The Front Triennial, which opened in Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin last week, has announced a new grant program to support emerging artists from historically marginalized communities in northern Ohio. The three-year Art Futures Fellowship is providing three artists with unrestricted grants of US$25,000 and facilitating career development through travel and networking with the aim of introducing them to opportunities otherwise unattainable.
“The Front Board and staff felt strongly that we had a unique and necessary role to play in creating a more equitable arts ecosystem in Cleveland,” says Fred Bidwell, the exhibition’s executive director. “We came up with the Fellowship concept because we realized that simply providing exhibition opportunities does not address the long-term and systemic divestment in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) art community. As important as local presence and opportunities are for artists, it is very difficult to support an artistic practice without visibility and support from the national and international institutional and gallery system.”
The inaugural class consists of four artists instead of three: Amanda King, Antwoine Washington, Charmaine Spencer and Erykah Townsend. “The pool of applications was so strong that the artistic team was stuck with four candidates,” says Deidre McPherson, Front’s director of arts and community initiatives, noting that more than 80 artists had applied.
In addition to the unrestricted grants, the four recipients will each undertake a national and an international trip to meet curators, collectors, critics and other art world powerhouses. They will also receive a grant for work commissioned by Front, which will be featured in the next Triennale in 2025.
Spencer, a sculptor who transforms natural materials like earth, burlap and hemp into dynamic works with stoic seriousness, is also featured in this year’s multi-city exhibition. Her pieces, which draw on craft traditions, can be seen in Cleveland at Transformer Station and in Akron at the Akron Art Museum and in Quaker Square – the site of the original Quaker Oats factory – where Choir built it from material recovered from destroyed homes in the Cleveland area forms a web-like partition anchored by tension and gravity.
A multidisciplinary artist deeply invested in Cleveland’s cultural spaces, King is also present at Front through her work with Shoot without bullets, a nonprofit she co-founded that uses photography to engage with black and brown youth and address social issues. His artists have organized a pop-up shop at Transformer Station to benefit the creative agency. A recent graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, Townsend creates playful paintings and objects heavily influenced by consumerism and pop culture. And Washington is a painter interested in positive images of black life and community building.
The artist says the unrestricted stipend will allow him to buy more art supplies and offset the cost of a new work, but also to manage some personal matters. “The funds will help take some of the pressure off so I can really focus on the art I’m trying to make,” he says.
Applicants responded to an open call, but Front also assembled a committee that is “deeply rooted in the communities of Cleveland and surrounding areas,” says McPherson, whose members nominated artists to reach people who don’t typically participate in traditions or Support channels benefit from this. This committee, which also selected the winners, includes representatives from the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center, the Akron Black Artist Guild, and the Museum of Creative Art, among other community partners.
Washington, who co-founded the Museum of Creative Art, says he’s usually nervous about applying for grants because of the high rejection rate. “So it felt really good to be selected,” he says. “This opportunity is what investing in artists looks like, especially for someone like me who is just starting out in my career. I believe this fellowship will give me the opportunity to scale and challenge myself to further develop my studio practice in ways that I have not been able to before.”