Smile Politely

Cynthia Oliver named United States Artists Fellow

Cynthia Oliver, dancer, choreographer, scholar, and Professor and Associate Vice-Chancellor for Research in the Humanities, Arts, and Related Fields at the University of Illinois, has been named a 2021 United States Artists Fellow. This prestigious fellowship honors artists’ “creative accomplishments and supports their ongoing artistic and professional development.”

Oliver’s 2018 project, Virago-Man Dem, was nominated for a number of Bessie awards; you can read our interview with her here. You can learn more about her dance and choreography projects on her website.

United States Artists Announces 2021 USA Fellows

In largest fellowship to date, Sixty artists working across ten disciplines receive unrestricted $50,000 fellowships.

CHICAGO —February 3, 2021—United States Artists (USA) is pleased to announce its 2021 USA Fellows. This year, sixty artists across ten creative disciplines will receive unrestricted $50,000 cash awards. The award honors their creative accomplishments and supports their ongoing artistic and professional development. The 2021 USA Fellows class is the largest in the organization’s 15-year history. USA Fellowships are awarded to artists at all stages of their careers and from all areas of the country through a rigorous nomination and panel selection process. Fellowships are given in the following disciplines: Architecture & Design, Craft, Dance, Film, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts, Visual Art, and Writing.

Past awardees include painter and visual artist Howardena Pindell (2020), documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (2010), writer Teju Cole (2015), potter Roberto Lugo (2016), multimedia artist Paul Chan (2007), dancer and choreographer Alice Sheppard (2019), fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte (2009), filmmaker Barry Jenkins (2012), master Mardi Gras suitmaker Darryl Montana (2014), poet Claudia Rankine (2016), and multidisciplinary artist Martha Rosler (2008).

“We are grateful for every artist whose artmaking, music, writing, and more is helping us to navigate and cope through this harrowing time in our country,” said United States Artists President & CEO Deana Haggag. “The 2021 USA Fellows are a testament to the power of art in shaping the world around us and navigating its complexities. Artists do so much for our communities, and we are grateful to be able to support these sixty incredible practitioners and welcome them into the United States Artists fellowship.”

The USA Fellowship is the organization’s flagship program and is central to its mission of believing in artists and their essential role in our society. In many ways, 2020 has shown the resilience and necessity of that mission, and the organization. As a founding partner of Artist Relief, United States Artists helped to distribute over $20 million in direct funding to nearly 4,000 artists in need. United States Artists also administered the Ford Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Disability Futures initiative and is working on similar funds that are planned to be announced this year, as the organization works to deepen and diversify its cultural impact.

“Artists are at the core of their communities, and as the difficulties of the past year have demonstrated, it is more important than ever that we continue to support individual artists,” said Ed Henry, USA Board Chair. “And as we continue to meet the challenges 2021 will bring, it is also clear that USA must remain nimble and responsive to the needs of the field, which is why we are honored to be able to support the largest cohort in our history with sixty artists this year.”

Edwidge Danticat, a 2020 Writing Fellow, said, “From the beginning of my career, I have always benefited from the generous support of others, be it the use of a family member’s house, or advice from older and more experienced writers, or grants and prizes that have gifted me the time to concentrate on my work. Now more than ever, artists need this kind of support, not just for continuity, but for safety and survival.”

Since 2006, the USA Fellowship has provided direct support to artists across the country. With this unrestricted award, Fellows decide for themselves how to best use the money—whether it is creating new work, paying rent, reducing debt, getting healthcare, or supporting their families. To make its work possible, United States Artists actively fundraises each year and is supported by a broad range of philanthropic foundations, companies, and individuals committed to cultivating contemporary culture across the country.

The 2021 USA Fellows are:

Architecture & Design

Jennifer Bonner / MALL

Walter Hood

Olalekan Jeyifous


Diedrick Brackens

Bisa Butler

Amber Cowan

Salvador Jiménez-Flores

Cannupa Hanska Luger

Tiff Massey

Erin M. Riley


Ishmael Houston-Jones


Emily Johnson

Cynthia Oliver

Ni’Ja Whitson


Faren Humes

Macha Colón

Stephen Maing

Darius Clark Monroe

Naima Ramos-Chapman

Jennifer Reeder


Morehshin Allahyari

Stephanie Dinkins

Lauren Lee McCarthy

Mother Cyborg


Martha Gonzalez

Edward “Kidd” Jordan

Tomeka Reid

Wadada Leo Smith

Mazz Swift

Theater & Performance

Jibz Cameron

Carmelita Tropicana

Christopher Chen

Sandra Delgado

Idris Goodwin

Mia Katigbak

Karen Zacarías

Traditional Arts

Ofelia Esparza

Nathan P. Jackson

Basil Kincaid

Kawika Lum-Nelmida

Carolyn L. Mazloomi

Geo Soctomah Neptune

Delina White

Visual Art

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Lex Brown

rafa esparza

Maria Gaspar

Sharon Hayes

Carolyn Lazard

Daniel Lind-Ramos

Aki Sasamoto


Alexander Chee

Eve L. Ewing

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Dunya Mikhail

Elizabeth McCracken

Natalie Y. Moore

Danez Smith

Ocean Vuong

About United States Artists

United States Artists is a national arts funding organization based in Chicago, IL. We raise money and redistribute it in the form of unrestricted awards to the country’s most compelling artists and cultural practitioners. Since our founding in 2006, we have awarded more than 700 individuals with over $33 million of direct support.

Top image by LaTosha Pointer.

Related Articles