Six Chicago-area artists awarded $50,000 grants

The six artists were honored with the prestigious United States Artists (USA) Fellowship for their “artistic vision and commitment to community.”

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T. Ayo Alston is among the six Chicagoans receiving a $50,000 grant as part of a United States Artists Fellowship.

T. Ayo Alston is among the six Chicagoans receiving a $50,000 grant as part of a United States Artists Fellowship.

Sundjata Imhepi

Six Chicago-area creatives have each been awarded a $50,000 grant by the Chicago-based arts funding organization United States Artists (USA), it was announced Wednesday.

Each winner can use the unrestricted award as they choose, whether to pay rent or kickstart a new project.

The Chicago-based winners are dancer and musician T. Ayo Alston; artist and burlesque performer Jenn Freeman “Po’Chop”; artist Nicole Marroquin; painter Andrea Carlson; and documentarian Assia Boundaoui. Awardee Andy Slater, a media artist, is based in Berwyn.

Assia Boundaoui has been awarded a $50,000 grant by Chicago-based arts funding organization United States Artists.

Assia Boundaoui has been awarded a $50,000 grant by Chicago-based arts funding organization United States Artists.

Image by Rog Walker, Paper Monday; courtesy of Color of Change.

In all, 63 grants were awarded, with works spanning ten art forms and awardees residing in 23 states and Puerto Rico, making this the largest cohort in USA fellows history.

“The 2022 USA fellows were selected for their remarkable artistic vision, their commitment to community — both in their specific communities and their discipline at large — and the potential to influence future generations,” Lynnette Miranda, program director of USA said in a statement.

A panel of experts selected the awardees from a pool of over 500 applicants through a three-month-long selection process.

“I am so, so very grateful for this fellowship and for this award, and it’s especially meaningful that this is a Chicago-based organization,” Assia Boundaoui said.

Boundaoui is an Algiers-born and Chicago-raised filmmaker and journalist. She got her start as an intern at WBEZ-91.5 FM.

Boundaoui uses her work to uplift “erased histories” within Chicago. She directed “The Feeling of Being Watched,” an investigative documentary about a decade of FBI surveillance in Bridgeview. She also used FBI documents from the documentary to create a multimedia art project sequel called the “Inverse Surveillance Project.”

“All of my creative work has been here in Chicago, and I find, even though I’ve lived abroad and traveled and lived in other cities, that there’s always a moment where I need to come back home to be in production,” Boundaoui said.

Since its inception in 2006, USA, a national arts funding organization headquartered in Chicago, has awarded more than 750 artists with more than $36 million of direct support.

Awardee T. Ayo Alston uses dance and music as tools to enrich and nurture the next generation of Chicagoans. Alston, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is the founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Ayodele Drum & Dance, which fosters the study and performance of diasporic African drum and dance. When Alston struggled with self-image and mental health as a teen, West African music and dance were “a salvation,” she said.

“[Youth] can utilize West African music and dance as a way to heal and rise above a lot of turmoil that they go through,” she said. “And it did the same thing for me.”

Alston said she’s grateful for the unrestricted grant, which she plans to stash away in savings.

“As an artist, we’re constantly giving,” Alston said. “It’s all about service, all the time. So when we have a minute to just be acknowledged for what we bring to our communities and the people that we touch and the lives that we reach… It’s profound, to have organizations like the USA.”

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