Ford Foundation awards 25 fellowships to US artists driving social change

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The Ford Foundation today announced 25 new Art of Change fellowships that will support visionary artists and cultural leaders in creating powerful works of art that help advance freedom, justice, and inclusion, and strengthen our democracy.

See the list of fellows below, and click to read their full bios.

Artists and cultural leaders have been at the forefront of social change throughout US history. Today, in the face of growing intolerance and widening inequality, the arts have the power to transform how people see and understand each other, and the world around them.

The artists and cultural leaders selected for Art of Change fellowships all have a demonstrated commitment to social justice, and reflect a powerful diversity of experiences and creative voices. Drawn from a wide range of artistic fields, the fellows span generations, backgrounds, geographies, and life experiences—and together tell a rich and varied American story.

Art is essential in a free and flourishing society. Artists are the visionaries who can shine light on complexity and possibility, and inspire us to make those societies more just and more beautiful,” said Elizabeth Alexander, the Ford Foundation’s director of Creativity and Free Expression. “This fellowship recognizes an extraordinarily diverse group of brilliant artists and innovators whose works embody social justice, and enables them to come together and collaborate toward a more just and inclusive future.”

The yearlong fellowship comes with unrestricted stipends of $50,000 for individuals, and $75,000 for collaborative teams. Fellows will create work exploring questions of freedom and justice, which they will showcase in late 2018.

“The Ford Foundation is honored to support these powerful working artists and creative innovators,” said Hilary Pennington, vice president of Education, Creativity, and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. “We know the work they create through this fellowship will touch millions of lives for generations to come.”

Art of Change builds on the Ford Foundation’s decades-long commitment to advancing the arts and creative expression. Today, the foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression program explores how culture affects and shapes our world, and how the arts, journalism, and film can contribute to fairer and more just societies.

The recipients of the 25 fellowships are listed below. Read their full bios.

Luis Alfaro is an associate professor at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts, who grew up just blocks from USC in the Pico-Union district of downtown Los Angeles. He is a Chicano writer and performer known for his work in poetry, theater, short stories, performance, and journalism.

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia, and came to the United States in 1974. He is considered one of the greatest dancers of our time, and is also a dramatic actor on stage, cinema, and television. He is founder and artistic director of Baryshnikov Arts Center, a space in New York City for presenting and supporting multidisciplinary artists.

Camille A. Brown is a prolific choreographer who has received multiple accolades and awards for her daring works. Originally from Queens, New York, she is a graduate of the LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

P. Carl is the director and co-founder of HowlRound, a free and open platform for theater-makers worldwide that amplifies progressive ideas about the art form and facilitates connection between diverse practitioners. He is also the co-artistic director of ArtsEmerson at Emerson College.

Ping Chong is a theater director, choreographer, and video installation artist. Born in Toronto and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, he is a seminal figure in the Asian American arts movement and a pioneer in the use of media in theater.

Sandra Cisneros is a poet, short story writer, novelist, and essayist, whose work explores the lives of the working-class. Her numerous awards include NEA fellowships in both poetry and fiction, the Texas Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur Fellowship, several honorary doctorates and book awards nationally and internationally. Cisneros has fostered the careers of many emerging writers through two non-profit organizations she founded: the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation.

Edwidge Danticat is a writer whose moving and insightful works across many genres enrich our understanding of the complexities of Diaspora and the immigrant experience. Her novels, memoirs, essays, short stories, children’s and young adult books evoke the intricate layers of community, family, migration, isolation, and belonging.

Michelle Dorrance is a New York City-based tap dancer, choreographer, director, teacher, performer, and the founder and artistic director of Dorrance Dance. Mentored by Gene Medler, she grew up performing with his North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble.

Gustavo Dudamel is an internationally renowned symphonic and operatic conductor, motivated by a profound belief in music's power to unite and inspire. He serves as music director of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and Music & Artistic Director, Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Ava DuVernay is a writer, producer, director, and distributor of independent film. Winner of four Emmys, the Peabody Award and the BAFTA for Best Documentary, her Academy Award-nominated "13TH" was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2016. 

Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers of his generation. His large-scale symphonies, operas, and oratorios all engage major geopolitical and philosophical themes with persuasive craft and a marked seriousness of purpose.

Nikky Finney is an acclaimed poet who, as a teacher and citizen, advocates for justice and equity from her home base in Columbia, South Carolina. She holds the John H. Bennett, Jr. chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina.

Joy Harjo has published eight books of poetry. Her most recent collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, was short-listed for the Griffin International Prize and named the American Library Association’s Notable Book of the Year. Performing on saxophone and flute, Harjo has toured nationally and internationally.

Samuel Hoi is president of Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. He is an innovative higher education leader dedicated to expanding the platform for and impact of art and design education, as well as promoting equitable pathways to education and opportunity.

Robin Coste Lewis is the Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans. She is the author of Voyage of the Sable Venus (2015), the winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies.

Deborah Luster is a visual artist engaged in an ongoing exploration of violence and its consequences. She is best known for her long-term documentary/archive series. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Galway, Ireland. 

Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran are highly acclaimed musicians who have created work for the Venice Biennale, Whitney Biennial, Walker Art Center and other cultural institutions. Alicia is a mezzo-soprano and multidimensional artist, and has been commissioned to create new work by ArtPublic/Miami Art Basel, Museum of Modern Art, and The Kitchen among others. Jason is a pianist, composer and educator who has produced 11 albums and six film soundtracks, and serves as Artistic Director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Dominique Morisseau is the author of The Detroit Project, a three-play cycle that includes Skeleton Crew (Atlantic Theater Company/Scott Rudin), Paradise Blue (Williamstown Theatre Festival), and Detroit ’67 (Public Theater, Classical Theatre of Harlem, and The National Black Theatre).

Mira Nair was born and raised in Rourkela, India, and went on to study at Delhi and Harvard Universities. She began as an actress before segueing into documentary filmmaking. Her narrative feature debut, Salaam Bombay!, won the Caméra d’Or and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Las Nietas de Nonó are sisters Lydela and Michel. They live in Barrio San Antón, a half-rural, half-industrial working class neighborhood of Carolina, Puerto Rico. Their autobiographical work is framed within the socioeconomic and geographical context of the exclusion and eviction of black communities in Puerto Rico.

Postcommodity is an interdisciplinary arts collective made up of Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist. Postcommodity’s art functions as a shared Indigenous lens and voice to engage the assaultive manifestations of the global market and its supporting institutions, public perceptions, beliefs, and individual actions.

Lori Pourier grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. She heads First Peoples Fund, a 17-year-old national Native nonprofit that works with culture bearers and artists in Indigenous communities.

Esperanza Spalding is a bassist, singer, and multilingual songwriter. With seven collaborative and five solo albums thus far in her career, at 31 she is known for her unique blend of jazz, rock, funk, soul, and R&B, along with influences from Brazilian music.

Carlton Turner works nationally as a performing artist, organizer, policy shaper, lecturer, consultant, and facilitator. He is the executive director of Alternate ROOTS, a regional arts service organization based in the South, supporting artists working at the intersection of art and social justice.

Fred Wilson was born in the Bronx, New York, and received a BFA from Purchase College, State University of New York. Since his landmark exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society, Mining the Museum (1992), he has been challenging assumptions about history, culture and race through unconventional approaches to display of art and artifacts found in museum collections—including wall labels, sound, lighting, and nontraditional pairings of objects.

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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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