anyone who has something visionary that they are thinking about, they can bring to the table. And Tracy [Tanner], as someone who runs CAPL, listens to all the students, helps them, and encourages them to make their ideas a reality.”

As the Center for Art and Public Life looks to further build community in San Francisco and create meaningful impact, programs like its Impact Award are just one example of how it connects students who want to make a difference with places, resources, and mentors who can nurture and grow their aspirational visions.

Tanner asks of CAPL and the CCA community at large: “How can we spread positivity in care and compassion alongside empathy throughout our community while being informed, educated, and understanding about the complexities that affect our city and our community?”

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2024 Impact Award. Keep an eye out as these teams use this opportunity to make a bold impact.