Proulx, ‘M. Butterfly’ Author, Drummer Win $50,000 Grants

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Annie Proulx, playwright David Henry Hwang and virtuoso jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette are among the 54 winners of the 2012 United States Artists fellowships.

The $50,000 grants announced today in Los Angeles went to visual artists, architects, writers and musicians ranging in age from 31 to 81.

The Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential and Rasmuson foundations helped establish the USA Artists program in 2005 with $22 million in seed money.

An endowment fund was set up in 2010 by the four nonprofits and the Omaha-based Todd and Betiana Simon Foundation. The grants program has so far raised $10 million toward the $50 million fund.

Other winners include New York architects Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto; modern-dance choreographer Trisha Brown; Alabama native and documentary filmmaker Margaret Brown; Brooklyn-based performance artist Coco Fusco; master banjo player Tony Trischka; and visual artist Edgar Heap of Birds, who examines American Indian issues in his work.

Hwang, the author of “M. Butterfly,” said it “was an amazing feeling” when he learned that he had won the no-strings attached grant. He said he will use it to set up a transportation fund for his future productions.

“It’s wonderful that an organization such as United States Artists has picked up the slack,” Hwang said by phone, referring to the decline in arts funding in recent years.

Candidates are nominated each January by an anonymous panel of people in the arts and then apply for grants. Past recipients include cartoonist Chris Ware, fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, the novelist Sapphire and choreographers Benjamin Millepied and Bill T. Jones.

“It’s a fascinating mix of people,” Katharine DeShaw, executive director of the Los Angeles-based United States Artists, said by phone. “We have well-known leaders in their fields, and then there are people like Tony Trischka, who’s the greatest banjo player in the world, but a lot of people don’t know him.”

The list of winners includes such emerging talents as Alaska-based multi-genre artist Nicholas Galanin, Sarajevo-born fiction writer and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant winner Aleksandar Hemon, filmmaker Lee Issac Chung and edgy performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena.

According to DeShaw, the awards can be a career booster for artists who are rising stars in their field. About 91 percent of those selected use the money to further their work.

“Some artists are getting book deals or get on the tenure track where they teach because of the grants,” DeShaw said. “The validation for some artists is becoming more important than the cash.”

A complete list of the grant winners can be found at

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Elin McCoy on wine.

(Corrects filmmaker Margaret Brown’s biographical information in the fifth paragraph of a story published Dec. 3.)
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