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We award $25,000 fellowships to three local artists
By Chris Barnett / March 28, 2017 /   Loading Disqus...
The Rhode Island Foundation has selected three local artists from more than 150 applicants for what are considered to be among the largest no-string-attached grants available to artists in the United States.

RaMell Ross, Jordan Seaberry and Sheida Soleimani will receive $25,000 grants from the Foundation through its Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund. The fellowships are designed to enable artists to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions. Since 2005, the Foundation has awarded $900,000 to 36 composers, writers and visual artists.

“Our grants offer the financial support necessary to free these artists to advance their work,” said Daniel Kertzner, the Foundation’s senior philanthropic advisor for funding partnerships, who oversees grantmaking in the arts sector. “They give local artists the rare gift of time and money so they can invest in developing their craft.”

Ross describes himself as a liberated documentarian and works in large-format photography, film and text. His art has looked at his insider-outsider relationship with the historic South while considering it the origin for his social formation. Ross is a Professor of Practice in Brown University's Visual Arts Department who earned his MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design.

The Providence resident will use the fellowship to purchase additional camera equipment and film and underwrite the travel and production costs that will be central to his next two projects.

“I’m interested in actively engaging the precedents of those markedly cast in the American imagination. From the South, I plan to expand my photographic and filmic language of inquiry into class and explore the text-based language determining further difference - both managing constructs of human potential.” explains Ross. “This fellowship will enable my practice to move into the homes of families across the country and provide the space to begin a new linguist journey.”

Seaberry works primarily in paint and mixed media. As director of public policy at the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, his work often focuses on creating spaces for restoration and reconciliation, including The Violences Project, which creates paintings in collaboration with the families of Providence's gun violence victims.

The Providence resident has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting/ Literary Arts Concentration from the Rhode Island School of Design. Seaberry plans to use his fellowship to upgrade his studio space and to expand his artistic vocabulary to include sculpture, mixed media and larger, three-dimensional work.

“This will give me the space to experiment, and find new ways to honor the voices of Providence's marginalized families. Formally, my work can become larger, three-dimensional, remove itself from the wall and create an overall richer dialogue between the material and the content,” Seaberry explained.

“Additionally, this will give me a previously unachievable level of engagement with the artistic community as a whole. I believe these voices, families and stories behind these works yearn for dialogue and engagement, and this Fellowship can be microphone that allows those voices to be truly, meaningfully heard,” he said.

Soleimani is an Iranian-American artist, whose works meld sculpture, collage and photography to create collisions in reference to Iranian politics throughout the past century. The daughter of political refugees who were persecuted by the Iranian government in the early 1980s, Soleimani inserts her own critical perspectives on historical and contemporary socio-political occurrences in Iran.

The Cranston resident is a part-time professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, teaching classes that focus on interdisciplinary practices, with a focus on art and activism. She has a BFA from the University of Cincinnati and an MFA from the Cranbook Academy of Art.

“My most recent works have been extremely expensive to make, from printing source images on paper and fabric, to fabricating and filling the forms of the executed women. This will make buying materials for experimentation possible,” explains Soleimani. “This will aid me in producing exhibitions to show nationally and internationally, while generating conversations with global communities in regards to the issues I am discussing within my works.”

The Foundation worked with the Alliance of Artists Communities on the selection process. The recipients were selected by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are established artists. Applications were reviewed based on the quality of the work, artistic development and creative contribution to the field of visual arts, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance the career of emerging- to mid-career artists.

The panel also named three finalists, who received $3,000 and the opportunity to participate in a residency at Ox-Bow School of Artist and Artists’ Residency: Raina Belleau, a Providence sculptor who received an MFA from RISD in 2015; Providence Photographer Theresa Ganz who received an MFA from San Francisco Art Institute in 2006; and Providence interdisciplinary artist Jazzmen Johnson who received MA from Brown University in Public Humanities.

The selection panel also named semi-finalists for the first time. Providence sculptor Taylor Baldwin who received an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007; Jungil Hong, a Providence textile artist who received an MFA from RISD in 2014; and Alyson Ogasian, a Providence interdisciplinary artist who received an MFA from RISD in 2015; received $1,500 fellowships.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Margaret Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Robert Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a fulltime painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the MacColl Johnson fellowships in music composition, literature and visual arts.

The fund awards three fellowships annually, rotating among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. Guidelines and applications for the 2017 fellowships, which will be awarded to composers, will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2016, the Foundation awarded a record $45 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

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