Valuing and Supporting Artists Through the Fields Artist Fellowship

Most artists lead a precarious existence, always in search of funding to sustain their work. For community-based artists, fear of budget and program cuts loom large. Arts based in schools, recreation centers, or featured at community events — arts reliant on public and grant funding — faced an existential threat as gatherings and facilities closed during the pandemic.

Crystal Meneses

Crystal Meneses, an arts activist and musical therapist from Lincoln City, has been teaching music and art for the past 21 years. She expresses the fear of uncertainty that artists face as they go through their careers, never knowing whether their funds will be revoked the next day.

“As a kid, music started getting cut. We didn’t have art classes. Programs were constantly getting cut,” says Meneses. After high school, Meneses joined nonprofit organizations to specifically focus on growing art and music programs in schools and staying financially viable. “It was always a struggle for people to understand that music and art have value.”

Inspired by the constant fear artists face and in search of a creative outlet for artists during the pandemic, Meneses developed her own online nonprofit to support artists in her community. Her organization focuses on art activism and honors individual artists. Activate Arts Now is for guiding, funding, and teaching young artists through community projects, music programs, and youth summer camps. Her work was funded by the Fields Artists Fellowship supported by OCF, as she was one of four awarded artists in 2019.

“I really have never been so supported artistically, ever. I have nothing but gratitude,” says Meneses about receiving the fellowship.

Artists like Meneses contribute to communities by creatively challenging society with different approaches. They develop fresh creative ideas in a variety of different mediums. Yet, artists often do not have the funds to implement larger projects or to make a profitable living, especially emerging and freelance artists who are at pivotal points in their careers.

What is the Fields Artist Fellowship?

The Fields Artist Fellowship, developed in partnership with Oregon Humanities and funded by the Fred W. Fields Fund at OCF, was created in 2019 to provide basic support to help artists accomplish their goals.

“Normally artists struggle to begin with, and they’re always hustling and trying to find their next job,” says Chey Kuzma, associate program officer for the arts and culture program at OCF. “Having this fellowship was particularly meaningful for these four artists because not only do they not have to struggle day to day, but when COVID hit, they were still able to rely on that funding,” says Kuzma.

The fellowship provides crucial support for artists in multiple disciplines to progress their artistic careers, to develop unique and significant ideas to acknowledge the opportunity gap in Oregon, and to create networking and community building opportunities between artist communities in the state. OCF has long focused on addressing the opportunity gap – differences in early life that limit opportunity, achievement and outcome – through programs and funding centered on youth and marginalized communities. The fellowship carries this work forward.

Every other year, four artists are chosen to receive the two-year, $100,000 fellowship. The Fields Artist Fellowship has just launched its second iteration. One of the major differences between the first and second cohort is that eight separate finalists will also be awarded a $10,000 one-time grant.

Announcing the 2021-2023 Fields Artists Fellows

On July 8, Oregon Humanities and OCF announced the second cohort of four fellows, along with the eight finalists. More than 250 artists applied, an increase of more than a hundred over the first round. Professional artists, members of the first fellow's cohort, and board members of both Oregon Humanities and OCF made up the selection committee.

This second cohort of artists feature four unique people from different regions in Oregon. They all come from various backgrounds and have a shared goal of closing the opportunity gap in their communities through creative work. The artists featured are:

Gabriel Barrera is a Mexican American /Chicanx visual artist from Ashland. He currently owns and runs ScenicG. Barrera will use the funds to increase BIPOC youth mentorship in Southern Oregon, create culturally specific art workshops, start a webcast series featuring art and justice, and share and produce stories of BIPOC identities and experiences in the Rogue Valley through multi-medium artworks.

CarlaDean Caldera from Madras, is a culture bearer (a member of a cultural group who practices a specific cultural activity or skill and is in the process of transmitting it) and an advocate for the Northern Paiute community. Given her background in education and love for Northern Paiute cultural legacies, she will develop public events, outings, and digital technologies to educate and share knowledge about the Northern Paiute culture, teachings, and the Numu Yaduan language through the fellowship.

Jason McNeal Graham (MOsley WOtta) is a multiethnic and multimedia artist from Bend. He is a musician, painter, and writer and is holding the position of Bend’s First Creative Laureate. He will be using the fellowship funds to develop multimedia performances, collaborative murals, and creative storytelling that will address systemic inequities in Oregon and open up conversations in the state.

Sharita TowneSharita Towne, from Portland, is a multidisciplinary artist and educator. She was recently appointed Program Head of the master's program in visual studies at Pacific Northwest College of Arts (PNCA). She will be using the fellowship towards researching, planning, and developing a safe space for communities that are affected by displacement and forced migration. This includes building a mobile art center and expanding her studio practices.

All 12 artists will receive their first payment of the fellowship fund later this year and will get to start working on their projects and connecting both with each other and outside networks.

The First Cohort - 2019-2021

In 2019, the four artists chosen included two musicians, a photojournalist, and a Klamath Modoc artist and activist. These artists all had unique proposals that contributed to their community in their own artistic way. These artists included:

Crystal Meneses launched a music festival and children's choir with the help of the fellowship in her hometown, Lincoln City. Crystal also composed an original musical, launched a non-profit organization, and commissioned several murals.

Mic Crenshaw from Portland helps fight against racial and economic injustice through his love of hip-hop and used the fund to further his hip-hop career and research and develop creative projects for marginalized students to get paid work.

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith is a visual artist and activist from Chiloquin, a town within the former Klamath Tribal Reservation lands. She used the funding to build a woodworking studio, create art for several exhibitions, teach classes in multiple art mediums, and create mentorship programs for tribal youth.

Joe Whittle is a photographer and writer residing in the remote Wallowa Valley, and an enrolled tribal member of the Caddo Nation. Joe created summer activities for children impacted by the opportunity gap, led an intergenerational backpacking trip for Nez Perce descendants through their traditional homelands and has been researching the opportunity gap in Oregon through his journalistic writing.

This first cohort had less than a year to get started with their projects before the pandemic hit. When COVID-19 shut down every in-person activity, it impacted the Fields Artist Fellows directly because they were forced to reevaluate their projects and adjust to new protocols. The fellows were grateful they received funding that gave them the opportunity to continue working on their projects despite the economic hardships that were raised during the pandemic.

As a composer and teacher, Meneses found it quite difficult to combine her art and her community after the pandemic hit. “I think what people need to realize is that [artists] are community organizers,” says Meneses. “How can I use virtual gathering and still create art?”

Meneses, along with the other artists, re-adapted their projects to fit new COVID regulations. “It was wild, and it was also really devastating,” she says. Her nonprofit was created amid the pandemic after all in-person community events had been canceled and she could no longer host choirs, festivals, or musicals.

“Basically, half of their fellowship was during COVID, they didn't get to do all of the things that we were hoping they’d get to do,” said Kuzma. One of the biggest opportunities that the fellows had to miss out on because of quarantine was being able to really connect with Oregon Humanities and OCF’s stakeholders. “It’s super important for them to make these connections and these networks,” Kuzma said.

Despite the hardships all artists faced over the pandemic, the fellows connected and kept each other motivated. Now that their projects have launched, they can look forward to continuing building on the work they started during the fellowship and increase visibility in their communities. On top of that, these fellows will connect with the second cohort and watch them thrive in a post-pandemic world. As with the first cohort, OCF will have regular check-ins to learn about progress with their projects and keep the artists engaged and connected.

To support valuing the arts and artists in your community, OCF invites you to contribute to the Oregon Arts and Culture Recovery Fund or contact your donor relations officer to learn more.