A documentary filmmaker, a group of edgy choreographers and a glass artist are among the 52 winners of the 2011 United States Artists fellowships.
The $50,000 grants, announced today at a ceremony hosted by actor Tim Robbins in Santa Monica, California, went to a group ranging in work from poets to photographers and in age from 31 to 78.
The winners include Steve James, who directed the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams” about the struggle of two black teenagers to become professional basketball players; Tennessee-based photographer Mike Smith, known for images of rural Appalachia; modern-dance pioneer Donald Byrd, who choreographed “The Color Purple” on Broadway; and experimental composer Sxip Shirey, whose offbeat guitar playing blends odd noises with music.
“The grant allows me to work on my next film without having to secure funding immediately,” said James, whose most recent documentary, “The Interrupters,” had its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
USA provides funds for “the most innovative and influential artists” in their field who struggle to maintain a steady income, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit said in a statement.
“Our staff makes the phone calls to the winners, and sometimes they’re crying or they’ll say, ‘You’ve pulled me back from the edge,’” Katharine DeShaw, USA’s executive director, said in a phone interview. “You get a sense that the award is a real life saver.”
Candidates are nominated by an anonymous panel of people in the arts and then apply for grants. Past recipients have included cartoonist Chris Ware, fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte; choreographers Benjamin Millepied and Bill T. Jones; and the novelist Sapphire.
The Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential and Rasmuson foundations helped set up the USA Artists program in 2005 with $22 million in seed money. Those institutions teamed up last year with the Omaha-based Todd and Betiana Simon Foundation to expand the program by establishing a $50 million endowment and capital campaign.
Other winners this year include glass artist Beth Lipman, architectural designer Jenny Sabin, guitarist Manuel Barrueco; poet A.E. Stallings (who won a $500,0000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in September); assemblage artist John Outterbridge; and theater artist and painter Roger Shimomura whose work addresses Asian-American stereotypes.
A complete list of the grant winners can be found at http://www.unitedstatesartists.org.