Joyce Foundation awards 3 Chicago artists $75,000 each

By this time next year, artistic projects that re-envision a basketball court space, take a look at the Black community in Lake Michigan towns, and meld the iconic musical traditions of gospel music with Qawwali (devotional music that comes from Sufi Islam) will reach fruition — thanks to the Joyce Foundation, which awarded $75,000 to each of the artists behind them.

Now in its 19th year, the Joyce Awards, the flagship artist grant program of the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, were given to five Midwestern artists of color this year to support the creation of new large-scale works, each commissioned by a nonprofit in the Great Lakes region, developed in collaboration with communities. Three recipients are connected to local Chicago-based organizations. they are:

  • Regina Aug, who will be producing a large-scale panoramic installation that examines and connects waterways and natural environments as sites defining Black life and belonging to photography/archives/oral history work for the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago by June 2024. What started as a way to learn about her new home of Chicago in 2020 turned into a full-blown project that digs into a new geography that’s very much rooted in her memories and roots in the Gulf South region. “I anticipate doing site visits, trying to connect with people to understand their historical lineage,” Agu said. “I understand that there were entire lakefront communities that were segregated, where Black people owned land and were able to build lives for themselves, and I’m just fascinated by those stories.”
  • Marisa Morán Jahn, who has made a practice of looking at civic spaces and the radical art of play, will co-create HOOPS — a permanent outdoor basketball court shared by the new National Public Housing Museum and a new mixed-income housing development on the site of Chicago’s first federal housing project — with community members by June 2024. She said the court, which will reside west of the museum, is about, “celebrating public housing and its rich history of street games. The art, design and play are a lure to get you to think about that.”
  • Sonny Mehta, founder of the musical ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali, will take the next year to collaborate with South Asian communities on the city’s North Side and Black gospel groups on the South Side to create new music that combines gospel with Qawwali devotional music. He hopes to build a bridge between ethnic and faith-based communities through workshops and discussions by means of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts. Mehta’s work will be revealed over the course of the next year in September, March 2024 and June 2024. “Developing this is not just a musical exercise, but also one where we can talk about how our communities have been inspired from one another,” Mehta said. “Dr. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. And these populations found each other at that point, but also the Black Panthers when they went to a conference in the ’90s, they influenced the Dalit community in India … These communities have been given to the other previously and now we’re just trying to formalize this and move that historical conversation forward.”
  • Other winners include multidisciplinary artist Marlena Myles. who will use augmented reality to create public artworks that restore Dakota stories, language and art to the land, combining oral histories with geolocation and 3D animation for immersive encounters with animals, plants and spirits in Shafer, Minnesota. Interdisciplinary artists Julie Tolentino will develop an experimental performance installation in Cleveland, Ohio, that hopes to build solidarity and recognition between LGBTQ+ youth and elders, culminating in a series of works celebrating queer life.
2023 Joyce Awards winners Regina Agu, Marisa Morán Jahn, Sonny Mehta, Marlena Myles and Julie Tolentino.

According to Joyce Foundation’s Culture Program Director Mia Khimm, 90 applications were narrowed down to this year’s group of winners.

“All of these practices in Chicago this year are dealing with space in different ways,” she said. “If Marisa’s project is dealing with civic space and shared recreation space, I think Sonny is starting to think about moving from the sole proposition that there are spaces that divide us and that there are spaces that can bring us together; opening up conversations around communities that are more historically, or traditionally separated by the geography of Chicago, what are the ways that music can literally create new space.”

Meanwhile, Jahn, the current artist as resident instigator with the National Public Housing Museum), has been working with mixed-income housing developments for a while. Khimm said the jury loved how she’s flipping notions of what may be some people’s ideas of what urban planning might look like by bringing community participants and artists together to co-create an intergenerational space.

“With Regina’s project, she’s also thinking about space,” Khimm said. “This is a project that adds a lot of specificity: How did families settle here? What is the importance? How does the lake feature into their day-to-day now? Regina was previously located in the Gulf South and so her interest has always been on the literal potential of waterways to connect to people and to inscribe memory into a space. I love that this is one where it is going to transform how we see the city but also potentially for the participants, this is a community record as well.”

The next application cycle for the Joyce Awards opens July 5.

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