How One CDAF-Funded Project is STEAM-ing Ahead


Cuban American artist, educator, Arts Envoy exchange alumna, and 2020 Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund (CDAF) winner Agnes Chaves is empowering young people to live more consciously. With her love for projection art, Agnes has combined technology with artistic expression to tackle environmental challenges and to inspire citizens to play their part in achieving a more sustainable world.

Until 2009, Agnes had been a successful studio artist and metal sculptor. When she first saw an example of large-scale mapping projected onto a building, though, she had a creative epiphany. Around this time, Agnes saw that projectors and mapping software were becoming more accessible and affordable, and she decided to team up with programmers Jared Tarbell and Alessandro Saccoia to explore the overlap between mapping technology and data visualization art. 

With their help, Agnes created her first data visualization projection entitled (x)trees – a stunning interactive forest of light and words that works by generating branches of trees in real time from SMS and tweets sent from a live audience. The project was designed to raise awareness of deforestation and the need to find a balance between nature and technology.

In 2018, Agnes won a grant for (x)trees to be part of an Arts Envoy project in Guadalajara, Mexico. This experience equipped her with the skills and network she needed to jump into education. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Agnes turned to the genre of immersive and interactive art as a way to help develop scientific literacy among young people. 

This led to the CDAF-funded project called Space Messengers, which is a traveling international virtual exchange workshop culminating with an immersive and educational sci-art projection installation. The project shows student's 'space messages' and silhouettes communicating the science they learned, and it aims to show work toward a sustainable interplanetary future.  

Agnes’ goal with the project is to educate and empower youth to become more informed, compassionate, and environmentally aware citizens. The culminating Space Messengers project will launch for the first time at the Festival Internacional de Ciência in Oeiras, Portugal, from October 15-17, 2021 and then will travel to Guadalajara, Mexico and New Mexico in 2022.

Agnes credits much of her success to becoming part of the exchange alumni network – as she says her experience working with like-minded people has helped her greatly.

“My participation in the International Exchange Alumni program is what made possible the BioSTEAM International and Space Messengers project,” Agnes says. And she admits she also is a student, in the ways she has benefited from the project.

“The people and partnerships that have been established through this network have expanded my reach, increased my capacity, and inspired creative ways to tackle humanitarian and ecological challenges.”

Agnes hopes that by continuing to work with and challenge students to push themselves creatively and intellectually, she can connect and bring hope to citizens in her home state of New Mexico and around the world. 

“The experience that has most influenced the way I work has been collaborating with US Embassies around the world. They have made me realize how we can attain shared goals through interdisciplinary and art-based projects that empower our communities.”