2019 Johnson Fellow

Theater artist and cultural organizer Mark Valdez is the recipient of the 2019 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities. For two decades, Valdez has been partnering with communities, organizations, civic institutions, and others, using theater and creative tools to address community needs and to lift up community voices and stories.  From his early work with Cornerstone Theater Company to his long-term residency with Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, where he is currently working to create programs and strategies that deepen and strengthen relationships between the theater and its neighborhood, Valdez exemplifies how extraordinary theater and deep community building can occur through theater on stage and in community spaces. Other projects span the country. From 2007-2014, Valdez was the executive director of the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET), a national community of artists and organizations committed to collaborative creation.

Read the press release announcing the 2019 Johnson Fellowship recipient.

About the Fellowship

At Americans for the Arts, we believe that artists have a profound capacity to transform America’s communities. Across the nation, through their work in neighborhoods, schools, community settings, and with other sectors, they are fostering cultural expressions that broaden perspectives on issues and help envision new possibilities. Artists are partnering with Local Arts Agencies and others to solve problems, bridge divides, and build leadership, capacity, and public will to participate in civic life. The $65,000 annual award honors an individual artist who demonstrates a sustained commitment to civic participation through his/her work, and who has made a positive and meaningful difference to inspire, inform, engage, challenge, animate, and celebrate communities through arts and culture.

The award provides the Fellow with time to pursue his/her creative work in communities. Additionally, it provides national opportunity for each Fellow to reflect upon and discuss the role of the artist in transforming America’s communities with Americans for the Arts’ constituents and publics through a combination of speaking, writing, and other engagement opportunities.

The Johnson Fellowship was arranged by former Americans for the Arts board member Jerry Allen, for whom Mr. Johnson was a mentor. The Johnson Fellow is chosen through a nomination and selection process.

To select the 2019 Fellow, a diverse group of 12 Nominators from the theater field, artist service organizations, and Local Arts Agencies generated a pool of 12 Nominees. Nominators were asked to look regionally and nationally, as well as in their own community.  A separate Selection Panel including outside professionals and Americans for the Arts staff and board members reviewed the pool of nominated artists and selected two finalists.  Following finalists’ visits to Americans for the Arts and input from staff, the Selection Panel made the final choice. 

To learn more about the 2019 Johnson Fellow Nominees, Nominators and Selection Panel, click here.
To learn about past Fellows, click here.

Robert Leroy "Yankee" Johnson, the first executive director of the King County Arts Commission, is credited with laying the groundwork for the Northwest's thriving public arts scene. He served as commission director from 1972 to 1980 and was best known for establishing King County's one percent for the arts policy. Enacted in 1973, it was one of the first programs in the country to set aside a portion of the county's capital-improvement budget specifically for public art.  Born and raised in Schenectady, NY, and a graduate of Kansas State University, he lived a life grounded in the arts. He was an accomplished trumpet player and a published writer. He and his wife, Laurel, founded Skid Road Theater in Seattle. Empowered by the thought that the public and the government could actively work together to support culture, he took the King County job and control over a fledgling department with a $40,000 budget. By 1979, he had established the International Earthworks Symposium. Artists from around the world were invited to Seattle and asked to incorporate art into rehabilitating huge tracts of local land that had been "ravaged by technology." The symposium resulted in the Robert Morris Earthwork in SeaTac, a terraced viewpoint that was formerly an abandoned gravel quarry, and Herbert Bayer Park in Kent.