Arkansas Arts Council Announces 2024 Individual Artist Fellowship Award

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Scarlet Sims

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Friday, May 31st 2024
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AAC Arkansas Artists Arkansas Arts Individual Artist Award

The Arkansas Arts Council is pleased to announce the 2024 Individual Artist Fellowship grant for creatives living and working in Arkansas.

“Arkansas creatives are an important part of our culture and each tell our state's story in a unique way,” said Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. “This award recognizes the extensive talent here in Arkansas and offer highly flexible support for them to continue their individual contributions." 

A recent economic survey, co-sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council, shows Arkansas’ arts and culture sectors contribute $306 million to the state’s economy.

The Individual Artist Fellowship grants are unconditional, non-matching awards made directly to individual Arkansas creatives. Independent panels annually select artists from six categories to receive $5,000 each. Categories change each year. This year, about 150 artists applied for the grants in the categories of multisensory art, community engagement, contemporary craft with glass or ceramic/pottery component, fashion and/or costume design, novel or memoir writing and docu-genre filmmaking.

“The recognition of and investment in so many varied aspects of art is important to the growth of our creative culture in Arkansas," said Marty Ryall, director of Arkansas Heritage. “The broad nature of the Individual Artist Fellowship award program enables creatives to meet their varied needs. We are proud to offer such a unique grant."
For the third year, the Arkansas Arts Council has awarded 18 fellowships, up from nine awards previously, thanks in part to funding provided by the Windgate Foundation, a private family foundation. The expansion is part of ongoing efforts by the Arkansas Arts Council to reach more of the creative community and bring more arts to more Arkansans.

“The independent panelists who reviewed this year’s applications were impressed by the exceptional talent, dedication, and mastery displayed across a broad spectrum of artistic genres in Arkansas,” said Patrick Ralston, director of the Arkansas Arts Council. “At the Arkansas Arts Council, we take pride in our ability to embrace previously unexplored categories of arts while uplifting existing forms and providing crucial, wholistic support to individual artists.”
This year’s awardees are:
Performing Arts: Fashion and/or Costume Design
Bryant Phelan of Little Rock, the creative mind behind OFaolain Leathers, is a 35-year-old, self-taught artist who has been working with leather for 20 years. Phelan has created more than 2,000 one-of-a-kind accessories and objects d’art, ranging from masks, handbags, jewelry, costuming and framed works. He has a love for the fantastical and surreal and is inspired by dreams and nature. He holds luxury, art, quality, and sustainability in the highest of regard. He approaches design from a unique perspective, with master’s degrees in both biostatistics and epidemiology. He applies many facets of science and mathematics to his work. This informs his design and inspires him in interesting and novel ways that set him apart in the fashion and design community. Phelan’s is collected and exhibited in Arkansas and nationwide.

Brandy Harris, of Fayetteville, is the creative head at Big Sister Studio in Fayetteville. She is a fashion designer, advanced seamstress and clothing maker specializing in one-a-kind pieces using unwanted, recycled, and reclaimed textiles and clothing. It is her mission to help curb the environmental waste from our textile industry by creating beautiful, quality clothing. Harris has worked in theatre, alterations, bridal, custom clothing, vintage clothing and upholstery with almost 15 years of experience. Her collections have been shown at The Momentary, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week. Her work has been published in NYLON Magazine, Arkansas Monthly, and Idle Class Magazine. She explores the combination of theatre, costume, music, and performance. She is well known for her unrelenting attention to craftsmanship and detail and her designs bring a passionate perspective on the intersection of fashion, art and life.

Kristen Franyutti, of Jonesboro, earned her B.F.A in Fashion Design from the University of North Texas in 2011 and her M.F.A in Studio Art with an emphasis in drawing and painting from Michigan State University, Summa Cum Laude, in 2017. She is an assistant professor of drawing and fiber at Arkansas State University. Her designs, including in fashion, have been exhibited internationally and nationally, including the A.I.R Gallery in Brooklyn, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan, and the Bradbury Art Museum in Arkansas. She has won multiple exhibition awards and has been featured in publications including Fiber Art Now.
Literary Arts: Novel or Memoir Writing
Michael Ray Taylor, of Arkadelphia, is a journalist whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Outside, The Houston Chronicle, and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. He is the author of four nonfiction books on nature and science, most recently the memoir Hidden Nature, which in 2021 was a finalist for the Reed Nature Writing Award. He has worked on documentary films for PBS, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel and holds an MFA in fiction and creative nonfiction from the University of Arkansas, along with a master’s degree in English with a creative writing emphasis from the University of South Carolina. After three decades spent teaching journalism at Henderson State University, he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2022 to begin work on his first novel, Black Gold Blues, which was recently completed. He is at work on a sequel.

Dr. M. Shelly Conner, of Cabot, is a multi-genre writer whose work includes playwriting, screenwriting, fiction, essay and creative nonfiction writing. She is the creator of the Quare Life web series and has published essays in the A.V. Club; the Grio; Playboy Magazine; and Crisis Magazine. Conner is an emerging homesteader, writer and assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas where she also co-directs the MFA Program for writers. She is author of the Nautilus award-winning novel everyman.

Dr. Bryan Hurt, of Fayetteville, earned a doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California. Before joining the University of Arkansas as an assistant professor of English, he's taught at the University of California, Riverside; Colorado College; St. Lawrence University; and Capital University. He's the author of two books, Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France and Watchlist: 32 Stories by Persons of Interest. His current novel, The Magic Hole, explores the metaphorical and literal cross sections of holes, pits, underworlds and holes. His essays and short stories have appeared in many publications and his work has been translated into multiple languages.
Contemporary Craft: Ceramics and/or Glass
Ana Buitrago of Fayetteville, is an artist and designer from Bogotá, Colombia. She has a BFA from the School of Art Institute of Chicago and is pursuing an MFA in Ceramics at the University of Arkansas. She was awarded the NCECA Graduate Fellowship and the Artist 360 Student Fellowship in 2023. Ana has exhibited nationally and internationally in United States, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia. Buitrago’s work has been featured in publications such as Vogue Latam, ELLE France and Netherlands, and Sight Unseen.

Suzanne Reed of Eureka Springs, is a high-heat artist who creates sculptures by using a mig welder and 10-pound sheets of glass. By blending color, shape, layer and texture in kiln-fired glass, Reed pushes the boundaries of form and geometry in her one-of-a-kind pieces. Her background in landscape architecture is visible in her geometric layering, and her collections reflect a deep sense of place. A native of Arkansas, Reed returned to her home state after decades abroad and now creates from her studio in the Ozark Mountains. Reed's sculptures adorn public spaces and private collections throughout the world. Her work is available by commission and at select galleries.

Azalia Molina of Tontitown, is a multidisciplinary artist who uses ceramics, printmaking and painting to explore the intersections of tradition and popular culture; heritage and innovation, by capturing the essence of Latin America’s cultural narratives and celebrating collective history, traditions, and identity while exploring how these are preserved within immigrant households in the United States. Molina, a native of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, earned a BS in Art and Business from the University of the Ozarks in 2018 and was awarded Outstanding Student in Art. She recently received the Mid-America Arts Alliance Artist 360 Practicing Artist Grant. Molina continues her creative career exhibiting artwork throughout the region at group and solo exhibitions, commissioned and public artwork, and leading her marketing agency, Clever, in Northwest Arkansas. Molina hopes to run an outreach center in her native country, providing skills and art programs for at-risk youth.
Visual Arts: Docu-Genre
Beverly Denise White Parkinson of Hot Springs, is a career photojournalist and historian focusing on River Culture and the Arkansas Delta. A graduate of Hendrix College, her independent documentary film, "Daughter of the White River," based on her book of the same name, was selected for screening at Arkansas Cinema Society's 2023 "Filmland: Arkansas" festival. A recipient of Mid-America Arts Alliance's Catalyze Fellowship, Parkinson lives in the Ouachita Mountains where she is completing her third book about River Culture.

Korey J. Isbell of Lonoke, is a videographer, editor, filmmaker, producer and multimedia marketer. He began his career as an audio engineer and producer for "Al Bell,” owner of Stax Records and Alpine records. This job experience developed his passion to produce and be more creative. Film production turned out to be Isbell’s first passion followed by music production and musical artistry. He created and produced several National Television shows and many regional shows, several documentaries and features, and two international streaming Music Video networks. His historical, short docu-series Vilified looks at the lasting impact of Black history in Arkansas.

Andy Sarjahani of Little Rock, is an Iranian-American documentary filmmaker and cinematographer raised in a working class community outside the Arkansas Ozarks. He is interested in people, our relationship to place, and how that shapes our worldview. His recent cinematography credits include Academy Award-nominated The Barber of Little Rock (The New Yorker, 2024), Southern Storytellers (PBS, 2023), and Untitled Brent Renaud Documentary (HBO, post-production).His recent director credits include The Smallest Power (Sundance, 2024); Wild Hogs and Saffron (Big Sky Doc Fest, 2024); American Grail: A Quest for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Big Sky Doc Fest, 2024), and Black Ag (Hot Springs Doc Fest, 2023). His debut feature documentary, Iranian Hillbilly was a Southern Documentary Fund 2022 grant recipient and the winner of New Orleans Film Festival 2022 South Pitch and is in early production. He was a 2023 CAAM Fellow, 2023 PBS Wyncote Fellow and 2024 HBO/Gotham Documentary Development Fellow.

Community Engagement
Brody Parrish Craig of Fayetteville, is the author of award-winning chapbook Boyish (Omnidawn Publishing 2021) and editor of TWANG (2020), an anthology of TGNC+ creators of the south/midwest. Their writing has appeared in Poetry Magazine, Muzzle Magazine and Mississippi Review, amongst others. BPC is an Assistant Professor of English at NorthWest Arkansas Community College where they co-lead Arts and Culture + programming. Outside of higher education, BPC co-facilitates TWANG’s ongoing community art programs with their husband and spends summers teaching youth at Kenyon Young Writers. Their debut full-length collection, The Patient is an Unreliable Historian, is forthcoming from Omnidawn Publishing in 2024.

 Al “Papa Rap” Lopez of Rogers, is a musician, songwriter, performer, educator, culture bearer, community activator and cultural bridge for diversity and underserved people from all backgrounds in Northwest Arkansas. Through Latin beats, he connects the Latin communities with song and dance. He writes music that spotlights the needs of my community and helps create solutions. For more than 30 years, Lopez has created music and dance to heal and improve the hearts and minds of youth and adults alike. Lopez is a cofounder of OneCommunity and helped create ArkanSalsa Fest.

Virmarie DePoyster of North Little Rock, is a Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, educator and community leader. As a practicing artist, she explores the complexities of identity. As an educator, she develops therapeutic art programs, providing safe spaces for self-reflection. And as a community leader, she advocates for equality and inclusion. Her work has been featured worldwide in private and public collections, including a solo exhibition at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. She also represented Arkansas in Her Flag, a national exhibition commemorating women's suffrage, and her latest exhibition, "Beyond Labels," has been displayed at The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas and the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. DePoyster was recognized this year with an Arkansas Arts Council’s Governor’s Arts Award.

Multisensory Works
Joshua Asante of Little Rock, is a multi-disciplinary artist who explores themes of identity and possibility from an Afrofuturist perspective. As a musician and composer, Asante describes his sound as “astral soul,” a blend of electronic and soul music that fuses many stylistic influences. Asante released two singles in 2021, a collection of 18 field recorded songs in 2022 and his debut full length album in 2023. Asante is the keyboardist for Shreveport-based band Seratones as well as bassist for Adia Victoria. His photographs and designs have found homes in both private and museum collections and has been in the The New York Times, The International Review Of African American Art, The Guardian, ProPublica, NPR, Objectiv, MSNBC, Oxford American, The Arkansas Times, and others. Commissions include The Mellon Foundation, The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, ACLU, Susan G. Komen, Atlantic Records and more. Asante is the co-founder of the independent record label Quiet Contender.

Theophilus Jones Jr. of Jacksonville, founded the “Billy Jones & the Delta Blues Outlaws,” which toured nationwide and internationally for the past 40 years. I started my music career at 14 years old, when he became the understudy of legendary Blues artists Calvin Leavy and Little Johnny Taylor. Jones signed with Black & Tan Records in the 2000s, and in 2006, my band headlined Blues Passions Festival in Cognac France, before 15,000 fans. The band is contracted with Harlow’s Casino Resort and still tours nationally. I live in Little Rock, where I continue to mentor musicians and preserve the art of the Blues.

Elizabeth Weber of Little Rock, spent her childhood in New York exploring the woods and sitting among the trees – an experience that grew into a lifetime love of nature and its sublime beauty and wonder. That wonder is now incorporated into Weber’s artwork via multimedia and multisensory arts experiences. Weber has been exhibiting in Arkansas since 2006. She was awarded the Artist Award Grant from the Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and had solo exhibitions this past year at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum and at the Stephans Gallery at the University of the Ozarks. 

Fellows and the Individual Artist Fellowship program will be celebrated in a special ceremony this coming October with time and dates to be arranged.

Download artist photos HERE.

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