Updates from Rebecca Blunk Fund Awardees

Awards honor tireless champion of the arts

Arien Wilkerson & Karim Rome, photo by: Jackie Andrews & Daniel Rubenbauer

Sarah poses and smiles.
Development Manager

As NEFA celebrates the fifth year of the Rebecca Blunk Fund awards, we remember Rebecca’s legacy as a tireless champion of the arts and reflect on the achievements of the artists supported by the fund.  

How did they use the awards?

Choreographer, performance artist, installation artist, and dance maker Arien Wilkerson (Awardee in 2018) used the grant to take his company on a successful 13-performance New England tour of his piece Equators. The tour was an amazing, but daunting, leap for Arien’s career and this support gave him the boost he needed. He was able to meet Daniel Minter, a black painter, author, and illustrator whose work raises awareness about the African-American experience in Maine, focused on the Maine Freedom trails and Malaga Island. Minter then came to see Equators when it toured to Portland!

Theater makers, puppeteers, festival organizers, and musicians Trudi Cohen and John Bell (Awardees in 2017) explained, “[The grant] allowed us to purchase two new road cases for our puppet shows, and to pay a carpenter friend to rebuild one of our puppet stages. We donated some of it to Great Small Works, our creative home. And we used it to travel to a community brass band festival in Austin, Texas. It did a lot!”

Jewelry maker and sculptor Margaret Jacobs (Awardee in 2018) used the funds to buy a Durston Rolling Mill. This is a standard tool for many jewelers, but Margaret had been unable to prioritize the purchase. She uses it often to hammer wire flat, which is something she previously had to do by hand. Now, she can count on a consistent finished product which saves her time and effort in the studio and opens up new design possibilities.  

How did receiving the grant inspire our artists?

A woman in a black and white graphic print costume and hat with her hands in front of her. A bold graphic black and white wall hanging is in the background.hanging
Trudi Cohen, photo by Erik McGregor

“We felt, and continue to feel, enormously honored to have received the Rebecca Blunk Award. More than the monetary benefit, which was certainly significant, the recognition of our work has been truly uplifting. The support which that affirmation represents – of what we’ve done, and continue to do – bolsters our spirits and, in a practical sense, helps us in our grant-writing and gig-seeking efforts.” – Trudi Cohen and John Bell

“This motivated me finally to do better; not only produce, but also to continue to inspire and give others the opportunity to inspire.” – Toto Kisaku, playwright, actor, director, and producer (Awardee in 2018)

“The award came at a time where I was feeling stuck artistically… When NEFA called to share the news that I had been selected, it felt affirming to be acknowledged by the region for my past work and contribution to the dance field. This award came at a timely moment and was a catalyst to reinvigorate me and, in turn, helped in creating my next evening-length show.” – Lida Winfield, dancer, choreographer, and spoken word artist (Awardee in 2016)

Why is this award special in the landscape of support for the arts in New England?

Margaret Jacobs noted that it is hard to find an organization that gives artists unrestricted funding. She highly valued the flexibility of the award and the freedom to choose how she could best use the funds to further her career.

A man dressed in a t shirt, rolled up pants, and no shoes sits on a darkened stage. A prone figure is on the floor in front of him; other figures are in the background.
Toto Kisaku; photo by Judy Rosenthal.

On the importance of using the award to improve our communities, Toto Kisaku suggested, “One word for the next nominees: Let's not go to our communities to show the award, but rather to justify, continue, encourage, teach, share, and show the actions that were the basis of this award. This is how we will see our communities act in harmony, freedom and real peace.”

We are so proud of all the talented and socially-engaged artists across New England, especially our Rebecca Blunk Fund awardees. We are grateful to have the opportunity to award the rare gift of unrestricted funding to artists to support their professional development and the creation of new work.

Rebecca Blunk Fund artist nomination is made by NEFA staff with input from external advisors, led by Marcie Hershman. We are excited to announce the next round of Rebecca Blunk Fund awards this summer. Keep an eye out our website and on our social media for information about our fifth cohort of accomplished New England artists!

These awards would not be possible without the generous contributions of people like you. The Rebecca Blunk Fund is entirely supported by individuals. Thanks to your donations, we have raised over $75,000 since 2014, directly supporting nine artists living and working in New England. 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.

To donate to the fund and support the creative excellence of even more artists, click here.

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