(Boston, MA) The New England Foundation for the Arts is pleased to announce the four Massachusetts-based recipients of the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art: Christa Brown of Lowell, Rob “Problak” Gibbs of Boston, Catherine T. Morris of Boston, and Marquis Victor of Lawrence. 

Founded in 2020, the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art annually honors Massachusetts artists, curators, and arts administrators in the field of public art who have demonstrated leadership in contributing to this evolving field. And this year, in honor of the life and legacy of the late Newell Flather (1938-2021) and his commitment to his hometown of Lowell, MA, NEFA is celebrating leaders who also demonstrate a similar love for and commitment to place, and the people of that place. 

Each recipient is awarded $5,000 in unrestricted funds in celebration of their leadership and impact in their communities and in the field of public art. This year, nearly 50 individuals were nominated by community members, colleagues, and collaborators. In the spirit of abundance, this year NEFA has doubled the number of awardees from two to four recipients as a tribute to Newell’s generosity and leadership.  

“Newell was key to the success of NEFA’s public art program, as we continue to champion access to the arts, investment in artists, and a commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility,” said Cathy Edwards, NEFA executive director. “Newell was a dedicated ‘son of Lowell,’ and it is particularly fitting this year that, after Newell’s passing, among the recipients is a Lowell-based social justice leader.” 

A collage of four headshots of four folks of color, two men and two women. One of the men's portraits is in black and white and the rest are in color.
(clockwise from top left:) Christa Brown, photo by Kevin Harkins; Rob "Problak" Gibbs, photo by Gabriel Ortiz; Marquis Victor, photo by Mavvro; Catherine T. Morris, courtesy of Morris.

Learn more about NEFA’s 2022 Newell Flather Leadership Award in Public Art awardees:

  • 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.

“Catherine, Christa, Marquis and Rob are anchoring hope, imagination, and possibility through public artmaking that is with/for/by community” said Kim Szeto, program director of public art at NEFA. “They are bridging the worlds of graffiti and public artmaking, inspiring the next generation of public artmakers, pushing the boundaries of what has been traditionally seen as public art, and so much more. They lead with integrity, humility, and clarity of vision for the power of arts and creativity to generate possibilities – for stories to be told, new conversations to be stirred, and generative disruption to be cultivated.”

NEFA is grateful to the three Massachusetts cultural professionals who adjudicated the awards: 

  • Danielle Amodeo, Associate Director of Communications and Public Programming at the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College 
  • Mina Kim, Independent Consultant
  • Danya Sherman, Founder and Director, Sherman Cultural Strategies 

About the Newell Flather Award

The Award honors the late 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. 

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.

Contact: Ann Wicks, Communications Director | awicks@nefa.org | 617-423-1390