A woman in a floral shirt with shoulder length hair smiles.
Communications Director

(Boston, MA) The New England Foundation for the Arts is pleased to announce the two 2021 recipients of the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art: artist, educator and mentor Ekua Holmes of Roxbury, MA; and gallery owner, consultant, and curator Rosemary Tracy Woods of Springfield, MA.

Founded in 2020, the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art annually honors two Massachusetts artists/curators/arts administrators in public art who have demonstrated leadership in contributing to the evolving field of public art and inspiring more just, vibrant, and welcoming public spaces and public life. Each recipient is awarded $5,000 of unrestricted funds in celebration of their leadership and impact in the field. 

Public art has the power to create shared experiences and opportunities to imagine and yearn for more just versions of what is possible in our public spaces.

NEFA executive director, Cathy Edwards

Outside, in front of a brick building, sunflowers are in bloom.
photo courtesy of the Roxbury Sunflower Project

“From the Roxbury Sunflower Project to her leadership with the sparc! ArtMobile within MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships, to the support for the Boston Art Commission in examining equity and representation in the City’s public art collection through public dialogue, we celebrate Ekua Holmes’ commitment to community in public artmaking. Ekua is literally and figuratively planting seeds of beauty and resilience throughout our city and inviting community into the process,” said NEFA program director, public art, Kim Szeto.

“We celebrate Rosemary Tracy Woods’ tireless efforts over 25 years in bringing art to communities in Springfield, MA. From the co-designed fiberglass sneaker installation throughout Springfield, to the annual partnership with Springfield Public School’s senior class mural project, to the most recent “Say Their Names” mural created in partnership with Common Wealth Murals, Rosemary is not only making public art happen but doing it in deep collaboration with community. She champions artists and uplifts the artwork of people of color, and continually shows up and advocate for institutional representation whenever possible,” shared Kim Szeto.

Two folks, on a mechanical lift, paint a mural with text, Say Their Names, and a dove.
The Say Their Names mural was created to honor Black lives ended by police brutality. The mural contains over 60 names of people of color killed by police in the last 12 months (at the time of painting). Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services collaborated with Art for the Soul gallery, Fresh Paint Springfield, and artists Wane One, Nero and Souls to create the impactful art installation. In the photo, mural artist Wane One works on the “Say Their Names” Mural as artist El Souls gather materials on the lift during the mural painting project. | photo by Ed Cohen, MassLive

Nearly 60 individuals were nominated through 139 submissions during the public process; through a panel review process, this year’s awardees were selected based on the ways in which they exemplify NEFA’s public art values and selection criteria. The Newell Flather Award celebrates the ways in which Rosemary and Ekua:

  • Help us to see, feel, experience, and imagine more just futures for our public spaces and public culture. 
  • Address the intersectionality of spatial justice and racial justice as critical to cultivating a more vibrant public art ecosystem. 
  • Recognize the importance of context in public artmaking. 
  • Inspire more just, vibrant, and welcoming public spaces and public life in Massachusetts. 

About the 2021 awardees:

Ekua Holmes

Ekua is a Black woman with long, grey braids.
Ekua Holmes | self portrait

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.

A window mural of Black folks thriving: riding bikes, running through the streets, wearing a crown.
photo courtesy of the Roxbury Sunflower Project

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

Rosemary is a Black woman with a short, black bob.
Rosemary Tracy Woods | photo by Richard W. Bulda

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.

On the side of a parking deck, a mural of a woman of color in a tank top and glasses.
Mural created during the Fresh Paint Mural festival adorns a parking deck on Chestnut Street downtown | photo by Steven E. Nanton, MassLive

Special Mention 

In addition to the two recipients, NEFA staff and the panel acknowledged the importance of recognizing nine outstanding nominees who are also contributing to the field of public art through their work and leadership:

“The field of public art is made up of a constellation of amazing individuals who are creating and supporting impactful public art in their communities across Massachusetts,” said NEFA public art program coordinator Kamaria Carrington. “We see you and are grateful for the ways that these individuals are also continuing to inspire more just, vibrant public spaces and public life.”

Grant Panel

NEFA is grateful to the four Massachusetts arts professionals who served as the panel for this award:

  • Kent Alexander, writer/performer and anti-racism and workplace culture consultant, Northampton, MA
  • Kate Gilbert, artist/curator/cultural producer and 2020 Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art recipient, Boston, MA
  • Silvia Lopez Chavez, artist and 2020 Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art recipient, Boston, MA
  • Deidra Montgomery, musician and consultant in organizational learning, values alignment, and the arts, Somerville, MA

About the Newell Flather Award

The Award is named after Newell Flather 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. As one of the co-founders of GMA Foundations, Newell Flather has been a respected figure in the field of philanthropy since the early 1980s. The Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art is made possible by the Fund for the Arts, an endowed fund at NEFA. “Newell is an individual who has been key to the success of the New England Foundation for the Arts, as we champion access to the arts, investment in artists, and a commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility,” said Cathy Edwards, NEFA Executive Director.

About NEFA’s Public Art program

Through grantmaking and field-building opportunities, NEFA’s public art program invests in artists and the creative process, cultivates artists as civic leaders, and strengthens a community of practice. NEFA’s public art program is made possible by funding from the Barr Foundation and the Fund for the Arts, an endowed fund at NEFA.

About NEFA

The New England Foundation for the Arts invests in artists and communities and fosters equitable access to the arts, enriching the cultural landscape in New England and the nation.  NEFA accomplishes this by granting funds to artists and cultural organizations; connecting them to networks and knowledge-building opportunities; and analyzing their economic contributions. NEFA serves as a regional partner for the National Endowment for the Arts, New England’s state arts agencies, and private foundations. Learn more at www.nefa.org.