USA Artist Fellowships Pick Up Where the NEA Left Off

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In troubling economic times, arts funding is almost always put on the chopping block. But thanks to United States Artists (USA), an arts advocacy nonprofit, at least 50 lucky artists won’t be feeling the pinch this year.

The organization, which was founded only three years ago, just announced the winners of its 2008 fellowships, worth a sweet $50,000 to each recipient. The New York Times writes that in USA’s short history it has “won recognition as one of the few new sources of artists’ grants at a time when federal financing from agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts has diminished,” particularly for individual artists.

This year’s fellows include architects, dancers, musicians, writers, visual artists, and craftsmen, among others. Here are just a few of the fellows that piqued my interest:

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, an Alaskan filmmaker whose short film Sikumi, or On the Ice, about an Inuit hunter who witnesses a murder, is the first film made entirely in the Inupiaq language. “That was really important to me,” MacLean told the Anchorage Daily News. “Hearing Inupiaq in film and hopefully TV someday, as well, will help us re-teach ourselves the language and preserve it.”

Sweetgrass basket weaver Mary Jackson, whose craft is “the oldest art form of African origin in the United States,” according to USA.

Julie Bargmann, a landscape architect from Virginia who specializes in making Superfund and other nasty, toxic sites both beautiful and healthy again. Archinect writes that Bargmann “works to transform the waste produced by a century of manufacturing and consumption into something culturally and ecologically productive.”

Photo: Vase with Handle, 1998, sweetgrass, pine needles, and palmetto, 19″ x 15″. Photo courtesy of Mary Jackson.

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