New England Artists Receive Rebecca Blunk Fund Awards
Unrestricted prize recognizes excellence and accomplishment
The New England Foundation for the Arts is pleased to announce the 2018 awardees of the Rebecca Blunk Fund. Each of the three recipients will receive an award of $3,000 in unrestricted support for the creation of new work and for professional development; the awardees are:
Margaret Jacobs (margaretjacobs.com), a jewelry maker and sculptor residing in Enfield, NH, was born and raised in northern New York, and is an enrolled member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. She attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, where she graduated with High Honors for her thesis work and received the prestigious Perspectives on Design Award.
Jacobs’ artist residencies have included the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, where she received a Native American Fellowship through the Harpo Foundation. She has shown at numerous galleries and juried art markets throughout the U.S., including FLYNNDOG in Burlington, VT; 516 Arts in Albuquerque, NM; Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, IN, and the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, ME. Her work has been featured in various print and online press including the mic.com article, 11 Native American Artists Whose Work Redefines What It Means to Be American.
Jacobs is known for her sculpture, jewelry and drawings.She uses all three approaches to explore the tension and harmony between natural and man-made, often intermingling unexpected and contradicting materials to explore those relationships. Jacobs maintains a studio practice in New Hampshire where she is very active in her local community.
Toto Kisaku is an award-winning Congolese playwright, actor, director, and producer residing in Middletown, CT. Toto was born in Kinshasa and studied drama at the National Institute of Arts. After establishing the K-Mu Theater in 2003, he spent the next 13 years traveling the world producing and participating in plays, with a focus on going beyond the constraints of daily life and examining how people living in difficult circumstances (poverty, oppressive regimes) can use artistic activities to recreate their environments and improve their lives.
As an activist, one of his most successful projects as producer and actor was "Basal'ya bazoba," which raised awareness of the law protecting children in Kinshasa and played to more than 150,000 people in and around Kinshasa. For this production Toto received the 2010 "Freedom to Create Prize," presented in Cairo, Egypt.
As a U.S. refugee since December 2015, Toto is redefining his artistic expression based not only on the drama that his country of origin is experiencing, but also on his experiences in the U.S., a country that has welcomed him with so many surprises, from its humanitarian philosophy to its perspectives on identity and freedom.
See his new play, Requiem for an Electric Chair, based on his escape from execution in Kinshasa, at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas on June 22-23, 2018.
Arien Wilkerson is a choreographer, movement, video, and installation artist. The Hartford, CT, resident began his dance training under the tutelage of Jolet Creary, and has been a student at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, the Artists Collective, Earl Mosley Institute of the Arts, and the Batsheva Dance Company’s "Gaga Intensive" in Tel Aviv, Israel. As a high school senior, Arien's work was selected for inclusion in Wesleyan University’s Dance Masters programming.
As founder and artistic director of TNMOT AZTRO, Arien’s work has been presented at art galleries, institutions and incubator spaces such as: The Historic Town and County Club of Hartford, The Wadsworth Atheneum, University of Saint Joseph, Scapegoat Garden Center for Contemporary Dance, University of Hartford, Little Berlin Philadelphia PA, HighTide Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia PA, Ted Hershey Dance Marathon, New Britain Museum of Art, Fuller Brush Factory, Hartbeat Ensemble, Housatonic Community College, Amistad Center for Art & Culture, Hartford Public Library AS22O Providence RI, and SPACE Gallery Portland Maine.
Arien served as co-facilitator for the Invisible City Project Cooperative, which supports Greater Hartford dance artists. Wilkerson was awarded the "Spirit of Juneteenth" Emerging Choreographer award given by the Amistad Center for Art and Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum. He is a recipient of NEFA’s New England Dance Fund and a Project grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts.
“We are honored to continue Rebecca’s legacy through these awards, which were established to recognize New England artists for their creative excellence and professional accomplishment,” said NEFA executive director Cathy Edwards, “and provide important unrestricted creative support to the region’s artists.”
To date, Rebecca Blunk Fund awards have been granted to nine artists. Previous awardees include:
- Elizabeth James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag), Dartmouth, MA (2015)
- Sokeo Ros, Providence, RI (2015)
- Sierra Henries (Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck), Sullivan, ME (2016)
- Lida Winfield, Burlington, VT (2016)
- Christal Brown, Middlebury, VT (2017)
- Trudi Cohen and John Bell, Cambridge, MA (2017)
About the Rebecca Blunk Fund
The Rebecca Blunk Fund at the New England Foundation for the Arts was established in memory of Rebecca Blunk (1953-2014), celebrating her 29 years of service to NEFA and her abiding passion for the arts. Honoring Rebecca’s desire that the fund support artistic creation, connection, and curation, the Fund awards annual grants to New England artists whose work demonstrates creative excellence and professional accomplishment. Awards are in the form of unrestricted funds intended to support artists’ professional development and creation of new work. NEFA welcomes donations to the fund on an ongoing basis; as with all donations to NEFA, donations to the Rebecca Blunk Fund are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Acknowledging Rebecca Blunk’s long service and expertise as part of the NEFA staff, artist nomination is made by NEFA program staff with comments by external advisors.
About Rebecca Blunk
Rebecca came to NEFA from the Nebraska Arts Council in 1985 as the director of performing arts and then served as deputy director for ten years before being named executive director in 2004. Under her leadership, the organization brought important resources to New England, strengthening its capacity to connect artists and communities through regional, national, and international programs. A tireless champion of the arts – from public art, the visual arts, music, dance, theater, and puppetry – Rebecca’s unwavering presence was felt across the arts and culture landscape, through her work in performing arts creation and touring, the creative economy, Native American arts, and cultural exchange on an international scale. Throughout her career, she derived deep personal reward from the artists and administrators with whom she worked.
About New England Foundation for the Arts
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 | 617.951.0010 x534