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Public art has the power to inspire more just, vibrant, and welcoming public spaces and public life. The Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art honors and celebrates the individuals behind this good and important work in Massachusetts.
Meet our 2022 Awardees for Leadership in Public Art: Catherine T Morris, Marquis Victor, Rob “Problak” Gibbs and Christa Brown.
Listen to or read interviews with each of our 2022 awardees about their own journeys in leadership and public art making:
The Award is named after the late Newell Flather (1938-2021) for both his relationship with NEFA since 1993 and his leadership in establishing and championing the Fund for the Arts, which was established in 1981 to advance and provide visibility for the arts in Boston and expand public recognition of the contributions the arts and artists make to the quality of life in our communities.
Founded in 2020, the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art annually honors two Massachusetts artists/curators/arts administrators in public art who embody different aspects of leadership and are contributing to more just, vibrant, and welcoming public spaces and public life through the evolving field of public art.
Each recipient is awarded $5,000 of unrestricted funds in celebration of their leadership and impact in the field.
Nominees must be an artist, curator and/or arts administrator who resides full-time and works within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to create/curate/support public art that aligns with NEFA’s public art vision and values.
To honor Newell Flather’s legacy, this year we are particularly looking for nominees who:
One of the things that Newell was known for was his deep connection to his hometown of Lowell, MA as well as love for celebrating and honoring the diverse cultures that foster vibrant community life in his hometown. It is in this spirit that this year we are looking for leaders who also demonstrate a similar love for and commitment to place, and the people of that place (see addition of the last criterion above for this year’s nomination and selection process).
Self-nominations are welcome. Nominators may submit up to two nominations.
2022 Awardees have been announced. 2023 nominations will be accepted in early 2023.
Christa Brown (she/her), Lowell, MA: Founder and executive director of the Free Soil Arts Collective, Brown leads with creativity and a vision for inclusive community building while amplifying the voices and experiences of POC artists in the Merrimack Valley through artmaking. Brown brings performance and theater into public artmaking that fosters social capital for Black Lowellians through storytelling projects such as “Hidden in Plain Sight,” and the Juneteenth walking tour and historic reenactments of Black leaders in Lowell's history.
Rob “Problak" Gibbs (he/him), Boston, MA: Roxbury native, artist, educator and co-founder of Artists for Humanity, Gibbs is shaping the cultural landscape of Boston as he bridges the worlds of graffiti and public artmaking. Gibbs has and continues to inspire and mentor fellow Black and brown creatives formally as well as informally, while also keeping community at the center of his own artistic practice. Gibbs latest commission by the Rose Kennedy Greenway is a testament to his commitment to community-centered leadership.
Catherine T. Morris (she/her), Boston, MA: Director of arts & culture at The Boston Foundation and founder of BAMS Fest, Morris is a proud mother, entrepreneur, and visionary, who works at the intersection of arts, culture, creative placekeeping and movement building. Morris, leading with a spirit of collaboration, founded a wide-reaching platform through BAMS Fest that centers and celebrates Black and brown creatives and engages the public in experiencing live performance and visual arts from Black perspectives.
Marquis Victor (he/him), Lawrence, MA: Founder and executive director of Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization that centers creative youth development through the lens of art's liberating power. Victor leads with a "by the youth" philosophy. Together with the youth and team at Elevated Thought, Victor is anchoring and affirming BIPOC stories and visions for Lawrence through public artmaking, including a recent mural project on the Lawrence Public Library.
Ekua Holmes’ work is collage based, and her subjects, made from cut and torn papers, investigate family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, the power of hope, faith and self-determination. Recalling a quote from American Artist, Romare Bearden, "I do not need to go looking for 'happenings,' the absurd or the surreal, because I have seen things that neither Dalí, Beckett, Ionesco nor any of the others could have thought possible; and to see these things I did not need to do more than look out of my studio window," Holmes has looked out of her window for the subjects of her collages too. Remembering a Roxbury childhood of wonder and delight she considers herself a part of a long line of Roxbury imagemakers. In this spirit, she supports those who have a calling in the arts as well as keeping her own studio practice ignited. She has created and led workshops, been a visiting artist and lecturer, and held artist residencies in public and private institutions throughout New England. In her first public art initiative, she received a Now + There Public Art Accelerator Fellowship and launched The Roxbury Sunflower Project (#RoxburySunflowerProject), in which she facilitated the planting of 10,000 sunflower seeds in her native Roxbury, MA.
For her work in illustrating children’s literature, Holmes is the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator award, Robert Siebert and Horn Book awards for her illustrations in “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement," by Carole Boston Weatherford, her first illustration project. In 2018, she won the coveted Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for the book, "Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets." In 2019 she won the 2019 Coretta Scott King Award again for her illustrations in “Stuff of Stars,” written by Marion Dane Bauer.
Ms. Holmes currently serves as Commissioner and Vice Chair of the Boston Art Commission, which oversees the placement and maintenance of public works of art on and in city of Boston properties. She is also currently Associate Director at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt where she manages and coordinates sparc! the ArtMobile, an art-inspiring, art-transforming vehicle retrofitted to contribute to community based, multidisciplinary arts programming currently focused on Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Dorchester, MA. Ekua Holmes received her BFA in Photography from MassArt in 1977.
Rosemary Tracy Woods is the executive director of the Art for the Soul Gallery in downtown Springfield. Her gallery has a purpose: to showcase artists from diverse cultures and backgrounds and to make art accessible to everyone. She has been managing galleries for over 15 years. In 2010, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women awarded her the Unsung Heroine Award. Rosemary was appointed by Deval Patrick as Advocate for the Arts of western Massachusetts. More recently, she received a fellowship to study in Paris. She currently serves as a commissioner for the Springfield Cultural Council. Through her gallery, Woods has brought some of this country’s most renowned artists of color to the attention of Springfield’s art loving community. Notable exhibitions include Larry Poncho Brown’s “Stronger than Pride,” Ten Little Nigger Girls: A Works-in-Progress/Open Studio Exhibition with Dr. Imo Nse Imeh, 7th Generation: Contemporary Native American Artists of the 21st Century, Tango: Contemporary Art of Argentina, Roots/Raices, and, most recently with Larry Poncho Brown, the Creative Quarantine Springfield exhibit.
Kate Gilbert is on a mission to transform Boston into a public art city. As artist, curator, and cultural producer, Kate sees contemporary art as a catalyst for transformation. In 2015, she launched Now + There, the reinvigoration of UrbanArts Institute, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to delivering impactful, accessible, and temporary public artworks that challenge Boston’s cultural identity by taking artistic risks and consistently producing compelling projects that engage the public. As one of the original program staff at the Greenway Conservancy, Kate developed a vision for how the Greenway could deploy public art as a vehicle for community connection and public expression. Her vision included using interactive and temporary work which is now the pillar of the Greenway’s long-range public art strategy. In 2013, she was tapped by the Massachusetts Convention & Exhibition Center to curate artLab, an exploration of public art and a key contributor to the success of the Lawn on D, Boston’snewest outdoor event space. Curating 40 different artists over two seasons for Lawn on D inspired Kate to bring art deeper into Boston neighborhoods and prompted her to found Now + There. Through her leadership, Now + There is producing high-impact temporary artworks in Boston while also supporting a pipeline of local artists and neighborhood-centric projects with a first-of-its-kind Public Art Accelerator. Kate holds an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and in her own multi-disciplinary artwork, focuses on the nature of consumption and the exploration of distinct alternates.
With roots in the Dominican Republic, Silvia López Chavez holds a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design. She is a seasoned community-based artist and collabo-rator who uses art as a vehicle for connection. Public art projects include murals on the Charles River Esplanade, Northeastern University, Punto Urban Art Museum, Harvard University, Boston Children’s Museum, Underground InkBlock and Central Square, Cambridge. Silvia’s work has received recognition through grants and residencies including New England Foundation for the Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston Children’s Hospital, Vermont Studio Center and Google. In addition to her fine art practice, she is an award-winning design professional and works with high-profile local and national companies and institutions. She continues her studio work at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End.
To learn more about Public Art at NEFA visit the Public Art Program Page.
The Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art is supported by the Fund for the Arts at NEFA
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