NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations are pleased to announce the first recipients of the Soros Arts Fellowship, a new initiative to support innovative mid-career artists using art and public space to advance pluralistic, democratic, and just societies. The eight fellows selected will each receive an $80,000 stipend to realize an ambitious socially engaged art project over the next 18 months.
With a long history of supporting arts and culture to advance social change, the Open Society Foundations today recognizes the importance of artists’ contributions and the necessity of using creativity as a response to increased repression across the globe. As spaces for public engagement are shrinking, the arts are often the last refuge of collective imagination.
“Whether in democracies with longstanding traditions of supporting freedom of expression or in countries undergoing political transition, artists working in public spaces can contest oppression, make hope tangible, and create momentum for change,” said Rashida Bumbray, senior program manager of the Open Society Foundations’ Arts Exchange. “This fellowship acknowledges the critical role that the arts can play in confronting obstacles to open society, and we are delighted to name these eight remarkable artists as our first cohort of fellows.”
The 2018 Soros Arts Fellows originate from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Haiti, Morocco, Romania, Sudan, and the United States. Each is pursuing projects of their own design—including an arts-based organizing campaign against public conviction registries in the United States; a citizen perspective film on life in the historically overlooked municipality of Lubunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and a cultural resistance movement against the privatization of natural resources in the Moroccan Benslimane forest.
The Soros Arts Fellowship was designed with a clear awareness of the challenges faced by artists and cultural producers doing social engaged work that is largely disconnected from the art market. The fellowship provides artists with the resources to develop a large-scale project on their own terms in their own local contexts. Over time, the Soros Arts Fellowship aims to build and strengthen a community of global allies.
The selection committee included Omar Berrada, curator and director of Dar al-Ma’mûn; Leslie Hewitt, artist and assistant professor at The Cooper Union; Sandra Jackson-Dumont, Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chairman of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Nato Thompson, artistic director of Philadelphia Contemporary; Arts Exchange staff Rashida Bumbray, Tatiana Mouarbes, and Lauren Agosta; and colleagues from the Open Society Foundations. As part of the fellowship, recipients have the opportunity for personalized professional development through mentorship by Ruby Lerner, founder of Creative Capital.
2018 Soros Arts Fellows
Khalid Albaih (Copenhagen, Denmark) will create a platform to connect artists and arts patrons around the world, forging an online community and helping to democratize public space and provide artists with access to spaces for their work.
Nana Oforiatta-Ayim (Accra, Ghana) will create a series of films exploring the cultural and historical kaleidoscope of each region in Ghana, as well as their most glaring—and often unspoken—ills, building sustainable interventions through partnership with local communities and foundations.
Hassan Darsi (Casablanca, Morocco) will work with residents of Beni Aïssi village in the Benslimane forest to create a cultural resistance movement against privatization of natural resources, which will include a citizen’s cultural walk to build solidarity and new artistic paths for interaction.
Laila Hida (Marrakech, Morocco) will collaborate with artists and activists to engage local communities to create new spaces for collective social interaction, community empowerment, and the reactivation of public spaces around Marrakech.
Faustin Linyekula (Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo) will collaborate with 30 artists in Kisangani on Lubunga Files, a four-part film portraying citizen perspectives on life in Lubunga, emphasizing the importance of locally produced narratives, images, and reflections.
Guy Regis Jr. (Port-au-Prince, Haiti) will infuse the streets of Port-au-Prince with poetic forms to shift public opinion around the symbolic and literal forms of violence against youth in these spaces.
Laurie Jo Reynolds (Chicago, United States) will organize a multidisciplinary campaign with diverse community partners to oppose conviction-based registries, housing restrictions, and exclusion zones, and instead advocate for policies that prevent victimization, support survivors, and assist people in leading positive and productive lives after a criminal conviction.
Alina Serban (Bucharest, Romania) is producing a revised version of her work The Great Shame, the first play solely focused on the history of Roma slavery, to shift discriminatory narratives and advocate for the equal rights and treatment of the Roma people.