Nelle Owens Dunlap

Artist Statement: 

I am rooted in community art, both academically and in the field. I have extensive teaching experience in communities diverse in age, race, wealth, and education – in the U.S. and, most recently, in India. Outside of my teaching practice, I have designed youth-focused digital tools and processes which generate opportunities for conversation and socio-political action. As an artist, I use performance and digital technology to explore the formation of identity in a culture that has blurred boundaries between virtual and real.

Digital tools and social media have changed cultural participation by generating new forums for discourse, leading to an influx of user-produced media. However, this content is made and distributed within an elite group of citizens: those with the privilege of new media education and resources. Less represented in this dialogue are racial minorities, persons at both ends of the age spectrum, and those from lower-income and lesser-educated communities. These populations can make an important impact as creators of content, as they disrupt oppressive hierarchies and contribute new information. The experience of being listened to is powerful. As a person moves from consumer to maker, she becomes confident in the worth of her opinion and inspired to instigate new dialogues; her perception of what is possible broadens.


Midwest adventurer Nelle Dunlap crawled out of a cornfield and whizzed through elementary, middle, and high school. Dunlap sunk her teeth into cello performance, theatre production, and graphic design at the University of Iowa, and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2008. In 2011, she hopped a train to Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art to earn her Master of Fine Arts in Community Arts. After recieving her BFA she accepted a six month Digital Media Teaching Fellowship in Andhra Pradesh, India. In addition to practicing freelance design, Dunlap currently teaches in the Art Department at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

Throughout and betwixt her academic experiences, Dunlap has developed an art practice grounded in performance and digital technology. Thematically, her work addresses the constructs of mass media in terms of use and ownership, and the changing modes of communication brought about by new technologies.

Dunlap’s art-making informs her community organizing and vice versa; she has founded and managed multiple artist collectives, studio spaces, and performance venues. In partner to her in-studio digital work, Dunlap facilitates projects that build others’ ability to use media-making tools. This commitment has taken the form of video and web instruction in senior centers, in public schools, and in non-profit community centers; and active involvement in public access and other forms of independent local television.

Dunlap has a penchant for spectacle, a true belief in the power of communal effort, and a commitment to learning and working to make the world a better, fairer place.

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