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8 Illinois artists — including 7 Chicagoans — receive $50,000 grants

Eight Illinois creatives were named to this year’s class of United States Artists Fellows and were awarded a $50,000 grant, the organization announced Wednesday.

Salvador Jimenez-Flores (left) and Maria Gaspar (right) are among the seven Chicagoans receiving a $50,000 grant as part of United States Artists Fellows program.
United States Artists

Eight Illinois creatives — including seven from Chicago — received $50,000 grants this week after being honored with one of the country’s most prestigious art awards.

Cynthia Oliver, a dance professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Sandra Delado, a well-known Chicago playwright and actress; and Eve Ewing, a local writer and scholar, were named to this year’s class of United States Artists Fellows, the organization announced Wednesday.

Sun-Times columnist Natalie Moore | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Sun-Times contributor Natalie Moore
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Other Chicagoans honored in this year’s fellowship program were artist and ceramicist Salvador Jimenez-Flores; filmmaker Jennifer Reed; cellist and composer Tomeka Reid; educator and interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar; and WBEZ reporter and Sun-Times contributor Natalie Moore.

In total, there were 60 artists announced in this year’s class, making up the largest in the organization’s 15-year history. The creatives live all over the U.S. and represent 10 disciplines: architecture and design, craft, dance, film, media, music, theater and performance, traditional arts, visual art and writing.

Winners, who are allowed to use the money however they please, were selected through a yearlong process by panels of artists and experts from their respective disciplines.

Lynnette Miranda, program director at United States Artists, said artists who receive the fellowship money tend to put it back into the communities that they come from, either by investing in education programs, apprenticeships or equipment to share with other artists.

“They’re not just artists that happen to live in Chicago,” Miranda said. “They’re artists who made their careers in Chicago, artists who really have a connection with the Chicago community in ways that [are] really important to those artists’ practices.”

“Funding living artists is critical to the kind of society that we want to live in, one that’s infused with culture, and perspectives from all parts of the country.”

More than 700 artists have received grants, totaling over $33 million, from the USA fellowship program.

Here are quotes from each of the eight artists, as courtesy of USA:

Salvador Jimenez-Flores: “The crafts have been part of many human civilizations as a way to document life, celebrate life, and survive. Craft is ever relevant. It has been part of our past, it is part of our present, and will be part of our future. We are creatures who create for function, for food, for shelter, for beauty, and for self-expression. Craft is a form of resistance and acceptance; it helps us connect as humans.”

Cynthia Oliver: “I connect back to myself by walking every day. I am fortunate to live near a couple of parks. I get out, breathe fresh air, and walk for miles daily. It is my sanity during this time. It also connects me to my late-father with whom I used to walk quite a lot. It clears my head and helps me think spaciously.”

Jennifer Reeder: “My ‘studio’ is the window facing the end of the long farm table in the middle room of the house I share with my three young children, two cats, one cattle dog, and a forty-year-old box tortoise. I think best at home; I write best at home; I map out the path to the next film best at home. This house is loved and lived in. It’s not quaint or quiet here. I practice ‘togetherness’ every day here in this house with my family.”

Tomeka Reid: “Be gentle with yourself. Be flexible. Be forgiving. Be patient. But also allow yourself space to be upset, confused, disenchanted. This moment is both devastating and enlightening. Don’t force yourself or beat up on yourself if you feel you can’t do it at the moment. Listen to your body and take as much care as possible. Love is really all there is.”

Sandra Delado: “Be kind to yourself. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Know that the emotional and energy highs and lows are normal. There are days you will want to create and others when you want to curl up in bed. Both are okay. Both are necessary. Listen to your body. Connect to nature as often as you can. Call someone you’ve been thinking about. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Be kind to yourself”

Maria Gaspar: “As an artist, mother, and teacher, I’ve been thinking about the ways that womyn in my life are constantly creating and how making is embodied in all facets of our lives. The process of art making is not exclusive to the production of art objects. What has been explicit to me during this time is that caring for my elders, drawing with my child, or teaching young artists includes boundless acts of creativity.”

Eve Ewing: “As a writer, I’m sort of always ‘making in place,’ especially because a sense of place plays such a huge role in my work. What’s been special is being home rather than on the road—building routines, walking my dog, and paying more attention to the parks and open lands near where I live, being grateful for those, and having time to be there and be slow.”

Natalie Moore: “One of my virtual backgrounds is Aretha Franklin’s ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who’ album cover for a bit of levity. I know most of us are tired of Zoom—ready to ditch the virtual gatherings and be in person. But these Zoom calls have kept me connected to friends, family, and collaborators while sheltering at home. I’ve been able to test out new material, toast friends’ achievements, and feel some semblance of togetherness.”