ROSTEN WOO (Los Angeles, CA) was a finalist for the Johnson Fellowship.  He is an artist, designer, writer, and educator living in Los Angeles.  He makes things that help people understand complex systems, re-orient themselves to places, and participate in group decision-making.  His pieces combine bold graphic language and detailed historical research, slow collaboration, and computational data-visualization to tell big stories, while leaving trails to counter-narratives to explore. He is particularly known for his facility in working with governmental agencies to find new ways to engage constituents and translate complex policy to stakeholders and publics. The Los Angeles County Arts Commission asked him to produce a visioning tool for residents of Willowbrook—a neighborhood on the cusp of receiving a "transformative" investment from the County–to communicate their hopes and dreams to planners. Instead, he produced a series of events and installations and a for-the-community publication designed to make visible the assets that are already there and ensure an immediate benefit to the community itself, but also tell the history of government and non-profit neglect and abuse.  The County supervisor commissioned 6 additional book projects about adjacent neighborhoods.  Also with LACAC, as part of the County-wide Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, he conceived and conducted an interactive art project, “Sharper Edges: Tell Us How You Really Feel,” which engaged participants at public town halls one-on-one.

CAROL ZOU (Houston, TX and Philadelphia, PA) Carol’s Zou practice invests in building social capital and artistic capacities within individual community members.  Zou uses a media-based approach as an easy transition to creating zines, printmaking, murals, and other visual art forms.  Her aesthetic can be very do-it-yourself and presents itself on the streets as a site for public gatherings.  She posits that the ways we visually shape our streets are linked to the power dynamics of who gets to access public space. Zou organized the guerrilla fiber art collective Yarn Bombing Los Angeles. Notable projects include Trans.lation, an arts and cultural platform initiated by Rick Lowe and commissioned by the Nasher Sculpture Center, located in the immigrant, refugee, African American, and Latinx neighborhood of Vickery Meadow, Dallas, Texas; and Michelada Think Tank, a multi-state alliance of creative workers of color that highlights the need for diversity in the creative fields.

MEL ZIEGLER  (Rushville, NE and Nashville, TN) Mel Ziegler’s early public art, in collaboration with Kate Ericson, is considered a precursor to current social engagement art.  Having grown up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, Ziegler’s commitment to rural life and culture underpins his current work in Rushville, NE and the creation of the Sandhills Institute. Each summer, the Institute invites leading artists from around the world to Rushville to research the region, engage deeply with the community, and, in collaboration with local residents, develop the artistic language necessary to give voice to Rushville’s collective life.  In between these fellowship cycles, the Institute supports the same artists as they return to Rushville over a period of years for independent field research. For example, artist Russ Finch worked as part of the Sandhills team to develop a Greenhouse in the Snow using geothermal energy that will allow citrus trees to grow in the Great Plains. It will be built next to the new Rushville Art Center, also initiated by the Sandhills Institute.  His own projects include staged “lighting events” featuring the Midwestern landscape documented in photographs and his American flag exchange project.

BAYETE ROSS SMITH (New York, NY)  Bayeté Ross Smith is a photographer, multi-media artist, visual artist and filmmaker whose projects are deeply rooted in storytelling. He particularly narrates the complex American story of race, from his place as an African-American man. His "Got the Power: Boomboxes" series tells the stories of communities through the music its member listen to.  The nationally acclaimed project "Question Bridge," a collaboration with two other artists, traveled the country and featured Black men from all walks of life in a profound examination of Black male history across generations.  He has also been a long time educator/artist in Brooklyn schools with the Kings Against Violence Initiative. Bayete recently completed a storytelling residency with The New York Times and used that incredible platform to examine stories of race and hybridity in 21st century America.

LAURIE JO REYNOLDS (Chicago, IL) has devoted her professional life to fusing artistic and cultural production with social and political activism, what she terms “legislative art.” Reynolds is best known for her work with the TAMMS Correctional Center, a supermax prison in southern Illinois that was designed for sensory deprivation. Reynolds early work at TAMMS included Space Ghost, an experimental video depicting a series of telephone calls from prison juxtaposed with found footage of astronauts and prisoners. In 2007, Reynolds worked with current and former inmates, their families, and other artists to launch TAMMS Year Ten, a grassroots legislative campaign demanding that the prison be reformed or closed. The campaign featured relentless lobbying and cultural projects, such as Photo Requests from Solitary, which invited men in isolation to request a photograph of anything, real or imagined. In 2013, in large part due to her work the prison was closed. Another project, the Honey Bun Comedy Hour (HBCH), is a variety show co-created with currently and formerly incarcerated people and their family members to depict everyday realities of prison life. The goal is to use humor and parody to expose absurdities in the current system (sparing no one) and build enthusiasm for specific policy reforms.

ANDREA POLLI (Albuquerque, NM)  Andrea’s work aims to create a link between environment and health, making visible largely unseen qualities, creating awareness about local data, and providing access to resources to learn more.  Her public work draws attention to invisible changes in our local environment providing opportunities to discuss topics such as health and inequality.  It speaks to the data-driven generation without requiring technological skill as an entry point, it aims to be simply engaging and compelling.  Previous public works include:  Particle Falls, Cloud Car, Breather, Airlight, Energy Flow and and draw attention to the history of public participation in air and climate issues and contemporary public forums for weather and climate, including art and activist projects that address the politics of air.

NIKKITA OLIVER (Seattle, WA) is a poet and spoken word artist, a regular teaching artist in Seattle schools, attorney, and anti-racist activist. She has been actively involved in Black Lives Matter and No Youth Jail movements in Seattle. Creative Justice, an arts-based alternative to youth incarceration launched in response to those movements, has contributed to a policy of zero incarceration being embraced by the King County Executive and Seattle City Council.  Her work with youth combines artmaking and culminating community gatherings that share creative expressions and may include participatory rituals that have moved even resistant participants from indignance to empathy. The County’s Superior Court and Prosecuting Attorney also support Creative Justice as a successful model for effective alternatives.  Now working as Mentor Artist and Case Manager, Nikkita is instrumental in expanding the program’s reach to support families of youth participants and to help youth understand and navigate the court system. Because of the potency of her poetic voice and her community-based artivism, she has opened for Cornel West and Chuck D of Public Enemy, and performed on The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert.

SHANAI MATTESON & COLIN KLOECKER (Minneapolis-St.Paul, MN) Their projects are strongly based in storytelling, and connect community development, cultural equity and environmental science in urban and rural communities.  A Mile in Our Shoes, addressed issues of racial and class equity in employment, housing, and transportation, inviting residents in a Minneapolis neighborhood to donate shoes and a personal story which were then displayed in a neighborhood storefront and publication about transportation equity.  The Water Bar, an ongoing project, is both a physical studio/storefront and a roving “water bar” that serves municipal water from around the country, in an effort to “uncover and enhance the cultural value of water in our world.” Water Bar focuses on facilitating dialogue and building creative collaborations within multiple sectors, neighborhoods, and regions. This process opens up a new space for people to solve or address common problems – or to envision new possibilities for how personal stories interact and open pathways for expression and collective impact.

CRISTOBAL MARTINEZ’s (San Francisco, CA) projects offer alternative visions of public life. His projects engage citizen groups to address issues such as: socio-economic inequities, climate change, and indigenous self-determination. His most noted recent work, Repellent Fence, was created as a member of the three-member artist team Post-Commodity. Repellent Fence was an installation of 26 super-sized, helium-filled, scare-eye balloons tethered in a line perpendicular to the international border dividing the city of Douglas, Arizona, USA and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico (2015). Through public engagement and community cultural activities, people were drawn in to consider the impacts of border policy, transmigration, sense of place, and indigenous history. Repellent Fence: 1) added to a conversation about binational collaboration as a way to increase Douglas and Agua Prieta artists' opportunities to make, show, and sell their art; 2) revitalized a conversation between the two towns’ municipal authorities about their MOU for binational cooperation; 3) spurred a conversation among local Mexican officials, who noted that they could finally do positive things from their offices, rather than deal only with the complaints and fears that arise from border policy; and 4) increased feelings of pride, hope, and understanding among young people on both sides of the border about their heritage, their communities, and the possibilities that lie ahead.

JOHN MALPEDE (Los Angeles, CA) John Malpede has has worked for decades as a citizen artist in the Los Angeles community and is a force in advocating for the homeless through his performances and his work with the Los Angeles Poverty Department.  John performs, directs and engineers multi-event arts projects that have theatrical, installation, public art and education components.  Through LAPD, Malpede creates performances that connect lived experience to the social forces that shape the lives and communities of people living in poverty. LAPD’s activities and projects use theater and other arts to draw attention to the myriad challenges experienced by those who live on Skid Row, and other low-income communities.  Through their grassroots efforts, LAPD has affected attitudes and policies concerning the homeless population in Los Angeles. This work has impacted many aspects of these communities including: gentrification and community displacement, drug recovery, the war on drugs and drug policy reform, the status of women and children on Skid Row and mass incarceration and the criminalization of poverty. As a result of the work that John and LAPD do, many Skid Row agencies have moved to integrate arts into their programs.  With homelessness at an all-time high and acrimony intensifying in Los Angeles and other cities across the nation around issues of development and gentrification, the work in which John is engaged is on the cutting edge of urban policy.

MIGUEL LUCIANO (Brooklyn, NY) is a multimedia visual artist.  He is known for his series of public Kite projects.  While teaching at El Puente's Academy for Peace in Justice High School in Brooklyn, he brought Puerto Rican students from Brooklyn to work with their peers in Vieques, Puerto Rico and flew the kites over the fences of the military property, transgressing the border from the sky in a peaceful protest and public art project.  His DREAMer Kites, he engaged a group of undocumented young people to fly kites with images of themselves behind the White House and on the National Mall to advocate for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.  Currently, Luciano is working on a project that engages the economic crisis in Puerto Rico and its relation to the diaspora.  Luciano was appointed by Mayor Bill De Blasio, he serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Cultural Plan of New York City.

SUSIE LEE (Seattle, WA) has explored a range of media from clay to live performance, new media installations to social practice.  As a socially conscious public artist entrepreneur, she is co-founder and CEO of a free, mobile dating app called Siren which shifted the conversation about art and tech, about the definition of “artist,” and called out the inherently misogynistic world of the on-line dating meat market.  Siren illustrates the through line of her practice and body of work:  a longing for connection and the ability to bring the most intimate and private aspects of a human life into a shared, social space – both physical and virtual space.  Her residency with the Washington Care Center was a cross-sector partnership at the intersection of housing, arts, and community development. In more traditional community engaged practice she worked over three months with long-term residents of the long-term care facility and explored aging, time, image, memory, and relationships, culminating a a series of video portraits.  According to Agency staff member, the transformation in patients’ lives was evidenced in their interactions and the ways they became historians and cultural custodians as they shared stories.

MILDRED HOWARD  (Oakland, CA) Howard’s public works are deeply rooted in history, memory and place. They are a means of discovery and often asks “how might these concerns be otherwise?” Her decades long body of work in art opens avenues of cross-cultural understanding and provides entry points for those who may not have access to museums, galleries and traditional places where art is shown.  Housing, particularly affordable housing has been a primary focus. She worked with Homeward Bound on their Next Key Project which provides housing and job training to former homeless. In the late 1990’s she led a series of think tanks on “What is America in Relations to Home” with artists and community activist in her Berkeley Studio. Her work in Bay area juvenile halls, county jails, and group homes were about using art as a vehicle of expression and broadening one’s perception about the possibility of understanding the world and its complexities. Mildred Howard has been more than an artistic presence in the Bay Area community. She has been a profound influencer. So much so that in 2011, Berkeley mayor Tom Bates officially declared Tuesday, March 29, 2011 to be Mildred Howard Day.

DEWEY CRUMPLER (San Francisco, CA)  Dewey Crumpler is Associate Professor of Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. His current work examines issues of globalization and cultural co-modification through the integration of digital imagery, Video and traditional painting techniques.  He has volunteered for such organizations as the Western Edition cultural center and bay view opera house. Mr. Crumpler's decades long continued engaging in community through painting, teaching and creating programs has changed he lives of many and produced a generation of storied artists.  He has been awarded a number of Public Art commissions, including the Western Addition Cultural Center in 1984, the Joseph Lee Gymnasium in 1983 and George Washington High School in 1974.;

BRANDON BALLENGEE (Baton Rouge, LA)  Brandon Ballengée is a visual artist, biologist and environmental educator based in Louisiana.  Many of these communities are rural, impoverished and at risk of disappearing within the next few decades because literally their homes will be under water. At public schools, civic centers, Mardi Gras or Blessing of the Fleet community festivals, Brandon sets up the Crude Life Museum. He engages people in complex socio-ecological issues and impacted species and invites them to  create their own art to contribute to the museum. He has brought the Crude Life Museum to the Louisiana State Senate and national locations for education and advocacy. Brandon’s Love Motels for Insects (2001-ongoing) are large-scale outdoor ultra-violet light sculptures planted with pollinating plant gardens that attract insects.  By inviting people to bug watch, Brandon shows them an essential side of ecosystems, using art as a means to engage them in a larger dialogue on environmental issues.

TOMIE ARAI (New York, NY) has made a life and a career of focusing her artmaking on the stories and contributions of the Asian American community to this project we call America. She is trained as a printmaker and makes beautiful work in that realm, often portraits and neighborhood renderings based in oft-hidden histories of Asian communities in the US. She is always searching and looking for new ways to engage ideas and to make work. She has made public art with Creative Time, NYC's transit system, and most recently with CAAAV, a community and tenants organizing group in Manhattan's Chinatown. The latter is part of the Chinatown Arts Brigade (CAB), which she cofounded to address themes of gentrification, displacement, and resilience in Chinatown. She has led workshops to provide spaces for tenants to draw their experiences into a story and clear demands on city officials.  She and CAB have worked very with CAAAV to build a coalition of local artists and neighbors as they've held a great variety of public art events in the neighborhood, including light projections, photographs, and walking tours. /

TANYA AGUIÑIGA (Los Angeles, CA) Recipient of the 2018 Fellowship is Los Angeles-based artist, Tanya Aguiñiga. Tanya’s work helps others understand the lived experience of the contested US-Mexico border, drawing from her own experience as U.S. born but growing up in Tijuana and crossing the border daily to go to school in the U.S.  Her participation in AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides) demonstrates her interests in the power of community and identity.  AMBOS is a series of artists’ projects implemented in August 2017 created to “recontextualize borders and generate a localized hub for international collaboration.” Tanya recorded the experiences of those traveling across the border to the north every day through the use of a quipu, the Andean Pre-Columbian organizational system.  Commuters on the Mexican side were given two strands of thread and asked to anonymously tie them into a knot.  ‘The strands represent the US and Mexico’s relationship to one another.  Each knot was tied to other knots.  The cumulative daily bundled knots were then organized into a large-scale quipu artwork and displayed on a billboard above the AMBOS storefront hub.

EDITH ABEYTA  (Pittsburgh, PA)  Edith Abeyta’s community-based art is about cultural self-determination and access for people living in the city’s most challenged neighborhoods.  Inspiring her nomination is Arts Excursions Unlimited now in its fourth year.  This project began as a two-year residency sponsored by the Office of Public Art at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Hazelwood.  Serving Hazelwood, a “neighborhood left behind,” Arts Excursions Unlimited has two parts:  first is a free, monthly excursion that brings up to 110 members of the community to a place in the region they want to go; and second is the Satellite Studio which provides a safe, comfortable, and welcoming place during hours that the Library is closed.  Abeyta’s work is characterized by deep, authentic, and continuous process of getting to know the communities with which she works and empowering them to determine cultural experiences that they would find valuable.  Every person becomes the artist, charged with deconstructing the old narrative and place and creating a new community narrative through cultural opportunity, connectivity, ownership, and most important, choice.


Cath Brunner, 4 Culture, WA

Mel Chin, artist, NC

Xavier Cortada, artist, FL

Matthew Fluharty, Art of the Rural, MN

Erin Harkey, Chicago Dept. of Culture & Special Events, IL  

Kemi Illesanmi, The Laundromat Project, New York City

Gordon Knox, San Francisco Art Institute, CA

Sara Conley Odenkirk, art lawyer, former Chair, Public Art Network Council, CA

Renee Piechocki, artist, public art consultant, formerly with Pittsburgh Office of Public Art/Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

Constance White, public art consultant, TX

Johnson Fellow Selection Committee

Jerry Allen, public art/cultural planning consultant

Jessica Cusick, civic art and community development consultant

Janet Echelman, sculptor, Past PAN Council Member, Visiting Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Felix Padron, artist, Americans for the Arts board member, and former executive director of the City of San Antonio Department for Culture and Creative Development

Mara Walker, Chief Operating Officer, Americans for the Arts

Patricia Walsh, Public Art Programs Manager, Americans for the Arts