Plain Dealer: FRONT Triennial announces first four winners of fellowships aimed at uplifting local artists of color

Jul. 17, 2022

FRONT Triennial announces first four winners of prestigious new fellowship aimed at uplifting NEO artists of color

By Steven Litt,

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The racial reckoning that followed the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 continues to reverberate through American society, including the art world.

Within the rarefied realm of museums and galleries, Floyd’s death highlighted ongoing unresolved questions over how systemic racism has limited career opportunities for minority curators, critics, historians, and artists.

On Thursday, the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art announced the winners of a new, three-year career-building fellowship for Northeast Ohio artists of color, a program conceived specifically as a response to such inequities.

The announcement came at a FRONT press conference at the Cleveland Museum of Art that coincided with the launch of a two-day preview for the 11-week triennial. The show officially opens Saturday and runs through October 2 at 30 venues across the region, featuring works by 100 local, national, and global artists.

The press event attracted dozens of out-of-town media representatives, bringing high visibility to the fellowship winners, and to an art scene that rarely gets such attention.

And that’s part of the motivation behind the Art Futures Fellowship, which includes $25,000 for each winner, a berth in the 2025 triennial, plus travel opportunities and entrée to art world elites locally and nationally.

“We want this to be a life-changing experience,’’ Deidre McPherson, FRONT’s director of artistic and community initiatives, told and The Plain Dealer. “I don’t know of any other award or fellowship in Cleveland that has all of these attributes.”

FRONT Art Futures Fellows announced

Deidre McPherson, director of artistic and community initiatives for the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, announced the first four winners of the FRONT Art Futures Fellowship Thursday, July 14, 2022, at the Cleveland Museum of Art.Steven Litt,

Philanthropist and photography collector Fred Bidwell, the founding CEO of FRONT, said he originally intended to name just three winners Thursday. But the fellowship’s nominating committee deadlocked on four candidates whose work was so strong that they felt not a single candidate could be cut.

“I was either put in the difficult position of being the tie-breaker or finding the money,’’ he said. He found the money, drawing on major support from the Cleveland Foundation for the project.

Naming the winners

The winners are: Charmaine Spencer, 52, a sculptor who transforms everyday detritus into visually powerful accretions; Antwoine Washington, 41, a multi-media artist and progenitor of the nonprofit Museum of Creative Human Art; Amanda King, 33, a photographer, conceptual artist, and co-founding artistic director of the nonprofit Shooting Without Bullets; and Erykah Townsend, 24, a conceptual artist and recent graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art whose work explores pop culture and consumerism.

All four artists are Clevelanders who have generated strong local responses to their work and appear to be poised for breakthroughs.

In interviews over the past week, they said they view the fellowship as a huge personal and professional boost.

“Oh man, it feels great to be recognized this way — to be one of the four,’’ Washington told and The Plain Dealer when reached by phone. “I’m super ecstatic and excited. I can’t even explain my emotions now.”