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Ray Two Hawks Watson receives 2016 Innovation Fellowship
By Chris Barnett / April 13, 2016 /   Loading Disqus...

Raymond Two Hawks Watson is the recipient of the Rhode Island Foundation's 2016 Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship.

The Providence resident will receive $300,000 over three years to launch an initiative designed to expand multi-cultural tourism and improve cultural cohesion. The Fellowship is made possible through the vision and generosity of philanthropists Letitia and John Carter.

“Letitia and I admire all of the applicants for their talent, creativity and optimism about the potential of our state. We look forward to watching the constructive change that comes as a result of this year’s fellowship,” said John Carter.

Now in its fifth year, the program is intended to stimulate solutions by Rhode Islanders to Rhode Island challenges. Watson’s proposal was chosen from a pool of more than 200 applicants.

“Ray has an impressive strategy for creating change and addressing the challenges our state faces by focusing on our greatest natural resource – our people,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO. “We applaud Letitia and John Carter for their investment in Rhode Island’s potential.”

Watson will capitalize on Rhode Island’s cultural heritage, history and diversity to drive economic development and improve cultural equity and social cohesion through his Providence Cultural Equity Initiative.

“It is an untapped resource for drawing more and more diverse tourism to Rhode Island, which combined with Providence's world-class artistic reputation and standing, will serve as an economic stimulant for the state's economy,” said Watson, who grew up in the Fox Point and Mount Hope neighborhoods of Providence.

Watson maintains that African-American, American Aborigine, Asian, Latino, Native-American and other racial, ethnic and national traditional and contemporary cultures have tremendous societal and tourism potential because they are often overlooked.

“The goal is to cohesively and sustainably solidify greater Providence as the cultural heritage capitol of the Northeast,” said Watson.

To support his vision, Watson cites data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Cultural tourism accounts for 78 percent of U.S. travelers—some 118 million tourists—who include arts and heritage in their trips each year. They stay longer and spend 36 percent more money than other kinds of travelers do, contributing more than $192 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

In addition to Watson, five finalists were named in recognition of the merit and potential of their proposals.

• Matthew Ferraro of East Providence proposed creating the Rhode Island Musicians and Artists Creativity Center, a recording studio and computer lab that would offer free services to musicians, filmmakers, composers, and designers.

• Melissa Jenkins of Cranston suggested creating an educational program to increase the number of health care professionals who could be licensed to prescribe medications for behavioral health disorders.

• Dorothy Jungels of Providence proposed a program that brought police and youth together to develop scenario-based role-plays to be used both in the police training academy and in schools to teach emotional intelligence and provide tools that deescalate conflicts that arise between these two groups.

• Scott Kiekbusch of Warwick proposed Project Codebase, which would train women from low-income communities in computer programing.

• Paul Waxman of Wickford suggested creating an advertising and design agency staffed totally by a wide mix of college interns that would help small businesses and start-ups grow by providing practical low-cost, low-risk marketing services.

The six-member selection panel looked for proposals that represented pioneering work, exceptional leadership, bold vision, risk-taking, potential to scale up and statewide impact.

Chaired by Steinberg, the panelists were Victor Capellan, Central Falls superintendent of schools; Patricia Flanagan, professor of pediatrics at Brown University and chief of clinical affairs at Hasbro Children’s Hospital; Theresa Moore, president of T-Time Productions; Aidan Petrie, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Ximedica; and Dan Shedd, president of Taylor Box Co.

The first round of Innovation Fellowships was awarded in 2012. Previous rounds generated more than 1,300 applications. 

Last year’s recipients were John Haley, who is working on stimulating the state’s shellfish industry by creating a more reliable method of seeding mussel cultivation platforms; and the husband and wife team of Daniel Kamil and Emily Steffian, who will launch the Providence Cinematheque, a film and media center that will focus on movie exhibition, film festivals and education in media literacy as well as be an incubator for film and media based artists and businesses.

Other recent recipients include Amy Bernhardt, who launched Colorfast, a state-of-the-art research and manufacturing pilot facility for the design and production of digitally printed textiles; and Adrienne Gagnon, whose “Innovation by Design” project is helping foster the next generation of Rhode Island innovators by bringing design thinking into classrooms across the state.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2015, the Foundation awarded $41.5 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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