2022 Esteemed Artist Awards

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Mallory Backstrom

Mallory BackstromMallory creates Fairy Tales for Sun-Kissed Women, an anthology of short stories and immersive audiobooks. An artist, writer, and teacher. She’s a member of the Goodman Theatre Playwrights Unit and the inaugural Sullivan Playwright in Residence at the University of Illinois. The recipient of the DCASE Esteemed Artist Award and the Chicago Dramatist Tutterow Fellowship. Her plays have been featured by the Goodman Theatre, Sideshow Theatre, New Coordinates Theatre, Story Theatre, Refracted Theatre Company, and the Athena Project. She’s lectured at the University of California-Davis, and Illinois Humanities. Her art has been displayed at the Freedom and Movement Gallery. @FairyTalesForSunKissedWomen.



Raul Benitez

Raul BenitezRaul Benitez is a film programmer in Chicago for over 14 years. Raul currently is the Senior Programmer at the Midwest Film Festival, and the After Dark programmer at the Chicago International Film Festival. Raul programs at Comfort Station Logan Square, Full Spectrum Features, and the Nightingale Cinema. Raul has been named a Chicago Film gem for 2015, 17 and 19. Raul was on the team for the Chicago Cinema Workers Fund which donated money to theater workers who were affected by the pandemic. Raul has been a Jury Member for Animated Shorts at the Chicago Children’s International Film Festival.





Geof Bradfield

Geof BradfieldGeof Bradfield’s work as a composer and saxophonist embraces intersections of jazz and other streams of African Diaspora, drawing inspiration from Charlie Parker, Melba Liston, Lead Belly, Shona mbira, and Gullah spirituals. Bradfield has performed nationally and internationally with artists such as Randy Weston, Dana Hall, Clark Sommers, and Jeff Parker. His eight albums as a leader have garnered critical accolades from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and NPR. He has received grants and awards from Chamber Music America, DCASE, Illinois Arts Council, and the Mellon Foundation. Bradfield is a Professor of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University.




Resita Cox

Resita CoxResita Cox’s films are a poetic portrayal of her community’s irrepressible spirit and resilience in the face of racism. Her documentary film work is people-based, meaning it not only features unique, personal stories but also prioritizes relationships and is constantly working to reimagine an equitable filmmaking model. Born and raised in the South, her films center Southern, Black communities and use them as a lens to examine topics ranging from environmental justice to racial justice. With a degree in journalism from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Resita started her career as a storyteller in TV news as a reporter in North Carolina and later in Chicago. Resita has worked with Kartemquin Films as the Impact Producer on their Emmy-nominated docu-series produced with The Marshall Project, We Are Witnesses. She is the director of Freedom Hill, a documentary about the environmental racism that is washing away the first town chartered by Black people in the nation, with which she was named a 2021 Hulu/Kartemquin Accelerator Fellow. She holds an MFA from Northwestern University in Documentary Film and is a 2021 Sister’s in Cinema Documentary Fellow. Resita was also recently named a North Star fellow with esteemed documentary organization, Points North Institute.




P-Top Delacruz

P-Top DelacruzJemal “P-Top” De La Cruz is recognized among the top footwork dancers in the world. He came to prominence as a battle dancer in the footwork group, Goon Squad. In 2014, P-Top co-founded The Era Footwork Crew and began to tour internationally. He has danced at festivals such as Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. P-Top was recognized as a choreographer of the year (New City Magazine) and cultural organizer of the year (FADER Magazine) alongside The Era. He has long been focused on the youth of Chicago, creating an event series called “The Ring” on the south side of Chicago. P-Top also helps run social media for the nonprofit Open the Circle, where he interviews and publishes stories featuring other footwork dancers across generations in Chicago. P-Top helped create "footwork saves lives'', a campaign to help bring awareness to footwork as a positive outlet for youth in Chicago.






Ivelisse “Bombera de Corazón” Diaz

Ivelisse “Bombera de Corazón” DiazIvelisse “Bombera de Corazón” Diaz was born and raised in Humboldt Park, the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. At the young age of five, she began studying Bomba under the mentorship of her beloved uncle Eli S. Rodriguez, a founding member of Chicago’s first Bomba and Plena collective Grupo Yuba. Soon after, Ivelisse was performing as a member of Yubitas, Grupo Yuba’s premier youth offshoot. Her thunderous yet melodic vocals would cause fourteen-year-old Ivelisse to be a lead vocalist on Yuba’s Chicago Sabe a Bomba y Plena album. Continuing the legacy of Grupo Yuba, Ivelisse is a founding member and lead vocalist of Bomba con Buya and director of the all women Bomba y Plena group: Las BomPleneras. In 2009, La Escuelita Bombera De Corazon was founded out of Ivelisse’s commitment to Black and Indigenous art education and her first-hand experiences of Bomba’s revolutionary power. Almost 30 years since her first day of class with her Tio Eli, Ivelisse chooses to encounter the drum daily as a student, creative artist, community organizer, proud Boricua de Chicago, and most importantly, a mother to her dearest daughter Amaya.


Instagram: @Ivelisse_Diaz_ / @laescuelitabdc

Facebook: La Escuelita Bombera de Corazon


Caitlin Edwards

Caitlin EdwardsViolinist Caitlin Edwards began her musical journey at the age of 8 within a non-profit organization in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. She gained acceptance into the Alabama School of Fine Arts and music festivals such as the Kennedy Center Summer Music Institute and the National Repertory Orchestra, later attending the University of Louisville (BM) and DePaul University (MM). Caitlin is a 2021 3Arts awardee, 2018 Gateways Music Festival Rising Star, a co-curator with the Fulcrum Point New Music Project, and a former fellow with the Chicago Sinfonietta. In addition, she has received Grammy certificates for recordings on Disney’s “The Lion King'' and for albums by John Legend and PJ Morton. She released her debut album “Exhale” in 2021. Caitlin is a classically trained violinist, but she’s inspired by gospel, jazz, hip-hop, and neo-soul. She composes original music and intentionally performs the works of Black composers to make sure that these compositions are remembered and spotlighted for aspiring young BIPOC musicians and the world as a whole. Caitlin is a proud member of D-Composed and Ensemble Dal Niente.

Exhale livestream performance (beginning at 45:00): www.twitch.tv/videos/1485053986

Album: https://ffm.to/caitlinedwards

www.youtube.com/channel/UCttzf7Rd9X7PRBFquicjGyg  /  www.caitlinedwards.com/


Wesley Frazier-Keys

Wesley Frazier-KeysWesley Frazier-Keys is a native of the south side of Chicago and a proud CPS graduate. He has used the art of poetry and spoken word to take him all over the country teaching and competing. He is the 2015 Chicago Grand Slam champion and finished 6th out 200 poets at the 2015 Southern Fried poetry festival. In 2018 he repeated as Chicago Grand Slam champion and coached the team representing Chicago at the National Poetry Slam. During the 2021 Souther Fried Poetry festival he made another appearance in the finals. Writing and performing became a passion for Wesley at a young age and he cannot wait to see where the creator leads him on his spoken word journey.






Gretchen Hasse

Gretchen HasseGretchen Hasse is a storyteller working in comics, collage, public art, moving images, and soon… robots. She has exhibited work throughout Chicago, and her films have screened in New York City, Berlin, London, and computer screens everywhere. She curates with Agitator Artists’ Cooperative, where she is a founding member. Gretchen is drawn to stories and images that describe perseverance and triumph through the resourceful re-creation of reality.








FlorHi my name is Flor, I am a “Conceptual” artist working through Painting, Performance & Poetry. My works are proposals for queer belongings & new modes of expressing and relating to one another. Some themes and subjects in my works are flowers as a standing for myself (Flor) & Kiki a queer monarch butterfly that loves the discotheque & a poem about the letter X. I have had recent “Solo” exhibitions at Chicago Artists Coalition, ADDS DONNA, BAR4000, Heaven Gallery, I was recently selected as a “Breakout Artists 2021: Chicago’s Next Generation of Image Makers” by Newcity Art.





Ayako Kato

Ayako Kato (Inception ETHOS II, Photo by: Ricardo Adame)Called “moving everyday sculptures, artfully cast in naturalness” (Luzerner Zeitung, Switzerland), Ayako Kato is a contemporary experimental choreographer/dancer originally from Japan. Since 1998, as Ayako Kato/Art Union Humanscape, her practice is in deep collaboration with live music and grounded on the principles of fūryū, Japanese for “wind flow”, cyclical transformation and human motion in nature. Ayako creates solo and choreographs larger ensemble pieces as well as movement installation. Her work is performed on traditional stages and site-specific locations, including historic landmarks and nature. Her current promenade and nature walk style ETHOS Project has been conceived since 2017.






Steve Marquette

Steve Marquette (Photo by: Cristina Marx)Steve Marquette is a guitarist, improviser and organizer based out of Chicago, IL. Over the past decade he has become an integral part of the city's storied and vibrant improvised music community while touring the United States and Europe in ensembles of his own (The Few, Kobra Quartet) and as a member of Ken Vandermark's Marker among other projects. In addition to his work as a musician, he is also a founder and lead organizer of the biannual Instigation Festival - which brings together performers from Chicago and New Orleans for a week of interdisciplinary collaboration in each city.




Reginald "Reggio the Hoofer” McLaughlin

Reginald "Reggio the Hoofer” McLaughlinReginald McLaughlin better known as Reggio “The Hoofer” is the Windy City’s most revered master of tap dancing. For many years, he has brought his inspired distinctive “hoofing” to the nation’s stages.

Reggio was awarded New York City’s prestigious “Flo-Bert Award” for his achievements as a hoofer, preservationist, and historian. Old Town School of Folk Music honor Reggio with their “Distinguished Teaching Artist Award,” as well as naming one of its dance studios in his honor.

In 2021 Reggio was awarded the United State’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, The National Heritage Fellowship presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. From a tap dancer starting his career dancing in Chicago’s subways, he has become a tap icon, and a National Treasure. He continues to proudly represent his home city of Chicago.

NEA National Heritage Fellows Tribute Video



Dipika Mukherjee

Dipika MukherjeeDipika Mukherjee moved to Chicago from Shanghai in 2012 and spends a lot of time at the neighborhood Harold Washington Public Library. She is the author of the novels Shambala Junction and Ode to Broken Things, and the story collection, Rules of Desire. Her writing is included in The Best Small Fictions 2019 and appears in World Literature Today, Asia Literary Review, Del Sol Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Newsweek, Los Angeles Review of Books, Hemispheres and Orion. She teaches at the Graham School at University of Chicago and at StoryStudio Chicago.





Lola Ayisha Ogbara

Lola Ayisha OgbaraLola Ayisha Ogbara (cultural worker & artist) born and raised in Chicago, Illinois holds many talents under her belt, i.e. sculpture, sound, design, photography and installation art. “My practice explores the multifaceted implications and ramifications of being in regards to the Black experience. I work with clay as a material in order to emphasize a necessary fragility which symbolizes an essential contradiction implicit in empowerments”. Ogbara holds a Bachelor of Arts in Arts Entertainment & Media Management from Columbia College Chicago in 2013 and a MFA in Visual Arts from Washington University Sam Fox School of Art & Design.

In 2017, Ogbara co-founded Artists in the Room, a collective of artists and scholars who host artists, emerging and established, in hopes of serving as a catalyst for artist development and networking. Ogbara has also received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Multicultural Fellowship sponsored by the NCECA 52nd Annual Conference, the Arts + Public Life and Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture Residency at the University of Chicago, and the Coney Family Fund Award hosted by the Chicago Artists Coalition.

Ogbara has exhibited in art spaces across the country and is currently based in Chicago, Illinois.



Isabel Quintero

Isabel QuinteroIsabel Quintero is a bilingual performer and a Chicago native. Her theater career spans over two decades focusing on new works and Latin American themes. The blending of music and storytelling has always inspired her and in 2011 she began working with her father’s poetry. The result was a Latin American music album titled La Osa Menor with original music by Gonzalo Córdova, colored by the folkloric melodies of Colombia. In 2019 she added storytelling, performing it as part of Steppenwolf’s Lookout Series. Isabel hosted a top rated Spanish radio show and has appeared on television and independent films.








Yves Francois

Yves Francois SmierciakYves Francois was first inspired to be a trumpeter after hearing Louis Armstrong on TV. He honed his craft on Chicago's South Side, and was mentored by jazz legends including Franz Jackson and Paul Bascomb. In 2006, Delmark Records released Blues For Hawk which included his early recordings with Franz, Eddie Johnson and blues drummer Odie Payne. Yves currently gigs around Chicago, including at the Green Mill with Alfonso Ponticelli.

Since 2002 Yves Francois Rocambu Jazz has been entertaining audiences with its intoxicating mix of jazz horns and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The new CD Viva Rocambu! will be out this summer.








Leonard Suryajaya

Leonard SuryajayaBFA, 2013, California State University, Fullerton; MFA, 2015, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 2017, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Selected exhibition venues include Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago; Arsenale Nord, Venice; Benaki Museum, Greece; Photoforum Pasquart, Switzerland; National Library, Singapore; Wrightwood 659, Chicago; Aperture Gallery, NY; The Block Museum, Chicago; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Frost Museum, Miami. Awards: Aaron Siskind Foundation Award, Artadia Awards, Robert Giard Foundation Fellowship, CENTER Excellence in Multimedia Award, New Artist Society Award, Claire Rosen and Samuel Edes Prize for Emerging Artist, The Santo Foundation Fellowship.






Yvonne Welbon

Yvonne WelbonYvonne Welbon is an award-winning filmmaker and Founder & CEO of the Chicago-based non-profit Sisters in Cinema, inspired by her documentary of the same name, about the history of Black women feature film directors. She is Senior Creative Consultant at Chicken & Egg Pictures and has produced dozens of award-winning films, which have been screened on PBS, Starz, TV-ONE, Bravo, BET, HBO, Netflix, iTunes, etc. and in over 100 film festivals around the world. Raised in an Afro-Latina Honduran household, Welbon lived in Taipei, Taiwan for six years, received a B.A from Vassar College, a MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, and is a graduate of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women. In 2020 she became a member of the Documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.





Andrea Yarbrough

Andrea YarbroughAndrea Yarbrough is a multi-disciplinary artist, curator and educator based on the South Side of Chicago nurturing sites of care through a blend of urban agriculture, civic engagement, and art praxis. Her praxis is embodied through the collaborative placekeeping initiative in ℅: Black women (in care of Black women), bringing together writers, curators, farmers, mamas, dancers, organizers, teachers, cultural producers, youth, and visual artists, to collectively exhume the (in)visibility of care for Black women.





Nejla Yatkin

Nejla YatkinDescribed by The New York Times as "a magician, telling tales and creating worlds" and "a fierce and supple performer," Chicago-based choreographer Nejla Yatkin travels the globe inspiring empathic connections between people and their environments. She creates solos, choreographs ensemble dances for stages and sites, collaborates on plays and film/video projects, and educates young artists. Nejla hails from Germany; her artistic lineage enfolds European dance-theatre, American Modern Dance, African-American modern dance, and numerous international influences. She is the recipient of awards from the Princess Grace Foundation, the National Performance Network, 3Arts and the Baryshnikov Arts Center, among others. for more visit www.ny2dance.com




Sara Zalek

Sara ZalekSara Zalek is an interdisciplinary artist, Avant-garde maker of situations and curious objects. Rooted in physical investigations of trauma, resilience, and transformation, their work is intimate, raw, poetic. They create learning situations, workshops, and sensing environments to encourage thoughtful interpersonal connections. Zalek performs often in both live and online situations; they most recently took residence at Elastic Arts Foundation curating an ongoing quarterly series, Hot Mess! Through Butoh Chicago, they connect national and international teaching artists with Chicago art makers across genres in the independent and fringe arenas. They are an active board member of the Runaways Lab Theater.