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Lewis Center awards Hodder Fund grants to 10 artists for the 2020-21 academic year

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

In light of the immense constraints artists are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lewis Center for the Arts has awarded Hodder grants to ten artists for the 2020-21 academic year.

The diverse group of grant recipients include theater director Lileana Blain-Cruz ’06, Nigerian artist Onyedika Chuke, interdisciplinary director Mark DeChiazza, choreographer Marjani Forte, actor and performing artist Jennifer Kidwell, composer and musician Aurora Nealand, poet and journalist Maya Phillips, writer and translator Aaron Robertson ’17, choreographer Katy Pyle, and visual artist Paula Wilson.

Like the Hodder Fellowships, recipients of Hodder grants must continue to produce work, “making the most of their creative potential.”

Originally established in 1944, the Mary MacKall Gwinn Hodder Fund supports five fellows selected by the Lewis Center for the Arts every fall to continue their practice and develop new work with “studious leisure.” The artists are selected for exhibiting “much more than ordinary intellectual and literary gifts,” as stated on the Lewis Center’s website.

Hodder fellows may come to campus to utilize Princeton’s resources and interact with the community but face no strict requirements other than continuing their work. The heads of the music, dance, and theater programs and the music departments at the Lewis Center serve as the judges for the fellowship.

Previously, the annual fellowship was only awarded to one outstanding artist. Over the last few decades, it has expanded from one to five and now grants awards to visual and performing artists as well. The fellowships, however, remain fiercely competitive.

In 2019, Michael Cadden — then-chair of the Lewis Center — noted that the committee received 1,100 applications. Past Fellows include historian Peter Gay (1955), “Americanah” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2005), and painter Mario Moore (2018-19), whose exhibition featuring Black campus staff members opened in the Lewis Center last September.

Tracy K. Smith — the current chair of the Lewis Center — noted that the grants were awarded in addition to the usual five annual Hodder Fellowships. 

“This is a response to the current crisis rather than a permanent change … they are one-time awards intended to help ameliorate some portion of the financial burden placed upon artists by the pandemic, which has closed arts performance venues, galleries, and cancellations and postponements of contracted events for artists everywhere,” Smith wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

Many of the artists plan on using the funds to continue working on projects that they had started before the pandemic. Dancer and choreographer Pyle has indicated that they plan on using their Hodder grant to support the creation of ‘Giselle of Loneliness,’ a theater project described as “an audition, in which the audience acts as a judge, jury, and eventually, executioner.”

The piece is inspired by the 1841 ballet “Giselle” and adapted for seven queer and gender non-forming, nonbinary, trans and cis gender dancers.

Robertson will use his Hodder grant to continue writing his novel about African American utopianism.

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For others, the Hodder grant presents an opportunity to recenter and move forward. Forte noted that the grant offers “fuel to move forward, stay focused, and grow.”

Nealand, a composer, improviser, and instrumentalist, will use the grant to begin her work on a performance piece entitled “Cryborg,” which is meant to investigate how our increasing dependence on technology affects our minds, bodies, and communities.

DeChiazza said that the Hodder grant provides him with the opportunity to meditate on the unique circumstances of the current moment and discover new ways of exhibiting and structuring performance art.

In a press release on the Lewis Center website, the artists expressed their gratitude for the Hodder grants. For many, the award not only ensures financial stability during a tumultuous period of (de)construction, but also recognizes artists as important and invaluable to the health of our community; the grants make the artists and their work visible.

Kidwell said, “Being awarded this grant in good faith at this crucial time means regard and support for my artistry and my being an artist. It means I can continue the work on into an uncertain future, and that I have been provided with, and so can share, abundance. It means many reasons to be grateful.”

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