Arkansas Arts Council Announces 2021 Fellowships

Featured Image Recipients, from left, are: Kaveh Bassiri, Rontaye Butler, Hiba Tahir, Kensuke Yamada, Lisa Marie Evans, Kara Gunter, Karstin Johnson, Aaron Calvert and Thomas Deeter.
Arkansas Arts Council Announces 2021 Fellowships
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Arkansas Arts Council
Wednesday, August 25th 2021
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Arkansas Artists Fellowships

The Arkansas Arts Council, along with the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Individual Artist Fellowship awards.

“Arkansas Arts Council fellowships showcase the wide range of arts our state has to offer,” said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the department. “From music and dancing to painting and sculpture, art is a driving economic force in Arkansas, and we take pride in knowing that these grants help artists pursue their projects, which in turn enhance the lives of all of us.”

Individual Artist Fellowship awards are unconditional, non-matching awards made directly to individual Arkansas artists. An independent panel annually selects nine artists in rotating categories to receive fellowships of $4,000 each. This year, artists from around the state submitted applications for the fellowships in three categories: cinematic arts, poetry and contemporary crafts.

The Arts Council will recognize and honor Fellowship recipients in a virtual evening program on Oct. 6. The presentation will happen in conjunction with ArtLinks 2021, the virtual, statewide arts conference sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council. 

Cinematic Arts: Director of Documentary or Narrative Films:

  • Rontaye Miquan Butler lives in Fayetteville, where he is studying for his master's degree in photography. He earned a bachelor’s degree in photography and digital media from the University of Houston. Butler’s works have been exhibited throughout Texas, and he is the recipient of first prize in “The Citywide African American Artists Exhibition” at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston. 
  • Thomas James Deeter is a screenwriter and director who lives in Little Rock, where he earned a master's degree in teaching and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He was a public-school, art teacher for 12 years and a recipient of a Sturgis Fellowship for community outreach and leadership. Deeter created the life-size set, constructed from paper and cardboard, for his film “Shattered Dreams.” His mentor, Graham Gordy, was a WGA winner for season 3 of “True Detective.” 
  • Lisa Marie Evans, of Fayetteville, has participated in artist residencies and screened her work internationally. She is project manager for creative development at the Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange, which she worked with previously as the project manager, editor and animator of OZCast, an online, creative variety show. Evans mentors artists and has been a facilitator and administrator for Artist INC, a professional development and entrepreneurial program for artists hosted by Mid-America Arts Alliance. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas in Lawrence and was an instructor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and at the Kansas City Art Institute. She is in the distribution phase of her current feature documentary, “In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction,” which won the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award.


Contemporary Craft:

  • Aaron Calvert lives in Russellville and is a professor of art at Henderson State University. He earned a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in crafts at Kent State University in Ohio. Calvert served as director of the Russell Fine Arts Gallery at Henderson Statue University from 2009 to 2019 and has exhibited his ceramics work nationally. Calvert was the recipient of the 62nd annual Delta Exhibition Grand Award.  
  • Kara Gunter lives in Hot Springs, where she is program manager at Emergent Arts. She earned a master's degree in sculpture at University of South Carolina, Columbia, and a bachelor’s degree in sculpture with an emphasis in jewelry-small metal works at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina. Gunter trained in hot glass and heavy metals at Penland School of Crafts. She has served as adjunct professor of ceramics at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and at the University of South Carolina.  
  • Kensuke Yamada lives in Little Rock and is assistant professor of art at University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He earned a master's degree in studio art at University of Montana, Missoula, and a bachelor’s degree in studio art at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Yamada has exhibited his work extensively throughout the United States. He is the recipient of fellowships from Martin Shallenberger and the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts.



  • Kaveh Bassiri lives in Fayetteville, where he is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at the University of Arkansas. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Bassiri is a translator and a poet. He is author of two poetry chapbooks, “Elementary English” and “99 Names of Exile,” as well as numerous articles and translations. Bassiri is also the recipient of an Artists 360 grant sponsored by Mid-America Arts Alliance and a translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems were selected for “The Best American Poetry 2020” by Paisley Rekdal and “The Best New Poets 2020” by Brian Teare. 
  • Hiba Tahir lives in Fayetteville, where she is a candidate for a master's degree in poetry at the University of Arkansas. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and news editorial journalism at the University of Southern Mississippi. Tahir is senior editor of the University of Arkansas Honors College and is the social media director of Open Mouth Literary Center. Tahir is the recipient of an Artists 360 grant sponsored by Mid-America Arts Alliance and awarded a J. Chester and Freda S. Johnson Graduate Fellowship, the James T. Whitehead Award for Poetry and the Carolyn Walton Cole Endowment Fund in Creative Writing. 
  • Karstin Johnson lives in Fayetteville. She is a candidate for a master's degree in creative writing at University of Arkansas, where she also earned bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing. Johnson is a teaching graduate assistant for the Department of English at the university as well as the co-creative writing director of the Prison Stories Project at the Northwest Arkansas Community Corrections Center for incarcerated women.

Fellowship recipients will be honored for their artistic and creative excellence during the Fellowship Awards Recognition, which will be held virtually Oct. 6.  For more information, contact Scarlet Sims, artist services program manager, at [email protected] or at 501-324-9348

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