2020 Fellowship Award Recipients

Fellowship in Crafts: Melissa Leandro, Chicago

Melissa Leandro (American, b.1989) lives & works in Chicago, IL. She received an MFA in 2017 and a BFA in 2012, both from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Leandro was awarded the Windgate Artist Fellowship (2019), Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship (2017) and LuminArts Fellowship (2017) from the LuminArts Cultural Foundation, Union League of Chicago. She was a BOLT resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition from 2017-18, and was subsequently named one of Chicago's Break Out Artists of the year for 2018. She has had recent solo exhibitions at The University Club of Chicago (Chicago, IL), Union League Club of Chicago (Chicago, IL), Rockford University (Rockford, IL) and the Wright Museum of Art (Beloit, WI). Leandro will have a solo exhibition with ANDREW RAFACZ Gallery (September 2020) and Frieze Art Fair NYC (May 2020). Recent group exhibitions include DePaul Art Museum (Chicago, IL) and The Arts Club of Chicago (Chicago, IL). Her work is included in numerous public and private collections. Residencies: Atlantic Center for the Arts, Florida; Ragdale Foundation, Illinois; BOLT resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition (2017-18), ACRE Residency, Wisconsin; Roger Brown House Residency, Michigan; The Weaving Mill, Chicago; TextielLab, The Netherlands; The Jacquard Center, North Carolina.  www.melissaleandro.com   Instagram @melissaleandro89

Fellowship in Crafts: Janis Mars Wunderlich 

Janis Mars Wunderlich was born in Ohio and moved to Monmouth, Illinois to become a professor of art at Monmouth College.  Her detailed ceramic sculptures capture the dualities and complexities of being human, and are inspired in part by historical ceramic figurines and from growing up with a Cherokee storyteller-painter grandfather. Wunderlich’s sculptures have been included in exhibitions and museum collections throughout the world, including New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum in Taiwan and The American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA. In 2016, she was awarded an artist’s residency and research opportunity in Dresden, Germany, sponsored by the Saxon State and Greater Columbus Arts Council. Regionally, she has exhibited her paintings and sculptures at The Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, The Buchanan Center for the Arts in Monmouth, Quad City International Airport Art Gallery, Galesburg Civic Arts Center, and Cinema Gallery in Champaign-Urbana, IL. Wunderlich was featured in the documentary film, WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS? and has received previous grants from the The Virginia A. Groot Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Buchanan Center For the Arts in Monmouth. www.janismarswunderlich.com


Fellowship in Ethnic and Folk Arts: Tatsu Aoki, Oak Park

Tatsu Aoki is a leading advocate for the Asian American community, a filmmaker, an educator, and a prolific composer and performer of traditional and experimental music forms.  The concept of Legacy is very prominent in all of Aoki’s music and projects. He insists on demonstrating the authenticity of the Japanese Legacy using traditional instruments such as shamisen and taiko.  As Executive Director of Asian Improv aRts Midwest (AIRMW), an Asian American cultural arts presenter organization, Aoki has initiated and/or managed several programs to advance the understanding of traditional arts and community through the arts.  His traditional Japanese drumming group, Tsukasa Taiko, is profiled as one of the most active and successful taiko drumming groups in the Midwest.   He has also restored Chicago’s shamisen lute music culture with Toyoaki Shamisen and performances with Shubukai Classical Dance; and he is a founder of the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival. His accolades are many and diversified; of note, in 2019 he received the Community Service award from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago for his continued leadership and contribution to the community and was recently awarded the 2020 United States Artist Fellowship for his work as a musician, composer, and educator.  toyoakimoto.org 


Fellowship in Ethnic and Folk Arts: Juan Dies, Chicago

Juan Díes is an active musician and co-founder of Sones de México Ensemble, a two-time GRAMMY® nominated performing arts organization established in 1994 to perform, record, teach and promote Mexico’s rich heritage of folk music and dance traditions. Juan Díes holds an M.A. in folklore/ethnomusicology from Indiana University and has devoted his professional life to presenting, researching, advocating, teaching, producing, and performing traditional music and culture.  Juan Díes is an Earlham College Distinguished Alumnus and a United States Artists 2019 Fellow.

Fellowship in Interdisciplinary/Computer- Based Arts: Steven Ciampaglia & Kerry Richardson, Oak Park

The Plug-In Studio is a socially-engaged new media artist collective comprised of Steve Ciampaglia and Kerry Richardson. The Plug-In Studio collaborates with members of Chicago communities to make videogames, interactive kinetic sculpture, augmented reality graffiti, soft circuits and other art with technology. Their work has been shown at Bit Bash, Chicago Art Department, Hyde Park Art Center, ARC Gallery and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries. The Plug-In Studio has partnered with Hyde Park Art Center, the Graffiti Institute and Breakthrough in East Garfield Park and offered free art and technology workshops and programs at ElevArte Community Arts, Yollocalli Arts Reach, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and several Chicago Public Library branches. In their recent work, warGames Tactical Media Collective and The Street Arcade, the Plug-In Studio collaborated with Chicago teens to create original social justice-themed videogames that were featured in public pop-up video arcades designed to spark community dialogue. The Plug-In Studio were named 2015 Fellows by A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art. They were awarded Best in Show in the I Can’t Breathe exhibition at ARC Gallery in Chicago in 2015. http://pluginstudio.net/


Fellowship in Interdisciplinary/Computer- Based Arts: Lional Freeman, Chicago

Lional 'Brother El' Freeman is a spontaneous composer, multidisciplinary creative, and educator who uses music and visual arts to express ideas while connecting people to a higher plane of consciousness. Raised in the hip hop aesthetic and DIY movement, he constantly looks to push the boundaries of music as an expert in the Live PA field.
Formally trained as an audio engineer and graphic designer, he has acquired many different skills running The Beat Bank, an independent record label. His sets often include using sequencers, synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers to create fully improvised and live beat-making.
He is a member of three groups: The electronic experimental duo “Makers Of Sense”, “The Present Elders” who came to prominence with a series of pop up shows held in culturally significant areas of Chicago and “Englewood Soweto Exchange” a Jazz and Hip Hop international collective of South African and Chicago musicians led by Maestro Ernest Dawkins. As an educator, Brother El has developed outreach methods that teach multiple subjects to young audiences centered around electronic music, science, and wellness. Students gain not only musical knowledge and abilities, they learn firsthand importance of teamwork, self-discipline, responsibility, confidence, and value of commitment.  www.thebeatbank.net  Image credit: Cecil McDonald Jr. at the Smart Museum for the Sonic Abstractions Series

Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Drawing & Graphic): Conrad Bakker, Urbana

Conrad Bakker makes carved/painted sculptures and paintings of everyday objects, placing them within consumer contexts and gallery exhibitions to reveal and critically comment upon the political economies and relational networks between persons and things. Bakker has exhibited his work nationally and internationally in museums and galleries while also producing projects for online auctions, as email spam, via mailboxes, and on his front lawn. He has received fellowships from the Creative Capital Foundation and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors  Grant Program. Some recent Untitled Projects include: Untitled Project: Honda CB77 Superhawk for Motopoétique at the Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, Untitled Project: Robert Smithson Library & Book Club for Salt 10 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Salt Lake City), Untitled Project: Cabin [Thoreau] for La Littorale #6 Internationale Biennale D'Art Contemporain (Anglet, France), Untitled Project: In Search of Lost Time w/ Galerie Analix Forever at Galeristes (Paris), and Untitled Project: Mountain /Rock Shop at the Sun Valley Museum of Art (Idaho). Bakker lives in Urbana, IL where he is a Professor and coordinator of the MFA Studio Program in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois. untitledprojects.com

Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Drawing & Graphic): Assaf Evron, Chicago

Assaf Evron is an interdisciplinary artist and a photographer based in Chicago. His work investigates the nature of vision and the ways in which it reflects in socially constructed structures, where he applies photographic thinking in various two and three-dimensional media. Looking at moments along the histories of modernism Evron questions the construction of individual and collective identities, immigration (of people, ideas, images) and the representations of democracy. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums internationally as The Museum for Contemporary Art in Chicago, Crystal Bridges Museum for American Art, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem among others.  Evron holds an MA from The Cohn Institute as well as an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where he currently teaches. In 2019 he realized special architectural intervention projects at the Mies van der Rohe-designed McCormick House and the iconic Esplanade apartments on Chicago’s Lakeshore drive.  www.assafevron.com


Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Drawing & Graphic): Allison Lacher & Jeff Robinson, Springfield

Allison Lacher and Jeff Robinson have worked as studio and curatorial collaborators since 2012. They have exhibited at venues that include the Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago), E. Tay Gallery (New York), Museum Blue (St. Louis), Roman Susan (Chicago), Ski Club (Milwaukee), Outhaus (Urbana), Co-Prosperity Sphere (Chicago), The Franklin (Chicago), University Galleries at Illinois State (Normal), and Des Lee Gallery at Washington University (St. Louis).  Their work has been featured in the New Art Examiner, NewCity Chicago, the Riverfront Times, Sixty Inches From Center, and Floorr Magazine. They were awarded a collaborative artist residency award from ACRE (Chicago) and they have each, independently, served as HATCH Projects curatorial residents with the Chicago Artists Coalition. They curate exhibition programming at the University of Illinois Springfield Visual Arts Gallery and co-founded DEMO Project, a contemporary art gallery in Springfield, and served as co-directors of the space until it’s demolition in 2018. They co-organized the Terrain Biennial at Enos Park, a large-scale exhibition of site-specific public art, in both 2017 and 2019, and serve as co-vice presidents for the Terrain Exhibitions Board of Directors in Oak Park. They are members of Monaco, an artist-owned gallery and collective in St. Louis. https://www.allisonlacher.com     http://jeffrobinsonstudio.com


Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Drawing & Graphic): William J. O'Brien, Chicago

Chicago-based artist William J. O’Brien works in multiple media: drawing, painting, ceramic, metal sculpture, installation, and assemblage. Inspired by Modernism, as well as the history of material usage of Outsider Art, O’Brien’s multidisciplinary practice is a search for identity and genuine expression through material and process. His prolific output in these various media offers a visual profusion of color, pattern, and exuberant excess. O’Brien has held solo exhibitions at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Renaissance Society, Chicago, KMAC Museum, Louisville, MAD Museum, NYC, Witte De With, Rotterdam, and The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City among others. In 2014 he had his first major museum survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago curated by Naomi Beckwith. He has held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the U-Cross Foundation. O’Brien has received awards from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation and Artadia. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Cleveland Clinic, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Miami Art Museum, Pérez Art Museum, Hammer Museum, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago. O’Brien is also Associate Professor of Ceramics at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. https://williamjobrien.com/

Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Drawing & Graphic): Amanda Williams, Chicago

Amanda Williams is a visual artist who trained as an architect. Her creative practice employs color as a way to draw attention to the complexities of how race shapes how we assign value to space in cities. The landscapes in which she operates are  the  visual  residue of the invisible policies and forces that have misshapen most major US cities. Williams’ installations, paintings and works on paper seek to inspire new ways of looking at the familiar and in the process, raise questions about the state of urban space and ownership in America. Amanda has exhibited widely, including the MoMA (NY), the Venice Architecture Biennale, the MCA Chicago, and a public commission at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. She recently won the commission to design a permanent monument to Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn NY. Amanda has been recognized as a Joan Mitchell Foundation grantee, a USA Ford Fellow, an Efroymson Arts Fellow and a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow. Amanda is also a member of the Obama Presidential Center's Museum Design Team and sits on the boards of the  Graham  Foundation,  Garfield Park Conservatory and Hyde Park Art Center. Her work is in several permanent collections including the Art Institute of Chicago and the MoMA (NY). Williams lives and works on the south side of Chicago. www.awstudioart.com Headshot photo credit: Tony Smith

Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Photography): Alice Hargrave, Chicago

Alice Hargrave, a photo based artist in Chicago, incorporates sound, video, and photographic imagery within layered site specific installations. Her work addresses impermanence: environmental insecurity, habitat loss, and species extinctions. Hargrave collaborated with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to create her project Last Calls, portraits of threatened birds using sound waves of their last calls in the wild. This project has been widely exhibited, most recently in Lianzhou, China. The bird call patterns are also translated into “Haute Couture” garments by Dovima Paris where profits directly benefit the birds. Paradise Wavering Hargrave’s monograph (Daylight Books 2016) and extensive solo exhibition traveled to multiple venues across the United States. Hargrave, is included in several permanent collections such as The Museum of Contemporary Photography, and The Art Institute of Chicago Artist Book Collection. Recent awards include a fellowship to Ragdale Artist Residency, as well as a semi finalist in both the 2019 and 2020 International Awards of The Print Center, Philadelphia, PA. Her research has led her to Artist Residencies in The Florida Keys, Montana, and Wisconsin. Formerly Hargrave taught full time at Columbia College Chicago, currently she has decided to teach part time while pursuing commissions, and conservation work.  https://www.alicehargrave.com/  Photo credit: ©Jessica Tampas 

Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Photography):  Noritaka Minami, Chicago

Noritaka Minami uses photography to examine spaces that exist as anachronisms in the landscape and are overlooked for their significances in understanding contemporary society.  He is interested in the photographic medium’s potential to not only document the physical appearance of sites but also explore and reflect on the underlying presence of histories and ideologies of those spaces by the way they are transformed into still images.  Minami received a MFA in Studio Art from University of California, Irvine and a BA in Art Practice from University of California, Berkeley.  He is a recipient of grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Santo Foundation, and Center for Cultural Innovation.  In 2015, Kehrer Verlag published his monograph titled 1972 – Nakagin Capsule Tower, which received the 2015 Architectural Book Award from the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany.  Minami’s works are held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, UCLA Architecture and Urban Design, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, and Center for Photography at Woodstock.  He is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Loyola University Chicago.  His forthcoming solo exhibition will be held at FLXST Contemporary in Chicago. http://www.noritakaminami.com/


Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Photography): Jason Reblando, Normal

Jason Reblando is an artist and photographer based in Normal, IL. He is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines, an Artist Fellowship Award from the Illinois Arts Council, and a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. His photographs of the three Greenbelt Towns constructed by the U.S. government during the Great Depression are the subject of his monograph New Deal Utopias (Kehrer Verlag, 2017). His work has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Financial Times, Politico, Camera Austria, Slate, Bloomberg Businessweek, NPR’s Marketplace, Real Simple, Places Journal, Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Reporter. His photographs are in the collections of the Library of Congress, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Pennsylvania State University Special Collections, the Midwest Photographers Project of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He received his MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago, and a BA in Sociology from Boston College. He is an Assistant Professor of Photography in the Wonsook Kim School of Art at Illinois State University and is an FAA-certified drone pilot. www.jasonreblando.com


Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Sculpture): Matthew Boonstra, Charleston

Matthew Boonstra is an artist and educator based in Illinois. He has exhibited his work at the International Sculpture Center Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ; Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI; Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park at Cedarhurst Center of the Arts in Mt. Vernon, IL; Mainsite Contemporary in Norman, OK; Universidade do Estado Santa Catarina in Florianopolis, Brazil, among others. He has received numerous artistic awards and distinctions including the Swope Award of Distinction from the Swope Art Museum, Visual Arts Fellowship from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and publication in Sculpture Magazine. Boonstra holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Fine Arts from Michigan State University. Boonstra is currently an Associate Professor of Sculpture at Eastern Illinois University.  www.mattboonstra.com



Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Sculpture): Chris Bradley, Chicago

Chris Bradley, born 1982, is an artist based in Chicago. He has recently presented his work in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Shane Campbell Gallery, Roberto Paradise, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Raleigh, and has been included in group shows at The Renaissance Society, Atlanta Contemporary, Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the NRW-Forum, and the Elmhurst Art Museum. He received his MFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010.  In 2014, he was included in the Modern Painters magazine feature “25 Artists to Watch.” In 2017, he was the recipient of the Meier Achievement Award. In addition to his studio practice, he is an instructor of sculpture at both SAIC and the University of Chicago. Over the past two decades, Bradley has developed a sculptural language around representation, poetics of ordinary subjects, trompe l’oeil techniques, and exhibition as site for the imagination. He aims to use this creative language to encourage his audience to practice the suspension of disbelief as a method for reconsidering and understanding this shared common world. http://chrisbradley.us/


Fellowship in Visual-Based Arts (Sculpture): Heather Mekkelson, Chicago

Heather Mekkelson (b. New York) is an artist based in Chicago whose work delves into a variety of topics that illuminate the larger questions behind human experience. Mekkelson’s sculptures and installations have been exhibited in solo exhibitions in Chicago at 65GRAND, 4th Ward Project Space, ThreeWalls, STANDARD, and Old Gold. Her work has been shown in galleries and institutions nationally since 2001, including Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago, IL), The Poor Farm (Manawa, WI), The Figge Art Museum (Davenport, IA), Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago, IL), Roots & Culture (Chicago, IL), Vox Populi (Philadelphia, PA) and others. Features and reviews of her work have been published in print and online in Art Journal, Art21 Magazine, Artforum.com, Hyperallergic, Visual Art Source, Time Out Chicago and more. Mekkelson has received several fellowships and grants including the 2012 Artadia Award.  www.heathermekkelson.com


The following jurors reviewed this year’s submissions:

CRAFTS: Dave Blevins, Versailles, KY; Mollie Flanagan, Falls, RI; Cynthia Myron, Henrico, VA; Lilli Tichinin, Santa Fe, NM

ETHNIC AND FOLK ARTS: Susan Eleuterio, Highland, IN; John Fenn, Washington DC; Veronica O'Hern, Des Moines, IA

INTERDISCIPLINARY/COMPUTER-BASED ARTS ARTIST: Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, Brooklyn, NY; Karin Hodgin Jones, Champaign, IL; Sarah Lewison, Carbondale, IL; Judd Morrissey, Chicago, IL

VISUAL-BASED ARTS (PHOTOGRAPHY): Paul D'Amato, Chicago, IL; Rachel Fein-Smolinski, Champaign, IL; Beate Geissler, Chicago, IL; Simone Levine, Chicago, IL

VISUAL-BASED ARTS (SCULPTURE): Juan Angel Chavez, Chicago, IL; Danielle Bursk, Trenton, NJ; Linda Norbut Suits, Springfield, IL

VISUAL-BASED ARTS (INSTALLATION, MIXED MEDIA, PAINTING, GRAPHIC & DRAWING): Erin Buczynski, Mapleton, IL; Betsy Dollar, Springfield, IL; Karsten Lund, Chicago, IL; Daniel Schulman, Chicago, IL

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