A celebration is in order. Three of this year's USA Fellows are local artists. Only a small percentage of creative folks make a living doing what they love, so it's always good news when a few of our own are recognized with a substantial grant.
And at $50,000 each, the U.S.A. Fellows grants are definitely substantial. Launched in September 2005 with seed money provided by a handful of large foundations, including Ford and Rockefeller, United States Artists awards unrestricted grants directly to 50 artists a year. Local artist John Jota Leaños, author Karen Tei Yamashita, and playwright Octavio Solis are three of this year's recipients. These Bay Area superstars were selected from a pool of two million nominees, and will be honored tonight on the Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.
John Jota Leaños
Recently featured in KQED's Spark episode on Mission District Street Art, installation, new media and performance artist John Jota Leaños calls attention to the tragedies of war and globalization through accessible forms, like murals and animation. His animated short, Los ABCs, was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. Leaños was also a guest on a 2005 Forum episode titled, "Is Graffiti Art?" Check it out.
Karen Tei Yamashita
Author Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel was a 2010 National Book Award finalist. Her work gives voice to communities whose stories are not often told. I Hotel uses the International Hotel, a Chinatown landmark, to bring together 10 interconnected stories that span a decade (1968-1978) and describe the artistic and political activities of San Francisco's Asian American community. Listen to The California Report's 2010 review.
Featured on Spark in 2010, playwright and director Octavio Solis was recently commissioned by CalShakes to adapt John Steinbeck's short story collection Pastures of Heaven for the stage. Solis, a native of El Paso, Texas, has seen his poetic dramas produced at festivals and venues all over the country, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum and the Magic Theater in San Francisco, among many others. His works, such as El Paso Blue and Lydia, convey and question the roots of the American cultural experience. Solis has also been the recipient of numerous other awards, including a 1995 NEA Playwrighting Fellowship and a 2003 National Latino Playwrighting Award.
Cheers to the winners! See the full list of grantees at unitedstatesartists.org. And check out USA Projects, the newly-created United States Artists platform where you can personally fund independent art projects through Kickstarter-style campaigns.