Announcing the 2024 Wherewithal Grantees
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(February 13, 2024) We are pleased to announce the 10 grant recipients for the 2024 funding cycle of Wherewithal Grants, providing financial support and peer mentorship for DC-area artists in areas of research and project presentations. Six artists have been awarded with research grants of $5,000 each, and four artists have been awarded with project & presentation grants of $7,500 each, for a total disbursement of $60,000 this cycle.
2024 Wherewithal Research grantees are: Adrienne Gaither, Jessica Valoris, Krista Schlyer, Madyha J. Leghari, Sanam Emami, and Taylor Johnson.
2024 Wherewithal Project Presentation grantees are: Anthony Le, Fid Thompson, Mēlani N. Douglass, and nwaọ.
Over the next year, these artists will organize projects and conduct research around fascinating and timely topics such as: poetic inquiry; the inheritance of language; failure; pollution in the Anacostia River; local histories of enslaved resistance and fugitive practice; and the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. Throughout the yearlong grant cycle grantees will produce their work independently and in dialogue with one another, convening regularly as a cohort facilitated by Nathalie von Veh, WPA Storyteller and Wherewithal Grant Manager.
An independent panel of four artists and curators reviewed 139 applications and recommended the final ten for funding. The adjudication panel for this funding cycle consisted of Kalaija Mallery, Curator, Executive Director, The Luminary (St. Louis, MO); Anisa Olufemi, Curator, Hamiltonian Artists (Washington, DC); Mojdeh Rezaeipour, Artist (Washington, DC); and Robert Weisenberger, Curator, Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA). Proposals were evaluated based on the criteria of Artistic Impact, Context/Audience, Collaboration, Feasibility, and Budget.
Generously funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts as part of its Regional Regranting Program and managed by Washington Project for the Arts, Wherewithal Grants are intended to support a wide range of experimental and multidisciplinary practices, particularly those that emphasize collaboration and discourse. Since launching in 2019, Wherewithal Grants has supported 146 visual artists with a total of $340,000 in grants.
Learn more about each grantee and their work below.
These $5,000 grants are for artists to further their practices through ideation, research, and experimentation. Grant funds compensate artists for their intellectual labor, support payment for other artists and thinkers, and other research-related expenses.
Adrienne Gaither, Exploring the Sculptural Language for Embodied Black Aesthetics
Gaither is using this opportunity to create her own residency and expand her practice through sculptural apprenticeships with seasoned artists and architects. She is experimenting with 3-dimensional forms to further embody Black aesthetics, facilitate world-building, and provide new perspectives on geometric abstraction.
Jessica Valoris, Open Studio: DC Black Study Sessions
DC has a robust history of enslaved resistance and fugitive practice; being home to large networks of Underground Railroad and abolitionist organizing. The Pearl Incident, the largest nonviolent escape attempt in U.S. history, occurred off of the 7th Street Pier in Southwest. The legacies of Black schools, churches, and Free Black Towns in the DC area, and the existence of Contraband Camps are significant parts of local history that are often neglected in public narratives and in historic archives. Open Studios: DC Black Study is a series of 12 open studio sessions where small groups of local artists and organizers will be invited to participate in Black study. By embracing multiple ways of knowing, they will make meaning of these histories, and imagine how these reflections might nourish current movements for abolition, reparations, equitable land stewardship, mutual aid, and other forms of transformative justice.
Krista Schlyer, Soil + Memory
On February 15, 1968, Kelvin Tyrone Mock, a seven-year-old boy, burned to death in an open incineration dump on the banks of the Anacostia River in DC. There was little notice by the newspapers of the time, but the burning at the dump, which had plagued the region for decades, ended. Like so many environmental injustice stories, this tragedy played a role in the shifting of national policy and the cultural climate from the late 1960s to today. In 1973, as part of an Urban Soils Survey, University of Maryland students collected a sample of soil from the Kenilworth Dump, preserving a physical record of the incinerated dump, that had by that time been buried beneath three feet of soil. This research project is about uncovering buried memories of environmental injustice, with the aim of furthering the struggle toward a more just world. The research will be used for several outcomes, including a collaborative creative work with a group of scientists, artists, and activists.
Madyha J. Leghari, Mothertongue
Leghari’s research employs the metaphor of the ‘mothertongue’ as a comprehensive term to expand on concepts of language and motherhood, both independently and where they intersect. Ultimately, she wishes to apply a posthumanist perspective to two interrelated inquiries: first, how might we reconceptualize motherhood if the conventional ties between reproduction, parenthood, and childcare are severed? This is a personal exploration of motherhood as an act of placing hope in a world that is on the brink of ecological ruin. Second, in what ways can the diverse symbolic and literal interpretations of the ‘tongue’ contribute to our understanding of language, speech, and inheritance? In this aspect, she proposes a multidisciplinary investigation of the tongue as organ, biomatter, machine, inheritance, and intelligence.
Sanam Emami, Shahmaran’s Underground Garden
Emami launched the Shahmaran Azadi/Freedom project through a zine and talisman in 2022 at the height of the Jin, Jiyan, Azadi/Women, Life, Freedom revolution in Iran. She was inspired by the archetypal images, stories, and collective dreams that were bursting forth in both her Kurdish and Iranian communities. Specifically, those symbols relating to the Kurdish and Indo-Iranic Queen of Serpents, Shahamran. The similarities between the killing of Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini which sparked the revolution, and ancestral land steward Shahmaran were clear in the collective’s dreams years before the eruption. As the story of the revolution unfolds, so do the similarities between their deaths and those who rise from their blood. The project transformed into a community magical resistant practice of collective liberation that incorporated ancestral Kurdish remembrance of goddess ritual, Iranian talisman technology, Sufi mysticism, and Islamic/Persian medieval astrology. This year, Sanam will further explore the seeds that lay in Shahmaran’s underground garden. She will document and inquire how the prehistoric Kurdish Queen of Serpents is a living knowledge system that continues to instruct and animate the lives of those who answer her call today.
Taylor Johnson, The Alternative School for Poetry and Poetic Inquiry
This project seeks to speak back to the dominance and inevitability of the creative writing MFA, the current commodification of poetry, and its siloing into academic institutions. Interrogates the question “What does a poet do?”, prompted by Gwendolyn Brooks’ questioning of her role as Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, and other related lines of inquiry into the making and nurturing of the practice, creative life, and livelihood of an artist. This inquiry will be supported by research into the lives and works of three Black revolutionary thinkers and artists whose work shapes the social, cultural, and communal landscapes of the DC area: Benjamin Banneker, James Hampton, and Georgia Mills Jessup. This inquiry will also be supported by research into communal and institutional archival materials and documentation around community-based poetry and art programs.
AWARDED PROJECTS & PRESENTATIONS
These $7,500 grants support ongoing or new projects that embrace unconventional or D.I.Y. values and will be presented publicly in the DC-area in 2024. Project & Presentation grants are intended to directly support artists presenting work in spaces beyond commercial galleries, museums, or established non-profit art spaces.
Anthony Le & Philippa Pham Hughes, Vagabond
Vagabond is a zine project featuring contemporary Vietnamese American visual artists, musicians, poets, and writers. 50 years after the end of the war, the project aims to capture current perspectives of the diaspora beyond stories of trauma and displacement. Anthony is partnering with Philippa Pham Hughes as a co-creators, brought together through their shared interest in exploring the duality of what it means to be Vietnamese and American. The featured artists demonstrate how expansive “Vietnamese American” can be through a diversity of backgrounds, ideas, mediums, and personal and speculative storytelling. Most of the artists are based in the DMV and the project highlights this important local community at a time when gentrification threatens the Vietnamese cultural hub of Eden Center in Falls Church, VA. This summer, they will celebrate the zine with an outdoor exhibition in DC. Additionally, the zine will be presented at Vietnamese cultural events.
Fid Thompson, REJECT: a celebration of failure and fracture
The central idea of this project revolves around an unorthodox celebration of failure as a joyful response to empire, capitalism, and militarism. It is also an applauding of our most authentic, fractured, and failing selves. The central question of the project draws from queer theorist Jack Halberstam’s question, “What kind of rewards can failure offer us?” What can failure (in art, as in life) mean when success in our current extractive, colonial-capitalist society is destructive and exploitative? Fid will explore the richness and beauty of what we call failure through a celebration of Rejection, in a curated show called REJECTION: exhibiting failure, and a public conversation on what failure looks like, how we think about it, the lies we’ve been told about it, and also what it offers us—as refusal, as resistance, as a way to inhabit our truest selves, and as a path to authentic being and artmaking.
Mēlani N. Douglass, The People’s Parlor
The People’s Parlor is an immersive salon experience presented in an amphitheater style to create an intimate and inclusive atmosphere. The incorporation of salons and circles creates spaces that are intergenerational and non-hierarchical, while emphasizing the importance of gathering and connection in the healing process. The parlor focuses on community medicine and invites participants to bring their healing practices to help create a collective remedy for community ailments. The parlor opens with artist Mēlani N. Douglass and an intergenerational team serving the signature blue tea—a specially crafted nervine blend designed to ease social anxiety and foster meaningful connections. The People’s Parlor aims to expand and elevate the concept of the traditional apothecary by infusing it with modern-day practices that celebrate diversity and inclusivity. The tea salons, guided by an innovative model, provide vibrant hubs where diverse voices can be heard, and community members actively participate in shaping their narratives.
nwaọ, Come Dance With Me
Come Dance With Me is a visual archive, in the form of a short film, documenting and exploring the stories of dance in the Black Diaspora across history, centering gender and sexuality marginalized folks. The film will be an experimental video collage, encompassing archived audio and video footage of Black, gender, and sexuality marginalized (BGSM) people dancing, sourced from public archives such as the DC Africana Archives Project (DCAAP) and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the internet, and public events such as the DC One Carnival Parade. As part of this project, nwaọ will also host two community dance events with DC-based queer community organizations.
ABOUT THE 2024 GRANTEES
Adrienne Gaither (she/they) is a DC-based visual artist. Through abstract geometric paintings, she explores topics like race, family, mental health, class, and abstraction politics. She has held exhibitions at Kreeger Museum in Washington, DC; Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn, NY; and Cuchifritos Gallery, New York, NY, among others. Her work is published in Margo Crawford’s 2017 monograph Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics, Common Practice: Basketball & Contemporary Art, and Nervous Systems; Art, Systems, and Politics since the 1960s. She is currently expanding her sculptural practice, experimenting with 3D forms to further world-building and provide new perspectives on geometric abstraction.
Anthony Le (he/they) is a multidisciplinary artist and identifies as Vietnamese American and nonbinary. They work in painting, printmaking, sculpture and fashion, exploring the joy of nonconformity. Le is a 2024 artist-in-residence at Playhaus. They are a 2023-24 DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellow, and their work is in the DC Art Bank Collection. In 2023, Le presented their solo exhibition “Golden Looking Hour” at Transformer, DC.
Fid Thompson (she/they) works across and within genres and media: researcher, visual artist, gardener, wonderer, and queer white human who grew up in rural England. Her storytelling and art is informed by her bi-cultural family and the humans, cultures, creatures, plants, and landscapes of the places where she has lived. Her work inquires into inner worlds and weathers, nature, mental health cycles, and portraiture. Fid has twice been a recipient of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Artist Fellowship, including for her Queer Enough portrait project.
Jessica Valoris (she/her) is a DC-based artist and community facilitator. Weaving together mixed-media painting, sound collage, and ritual performance, Jessica creates sacred spaces that activate ancestral wisdom, personal reflection, and community care. Inspired by the earth-based traditions of her Black American and Jewish ancestry, Jessica explores ideas through the lens of metaphysics, spirituality, and Afrofuturism. Using art as a catalyst for collective healing, Jessica affirms the joy and vitality of Black people, complicating flattened histories of oppression, and creating space for affirmative celebration and re-definition. Jessica has completed fellowships with Humanities DC, The Opportunity Agenda, VisArts Studio Fellowship, Public Interest Design Lab, Intercultural Leadership Institute, and Halcyon Arts Lab. Iterations of her current body of work, Black Fugitive Folklore, have been shown at the Phillips Collection, The Kreeger Museum, Africana Film Festival, The REACH at the Kennedy Center, VisArts, and Brentwood Arts Exchange.
Krista Schlyer (she/her) is a photographer, writer, and artist who tells stories and creates artworks about the relationship of people to the lands they live upon. Her work has included a 15-year project on the US-Mexico border, looking at the ways border wall construction has impacted the land and people of that region. Her work has also included a decade-long project about the Anacostia River watershed which has yielded a book, River of Redemption: Almanac of Life on the Anacostia, which won the National Outdoor Book Award in 2019. She has curated several exhibits, one of which has been on display for three years with the Anacostia Riverfront BID, outside on the riverfront near Nationals Stadium. In 2019, she created a digital story map about the Anacostia, called River of Resilience, taking viewers on a journey from the headwaters in Sandy Spring, MD, to the river’s confluence with the Potomac in Washington, DC.
Madyha J. Leghari (she/her) is a visual artist, writer, and educator working between Lahore and Washington, DC. Her practice often revolves around the possibilities and limitations of language, and is often positioned in the indeterminate spaces of translation, cultural friction, and semantic lacunae. Madyha has been the recipient of the Hamiltonian Artists Fellowship, Mansion Artist Residency, Delta Research Placement at the Flat Time House, Vasl Fiction Writing Mentorship, Siena Art Institute Artist Residency, and the Murree Museum residency. Madyha has exhibited at venues including the Pera Museum, Karachi Biennale, University of Colorado Boulder, Bennington College, Sea Foundation, The Institute for Experimental Arts, Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Images Festival, and others spanning the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Her work has found mention in The Washington Post, Artforum, and The News Pakistan, amongst others. Madyha has written on art for a number of publications including ArtNow Pakistan and the Dawn Newspaper.
Mēlani N. Douglass (she/her) is a healer, conceptual artist, and curator and is the founder of the award-winning Family Arts Museum—a migratory institution focused on the celebration of family as fine art, home as curated space, and community as gallery. Inspired by the birth of her daughter, Mēlani started her own museum, reimagining family as her fine art and motherhood as her studio practice. This shift in her work expanded the visual narrative she captured on film and refined her innovative approach to community engagement, audience development, and exhibition design. Mēlani’s art and life practice is rooted in rituals of healing informed by ancestral technology and communal connections. Mēlani was recently named East of the River Artist-in-Residence and a Roots to Sky Fellow as a part of the Humanities in Place initiative of the Mellon Foundation. Her work has been highlighted by The New York Times, Atlas Obscura, Shondaland, BmoreArt, American Museum Alliance Magazine, Baltimore Magazine, Artnet, and National Geographic. Mēlani is a member of Valley Place Arts Collaborative in Anacostia, DC where she currently resides.
nwaọ (they/them) is a Nigerian-American, queer, and agender multidisciplinary artist and archivist. Their work is a critical analysis and reimagining of Black physical and spiritual being within African historical and cultural contexts. nwaọ drives conversations about queerness and gender identity within the collective, cultural, and contemporary memory of the African Diaspora.
Sanam Emami (she/her) is a multi-hyphenated Iranian-born artist and curator with a practice that connects her background as a theater-maker, performer, cognitive scientist, and educator. Her work revolves around the use of dreams, myth, ancestry, and ritual to access the futuristic liberatory gifts of the alchemical heart. She is the co-founder of the DC-based artist group, The Omi Collective, where she has worked with over 200 multidisciplinary artists, musicians, and healing artists in creating nontraditional public art spaces that elevate receptivity. Along with three other artists she is working on Rainbow Moon Medicine, an artistic system for accessing our uniquely individual meaning-making machinery through alignment with the seasons of the earth and moon.
Taylor Johnson (he/him) is from Washington, DC. He is the author of Inheritance (Alice James Books, 2020), winner of the 2021 Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. His work appears in Poetry Magazine, TheParis Review, The Baffler, Scalawag, and elsewhere. Johnson is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and a recipient of the 2017 Larry Neal Writers’ Award from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the 2021 Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging Writers from Lambda Literary. Taylor was the inaugural 2022 Poet-in-Residence at the Guggenheim Museum. He is the Poet Laureate of Takoma Park, MD. With his wife, Elizabeth Bryant, Taylor curates the Green Way Reading Series at People’s Book in Takoma Park.
ABOUT WHEREWITHAL GRANTS
Wherewithal Grants are a funding source for artists in the DC-area. Generously funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts as part of its Regional Regranting Program and managed by WPA, these grants are intended to support a wide range of experimental and multidisciplinary practices, particularly those that emphasize collaboration and discourse. Since launching in 2019, Wherewithal Grants has supported 146 visual artists with a total of $340,000 in grants.