The National Performance Network is thrilled to announce the inaugural awardees of the Take Notice Fund, honoring artists of color living and working in Louisiana.
NPN envisions a world in which artists of color living and working in the South have the power, resources, and opportunities to thrive. The Take Notice Fund is part of NPN’s Local Programs, and expands upon this critical vision for the South.
The Take Notice Fund is a pilot program awarding $5,000 grants to artists and culture bearers of color living and working in Louisiana. Grant funds are unrestricted and intended to support an artist’s creative practice and/or wellbeing. “We’re seeking to lessen the monetary burdens and challenges that prevent an artist from thriving creatively, professionally, and personally,” says NPN’s Director of Local Programs Stephanie Atkins. “Those might be living expenses, family expenses, or the costs of bringing your art to your audience. The Take Notice Fund allows artists to determine how to use the funds to carve out space for their creative practice.”
By focusing on Louisiana, NPN aims to deepen the pool of direct funding opportunities for artists in our state, and hopes to develop the Take Notice Fund into a long-term annual grant program. With generous funding from the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression program, Take Notice Fund brings resources directly to creative practitioners. “We’re building new connections across the state of Louisiana,” Atkins notes. “I’m hoping that by launching this fund, we’ll encourage other creatives to engage with NPN and help us build the Take Notice Fund to bring credence to the program’s goals.”
Take Notice honors artists living and working throughout Louisiana whose bodies of work represent excellence, dedication to their practices, and contributions to this country’s discourse about racial equity and cultural preservation. “This fund has introduced me to artists who I will continue to follow,” Atkins says. “Take Notice definitely means what it says—stop and take notice of the work being done in this state by BIPOC artists. Louisiana has a strong base of creatives. It’s also an art capital.”
Take Notice is a program of the National Performance Network and is supported with funding from the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression program. As part of an explicit commitment to the American South, the Ford Foundation has provided more than $175 Million since 2016 to Southern organizations “who are advancing justice at a moment of historic opportunity.”
Introducing the 2021 TAKE NOTICE FUND AWARDEES
Click an artist's name to see more information.
“I am a native and current resident of Alexandria, Louisiana. I was a church musician for more than decade, before I became an atheist and left to pursue my own music. What makes my work unique is my flair for mixing visual presentation with accessible pop music. I am an independent electronic music artist who composes original pop songs. I also create conceptual visuals to accompany the music, either in the form of photography or music videos. My music and visual work are formed by my experiences as a Black, gay, genderfluid individual growing up in a conservative, deeply religious town.”
A native of New Orleans, LA, Katrina Andry received an M.F.A in printmaking in 2010. She currently lives and works in New Orleans where she maintains a studio. Andry’s work is often in dialogue with the viewer, asking them to confront their own race and gender biases and to consider how it affects the quality of life of their community writ large. Andry was listed in the September, 2012 Art in Print magazine as one of the top 50 printmakers. She has recently shown at the Hammonds House Museum (solo), the Pensacola Museum of Art (solo), and the New Orleans Museum of Art. She has also been an artist-in-residence at Anchor Graphics in Chicago, Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA, and the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans.
“My name is Greg Bright and I am an exoneree. In 1975, the police all but beat down my mother's door to arrest me for a crime I did not commit. More than 27 1/2 years after my arrest, I was exonerated. Set free. Let go. Out of prison. I went in at barely 20 yrs old and came out at 47, traumatized. My life lost. Gone. Stolen. It is art that relieves the trauma. It is painting that calms my stress. Self taught and focused on forgiveness, I am an artist. A Painter.”
Harold Ellis Clark
Harold Ellis Clark, a New Orleans native who resides in Gretna, Louisiana, has won playwriting awards from Playhouse on the Square (Memphis, TN) for We Live Here (2013) and UpStage Theatre (Baton Rouge, LA) for Fishers of Men (2013). He has been named one of two finalists for the Stanley Drama Award an unprecedented three times (2013, 2015, and 2016). American Blues Theater (Chicago, IL) named Harold a featured finalist for the 2018 Blue Ink Playwriting Award for his play Run No More and produced a staged reading of the drama. Among his most recent honors, Harold was named a finalist for the 2019 Todd McNerney Playwriting Award for his play Indoctrination, a finalist for the 2020 Trustus Playwrights’ Festival for his play Back in the Day, and a semifinalist for Back in the Day for the 2021 Blue Ink Playwriting Award.
Rodrecas “Drék” Davis
Rodrecas Davis is a native of Monroe, Georgia, and a graduate of the University of Georgia Fine Arts program—with an emphasis in drawing and painting. Primarily a mixed-media artist, Davis is also a former columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald and Code Z Online: Black Visual Culture Now. Since 2018, Davis has served as the Head of the Department of Visual & Performing Arts at Grambling State University, in Grambling, Louisiana. He has presented papers at academic conferences, including the HUIC (Hawaii University International Conferences) Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Conference, for which he discussed manifestations of hip-hop culture in the visual arts. His work has been featured in the Politics Issue of Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, ColorLines, and over sixty exhibitions, and he has curated three exhibitions.
Malaika received her BFA (1971) and MFA (1973) in art from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Her artwork is featured in Art: African American and African American Art and Artists, by Samella Lewis, Black Art in Louisiana by Bernardine B. Proctor, and the St. James Guide to Black Artists by Thomas Riggs. Malaika is also a poet: her publications include Dreaming at the Manor (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and Illuminated Manuscript (New Orleans Poetry Journal Press, 1991). Malaika won the 2016 Broadside Lotus Press Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award for her poetry collection Ascension. In 2019 Malaika won the Cosmographia Prize for Spiritual Fiction. Cosmographia Books will publish her novel in 2021.
Charles Claudel Garrett I
Charles Claudel Garrett I is a father of two, a literary artist, and a rugby teammate. He is based out of the Hub City, Lafayette, Louisiana. He is a widely published poet and has recently decided to diversify his creative talent. His works in progress include his novel Mansavage in Deadhorse and his screenplay The Lottery.
“As a native New Orleanian, I became interested in art while working as a shoeshine boy in the French Quarter where Jackson Square street artists shared with me their paint, brushes, and other supplies. I have had no formal training during my forty years as a full-time professional artist, instead allowing my materials and New Orleans’s African American culture to guide my work. In 2000 I established the Algiers Folk Art Zone & Blues Museum, one of the South’s few “living” folk art environments, where I create new pieces and give tours to educate the public about the region's blues and jazz musicians, as well as other Black self-taught visual artists. In addition to numerous local private collections, my work may be found in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.”
Gladney/Black Spade Creative
Gladney, Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist and composer, is one of the foremost creatives of New Orleans and a leading contemporary exponent of the saxophone. A 6th-generation native of New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward, Gladney has performed and traveled professionally since the age of 12. An integral part of the Jake Shears and Cha Wa bands, Gladney also leads his own self-titled project.
Willie J. Green III
“I am a spiritual musician and composer based in New Orleans, but originally hailing from LaPlace, Louisiana. I developed an interest in drums early in my childhood by playing gospel music in my dad’s church. During my college years at Loyola University New Orleans, I was able to study with some of New Orleans’s premiere drummers, Herlin Riley and Johnny Vidacovich. In my junior year at Loyola, I became the drummer for Delfeayo Marsalis’s Uptown Jazz Orchestra. Since graduating college in 2015, I’ve had the opportunity to play with New Orleans’s local legends, including Ellis Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roger Lewis, and many more. I have also played major festivals both at home and across the world, including the Manchester Jazz Festival in the UK, Charleston’s Wine and All That Jazz Festival, French Quarter Festival, and New Orleans’s world-renowned Jazz Fest.”
“I’m a North Carolina–born, Brooklynite, New Orleans transplant, a movement-based artist taking on the world through a curious lens. I’m no stranger to swirling on the edge of impossible, swimming in the sea of the minority. A 2017 Bessie Award recipient for Outstanding Performance with the Skeleton Architecture (a group of 21 Black womyn improvisors), I've been fortunate to present work all over the world,and sharpen my skills as a culture-bearer through writing about dance (for Dance Magazine and Dance Enthusiast) and co-hosting the Dance Union Podcast. The podcast has expanded to include a COVID relief fund and town hall series Dismantling White Supremacy (covered in the New York Times). Through my organizing and advocacy efforts, I’ve also been recognized among Dance Magazine’s Top 25 Dancers to Watch in 2021.”
Maroon Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson
Cherice Harrison-Nelson is an educator; narrative beadwork, visual, and performance artist; and arts administrator. She is the co-editor of eleven publications and has coordinated numerous exhibitions and panels on West African–inspired cultural traditions from New Orleans. Her creative expressions have been performed, presented, and exhibited locally and internationally. She is the recipient of several honors: a Fulbright Scholarship to study in West Africa; a Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Award, 2016; a United States Artist Fellowship; and a Joan Mitchell artist-in-residence. She approaches her art as a cognitive provocateur, with intentionality, to engage observers through imagery and performance that simultaneously explore gender roles, classism, and other limiting/confining norms. Currently she is working with her mother, Herreast Harrison, to expand her artistic offerings to include narrative beadwork embellished quilts/wall hangs. Her mother is a fifth- generation quilter, and through the collaboration, Harrison-Nelson will combine the both artistic expressions of the Harrisons and Johnsons.
“I live and improvise my life in Bulbancha (New Orleans) as an immigrant nonbinary movement/performance artist and educator after being born and raised in Japan for 25 years. My artistic lexicons are rooted in social justice, somatics, child education, and ancestral and healing work including 祖体 (SOTAI), of which I am its conceiver. My work and teaching have been accepted by internationally renowned organizations such as Isa Arts Center (Japan), Washi + Performing Arts artist-in-residence (Japan), Contact Improv Dance Chengdu (CHINA), Jacob’s Pillow (MA), Tulane University (LA), New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center (LA), re:FRAME Festival (LA), Alternate ROOTS (GA), Seattle Festival of Dance Improv (WA), Yellow Fish Durational Performance Festival (WA), Look Out Arts Quarry artist-in-residence (WA), and Earthdance Creative Living (MA).”
Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa
Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa is a Kenyan, Immigrant, Shoga|Queer storyteller, speaker, and feeler. The 2018 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, a 2017 TEDWomen speaker and ranked 3rd at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam, FreeQuency is a highly sought after performer, host, social justice teaching artist and workshop leader. Rooted in various global communities and having spent their life at the intersection of arts, education and activism, they and/or their work in Reproductive Justice, #BlackLivesMatter organizing and activism, LGBTQ+ advocacy and writing have been featured on the Independent, the New York Times, OkayAfrica, Upworthy, TEDx, For Harriet, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, and other outlets. FreeQuency is a founding cochair of the New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, a founding committee member of the New Orleans Youth Open Mic (NOYOM), festival coordinator for the New Orleans Youth Poetry Festival, a blogger with the AfroFashion and Culture Blog Noirlinians and a member of Wildseeds: The New Orleans Octavia Butler Emergent Strategy Collective.
Miles Labat is a filmmaker and musician based in New Orleans. His studies at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Oberlin Conservatory afforded tutorship under Ellis Marsalis, Billy Hart, and Gary Bartz. The international footprint of his touring career includes hosting drum master classes during the 2015 Rosh HaAyin Jazz Festival in Israel, performing with the first American ensemble to be included in the Riyadh Jazz Festival in Saudi Arabia, and organizing the first New Orleans Second Line march for the 2020 Rijeka Carnival in Croatia. His venture into the film industry resulted in office assistant work for 40 Acres and a Mule in Brooklyn and Paramount Entertainment in New Orleans. While working in camera departments for the Louisiana Film and Television Industry, he develops original film productions based on the historical relationship between nefarious politics and organized criminal syndicates.
Corey Ledet is a Grammy-nominated Zydeco artist who pays homage to his cultural heritage. “My great-grandfather Gabriel Ledet played professionally with the colorful early Jazz legend Bunk Johnson as an upright bassist. My grandfather Buchanan played drums with Clifton Chenier and Rockin’ Dopsie as Zydeco’s first drummer who invented the twice-pumped bass drumming pattern called ‘double clutching.’ Born and raised in Houston, Texas, I spent my summers with family in Louisiana, where I currently reside. This molded and shaped my world in a profound way, since I was exposed to Creole traditions and language. Promoting the cultural heritage of my family’s hometown of Parks, Louisiana, I study and incorporate Kouri-Vini, a Creole language indigenous to Louisiana spoken by family members, into new songs. At the age of 10, I started picking up shows as drummer for Houston’s Wilbert Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals, but I now play the accordion.”
Khari Allen Lee
As one of New Orleans’ most-in-demand artists, saxophonist, educator, composer, multi-instrumentalist Khari Allen Lee has performed and recorded with such luminaries as Alvin Batiste, Ellis Marsalis, the Treme Brass Band, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Dr. John, Aretha Franklin, Terence Blanchard, Stevie Wonder, DeeDee Bridgewater, Branford Marsalis, and many more. He is lead saxophonist and touring member of Delfeayo Marsalis’s Uptown Jazz Orchestra and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra directed by Adonis Rose, the leader of Khari Allen Lee & the New Creative Collective, and presently serves on the faculties of the University of New Orleans and Loyola University following his extended tenure at the prestigious New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). He has studied composition with Pulitzer Prize nominee Roger Dickerson since 2017.
Janie Verret Luster, Louisiana Tradition Bearer, United Houma Nation
“I grew up in a tiny community on the bank of Bayou DuLarge, which at one time was only accessible by water with a boat. I was surrounded by my Native American Houma people, both on my father’s and my mother’s side of the family. They were all traditional Houma people, actively practicing traditional ways of life. They fished for local seasonal seafood. Hunted for wild game and fowl. My mother always had a garden and grew everything we needed. She also had chickens and ducks to supplement the seasonal foods. I learned the use of medicine plants from my mother, my father, my grandparents, and my great grandmother, who lived to be 107 years old—from both sides of my family. These are the people I trained with throughout my life from my childhood to adulthood. Today, I carry on our traditional ways of life and preserving our culture.”
“I’m an urban landscape painter born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. After arriving in New Orleans alone with one duffel bag in 1994, I worked as a focus puller and an audio editor, and studied plein air painting. When Katrina and the following flood came, I had been working for a public radio program American Routes for 5 years. I wasn’t painting yet, but hearing how musicians, visual artists, and culture bearers like Black Masking Indians got their start in interviews at American Routes made me want to create something on my own. My work has been shown at Staple Goods, the Front, LeMieux Galleries, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and reviewed on Gambit Weekly and Pelican Bomb. I hold a BA in film production from the University of New Orleans, and an MFA in painting from Tulane University, where I learned to paint indoors without paintbrushes.”
“I am a Louisiana (born in DeRidder; live in Monroe) native with a passion for telling stories that amplify people of color and encourage others to discover their power through intellectual discourse. I was a high-school English teacher for thirteen years, and eleven years ago, I published my first book. With a bachelor’s degree in English (with minors in Communication Studies and African American Studies) from Louisiana State University, a master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and an Education Specialist degree from Northcentral University, I have dedicated much of my career to fulfilling my personal goals of writing meaningful literature and helping others achieve their dreams through education. However, two years ago, I began pursuing my career as a writer, poet/spoken word artist, and speaker full-time, with a dream to be noted as one of the most influential female writers of the twenty-first century.”
Leyla McCalla is a bilingual multi-instrumentalist, cellist, and singer who draws inspiration from both the traditions of her past and the new sounds of her present. She grew up in Brooklyn to a family with Haitian heritage, but her work is influenced by many cultures, from traditional Creole, Cajun, Haitian, and pre-zydeco Black French music to American jazz and folk. Her hope is to create music that carries three centuries of history but also sounds strikingly fresh, distinctive, and contemporary. She accomplishes this balance of music and message, in part, by spending long periods of time researching her musical subjects so she may authentically incorporate their sounds. For the past decade, following her move to New Orleans in 2010, she has deeply explored Louisiana Creole music. The focal point of her creative journey has now shifted to mixing her adopted home of Louisiana with her ancestral home of Haiti.
Big Chief Brian Nelson
Nkem Big Chief Brian Nelson has been an active participant in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition for 33 years. In 2014 he was crowned a Nkem (royal chief), within the N’weh Nation of Cameroon, West Africa. In 2011 Brian earned his MFA in cinematic arts from the University of Southern California. His thesis film, Keeper of the Flame, has received local, national, and international awards and honors including the prestigious Paul Robeson Award for independent Black Film, special honors at the Femi International Film Festival of Guadeloupe, San Francisco Black Film Fest best short film award, just to name a few. In his latest project, Big Chief Brian Nelson returns to his musical roots as both performer and the executive producer of an upcoming bounce hip-hop/Black Indian fusion musical release that he hopes will take the music community by storm.
“Like many young artists, I grew up immersed in Second Lines and jazz music, but also found myself influenced by both my mother’s and father’s work in the fine arts. My hometown, New Orleans, has been the center of most of my inspiration. In New Orleans, I found many similarities between youth culture and philosophies and those of the adult world, and have turned to documenting our presence. I’ve worked with arts organizations including the Oklahoma Black Museum & Performing Arts Center, the Recording Academy, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Heritage School of Music, and the Wild Life Reserve.”
Jamar Pierre, New Orleans International Muralist
“I am a New Orleans artist with strong ties to my city. As a painter and muralist, I love contrasting urban and rural environments while merging contemporary folk art and landscapes with my experience in the 1980s street art scene. I paint to bring conversations about culture, traditions, and history to life. While much of my work starts on paper and canvas, my true passion is creating large-scale murals that tell the stories of our city by amplifying voices that are not always heard. I use murals to create a cultural memory and pass stories and tradition on to the next generation. My passion for cultural advocacy and my desire to ensure that diversity is reflected in public art drive my work.”
Nik Richard is an illustrator, poet, and urban planner from and living in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans. Nik’s work is at the intersection of retelling the vibrant history of New Orleans and interpreting current urban issues with his colorful and surreal art style. Nik works primarily as an illustrator, collaborating with many local and national agencies on editorial works and public art installations. Nik is a current Joan Mitchell Center fellow, and has just completed his first public mural in New Orleans.
Genaro KỲ Lý Smith
“I was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, during the war, so I am Amerasian. My father is from New Orleans, and my mother is Vietnamese. Therefore, I write about Amerasian, African American people as well as disenfranchised people. I have published three books: The Land Baron’s Sun: The Story of Lý Loc and His Seven Wives won the 2016 Indie Book Award, and the novel The Land South of the Clouds took second place for the 2017 Indie Book Awards in multicultural fiction.”
Gian Francisco Smith
“In December of 2005 I returned to New Orleans following my longest stay away before or since. Resolved to help restore and cultivate the culture and art of my beloved New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, my first step was to establish the currently longest-tenured spoken word open mic in the city, created by myself and friends. Since 2008, Pass It On open mic has been highlighting poetry, music, and visual art. My storytelling goals, however, needed multiple dimensions, which ultimately led me to filmmaking. In 2018, in an effort to stimulate and cultivate the independent Black film community here, I started the Black Film Festival of New Orleans, which just wrapped our fourth annual event this past March.”
Tyrone Big Chief Pie Stevenson, Big Chief of Monogram Hunters, started masking at age 12 with Yellow Pocahontas under Big Chief Tootie. He masked with Yellow Pocahontas for 23 years, then with Tootie’s blessing became Big Chief of Monogram Hunters in 1992. In the 2000s, he stepped away from masking, concerned that the culture had gotten away from the traditions. He spent five years with the Porch program teaching sewing and Black Masking Indian traditions historyto kids after school. Pie realized the importance of teaching the Indian traditions to the next generation. In 2014 he returned to masking, wearing black with the tribe’s first Big Queen. In the following years he was joined by his son 2nd Chief Jeremy Stevenson and other members, including youth he taught at the Porch. The tribe started holding Indian Practice at the First and Last Stop Bar where he started going to practice in his youth. He has encouraged kids in the community to participate at practice, ensuring that they learn the traditions he grew up with. In recent years Pie has sat on the Indian council. Recently Monogram Hunters launched a website and music album, which is a mix of traditional Indian music and oral history.
Whitney was born in 1990 in Shreveport, Louisiana. A lover of both art and music, Whitney has been fascinated by the juxtaposition of the two for as long as they can remember. Their goal as an artist has always been to help individuals understand and navigate through life while stimulating discussions on mental health matters. A graduate of Centenary College of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Art, their work has been showcased in Shreveport-Bossier City, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Dallas, Texas. Whitney has also created and worked on several murals, most notably 240,000 Miles at Brake & Clutch in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district, Leaders of Tomorrow and Home in downtown Shreveport, and Dreamers at Linwood Public Charter School. They also collaborated to create Black Lives Matter and Vanessa Guillén Memorial Walls in 2020. They currently reside in their hometown of Shreveport as a full-time artist.
José Torres-Tama & ArteFuturo Productions
Ecuadorian-born Mestizo immigrant José Torres-Tama is a performance and visual artist, published poet and playwright, photographer and journalist, cultural activist, and the director of ArteFuturo Productions. He chronicles the underbelly of the “North American Dream” mythology and raging anti-immigrant hysteria gripping the country since 9/11. Among many awards, he’s received a MAP Fund for his Taco Truck Theater ensemble performance on wheels, an NEA Regional Artists award, and three National Performance Network Creation Fund awards. From 2006 to 2011, he contributed post-Katrina commentaries for NPR’s Latino USA weekly news journal and exposed the myriad human rights violations Latin American immigrant reconstruction workers have endured while heroically contributing their blood, labor, and love to resurrect the flooded port city of New Orleans from its critical deathbed. His forthcoming book Hard Living in the Big Easy: Immigrants & Photography of Post-Katrina Protests 2010–2019 has received a 2020 Jazz & Heritage Foundation award for its development.