Media release

Rhode Island Foundation awards $25,000 fellowships to three RI artists

Among the nation’s largest no-strings-attached grants for visual artists, the MacColl Johnson Fellowships will enable the recipients to spend more time making art and less time making ends meet

Three local visual artists will receive what are considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to visual artists in the United States.

Matthew Rolando Garza of Rumford, Nafis M. White of Providence, and Derrick Woods-Morrow of Providence will receive $25,000 grants from the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation. They were selected from 135 applicants.

The Fellowships are intended to enable artists to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work, and explore new directions.

“Providing the financial support these artists need in order to advance their craft is an investment in them, and in growing a sector that makes Rhode Island such an amazing place to live,” said David N. Cicilline, president and CEO of the Foundation.

Garza, White, and Woods-Morrow were chosen by a panel of out-of-state jurors who are professional artists. They were selected based on the quality of the work samples, artistic development, and the creative contribution to their genre, as well as the potential of the Fellowship to advance their careers as emerging-to-mid-career artists.

Garza has been a performance artist and choreographer in Rhode Island for 15 years. They describe their creative practice as pedagogies of liberation, rehearsals for freedom, ceremonies for healing, and spectacles of joy, remembrance and care.

“So much of the tension we’re experiencing in our culture right now demands that we breathe and move forward together. For me, it’s a choreographic issue. Something special happens when people breathe and dance and sing and feel together. It changes us and unites us,” said Garza. “My collaborators in The Haus of Glitter believe that we will not think or fight our way out of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other oppressive systems; we are going to feel our way out of them. Our mermaid universe aims to be a space where we can feel our way forward together.”

Garza was a classroom educator for 11 years, has trained hundreds of yoga and mindfulness teachers across the country, and has worked on community organizing, curriculum and creative justice projects across the globe.

They are one of five co-founders and co-directors of The Haus of Glitter Dance Company + Performance Lab + Preservation Society in Providence, which recently ended a 3-year residency, endurance-based performance piece and creative historical intervention while living and working in the former home of Esek Hopkins, commander of the notorious slavery ship “Sally.”

“We would not be here without our elders and the creative justice ancestors who came before us. I’m so grateful to my family, The Haus of Glitter and The Yeredon Centre, in particular, for teaching me to imagine, practice, rest and put my fullness behind everything I believe in. This award feels like a divine whisper in our ear to keep going,” they said. “We are determined to transform the racist national monument dedicated to Esek Hopkins and we have other national and global projects in the works that we want our creative and performance work to uplift and nurture.”

Garza received a 2019 Fellowship in Choreography and a 2022 Fellowship in New Genres from the R.I. State Council on the Arts. They earned a BA in The History of Education at Brown University and a dual MA in History Education and Performance Art/Theatre at New York University.

White is an interdisciplinary, multi-hyphenate artist whose recent body of works are created from objects commonly found in beauty supply stores, industrial sites, and the seemingly limitless horizons of our global and political landscapes.

“I draw inspiration from the rich diaspora of experiences and traditions of Black beauty and self-care built upon centuries old histories of embodied knowledge that honors, celebrates and values the innovation, technology and imagination carried through and passed on by the fingertips of Black people,” she said. “Through weaving, hairdressing, sculpture and installation, my art centers the uncanny audacity of self-affirmation and love by means of repetition as a form of change. Community engagement, beauty, and the political root deep in my art.”

White earned an MFA and BFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work is in the permanent collection of the RISD Museum, the Newport Art Museum and University of New Mexico Art Museum, and has been exhibited at The de Young Museum, The RISD Museum, National Queer Arts Festival, The List Gallery at Brown University, New Museum, Goldsmiths University, Autograph ABP, OXO Tower in London, Overture Center for the Arts Madison, and the Rhode Island School of Design among many others.

“After unexpectedly losing my studio space due to the volatile and traumatic closing of a local nonprofit that provides exhibition space at below-market-rates, I worried that my livelihood had been upended. The sudden and unexpected closing necessitated quick thinking and a gathering of resources, so this Fellowship will help enormously in getting my studio practice re-anchored in time for an early summer move-in and my preparation towards two solo shows coming this fall. It couldn't be more urgent,” White said.

Woods-Morrow describes his work as navigating various disciplines, including self-care and intimacy, as a form of exploration, while using an array of aesthetic, aural, and tactile methods within his art. He holds a Schiller Family Assistant Professorship in Race, Art and Design at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he teaches in sculpture, textiles and painting.

“I am exploring queer experiences tethered and untethered to sexuality, race, and the expectations we put on ourselves and others. In my installations, a variety of different materials are brought together to create spaces of inquiry as I reflect on my upbringing as a sometimes timid and joyous queer-boy from the American South,” said Woods-Morrow. “While some of these materials function as tangible objects such as sculptures, tapestries and photographs, others are abstracted narratives from my chosen family bonds with others who I identify as my queer-kinfolk. Often collaboratively created, these elements illustrate relationships between physical material and ephemeral sounds, smells, and lighting effects. I see the work as an opportunity to discuss the potential inherent in all matters, especially black matters.”

His work has been presented nationally at the 2019 Whitney Biennial, in collaboration with Paul Mpagi Sepuya; The Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Smart Museum in Chicago, as well as internationally, in Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and Berlin.

His film, “Much handled things are always soft,” was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in 2022. Woods-Morrow is a member of the Chicago-based collective Concerned Black ImageMakers and serves on the Board of Directors of the Fire Island Artist Residency.

“The resources made available through this Fellowship honestly feel like an opportunity to rest and stop stretching myself so thin. I am most excited about hiring an assistant or studio manager to help navigate some of the additional responsibilities I’ve had to take on in running the business side of my art practice. I’d also like to create space for me to have more time in the studio. Ultimately, it will give me some space to radically imagine what dreams I’d like to follow next,” said Woods-Morrow.

He earned a BA at Randolph College, a post-baccalaureate certificate at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design and an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture.

The selection panel also named three finalists: Ryan A. Cardoso of Providence, Becci Davis of Providence, and Triton M. Mobley of Providence. They will receive artistic residencies at the Surf Point Foundation in York, Maine, and a $3,000 stipend.

Applicants had to be legal residents of Rhode Island. High school students, college and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree-granting program and artists who have advanced levels of career achievement were not eligible.

Established in 2003, the MacColl Johnson Fellowships rotate among composers, writers, and visual artists on a three-year cycle. The next round will be awarded to composers. The application will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Mr. Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a full-time painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the fellowships.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised more than $75 million in gifts and awarded nearly $84 million in grants last year. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.