2023 Johnson Fellow

Americans for the Arts is honored to recognize G. Peter Jemison (Seneca) of Victor, NY and the Cattaraugus Reservation as the 2023 Johnson Fellow for Artists Transforming Communities.

G. Peter Jemison with crossed arms leaning against a window of a wooden structure. He is wearing a blue shirt with a jellyfish design and a black cap.G. Peter Jemison (Heron Clan, Seneca Nation) is the recipient of the 2023 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities. In 2023, the $70,000 award honors an individual artist or culture bearer who does their creative work in and with rural communities with purpose toward building community, fostering participation in community life, advancing cultural and/or racial equity, and/or addressing specific issues that affect the well-being of rural communities. The Johnson Fellowship is awarded by Americans for the Arts through a bequest from the Robert and Laurel Johnson Trust. (Photo left: Rikki Van Camp)

Peter Jemison resides in his home territory of rural western New York, between the small town of Victor and the Cattaraugus Reservation.  As a culture bearer, speaker, educator, curator, writer, and arts leader, his visionary efforts over decades have helped lay the groundwork to bring Indigenous perspectives into curation and cultural equity concerns. He has been a leading voice in successfully advocating for Native rights around issues of repatriation of sacred objects, cultural patrimony, and the human remains of the Haudenosaunee. His contributions in these areas coincided significantly with his long tenure as the site manager of the historic 17th century Ganondagan State Historic Site in his New York homeland.G. Peter Jemison holds out a fur in his hands as a seated group looks on. Ganondagan promotes the vital message of peace through the Seneca and Haudenosaunee ideals of social justice, democracy, and sustainability.  Jemison’s realization of a center grounded in culture and vital programming related to health, education, economic achievement, agriculture, food sovereignty, arts, culture, and sports has had transformative impact for the region’s Indigenous communities. (Photo: Peter Jemison in the Seneca Bark Longhouse, Ganondagan State Historic Site. Photo: Courtesy Ganondagan State Historic Site)

A mixed media work on a paper bag showing the continent of Africa and the words 'Hunger on Reservations' visible.

Hunger on Reservations While Children in Africa Starve, Photo Courtesy: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

As a visual artist, Jemison’s mixed-media art ranges from political works that portray contemporary social commentary to history collages, such as one referencing the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 and its impact on the Haudenosaunee. Known for his naturalistic paintings and series of works done on brown paper bags, his art embodies Orenda, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) belief that every living thing and part of creation contains a spiritual force.  Internationally shown and collected (The Whitney Museum of American Art; The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC and NYC; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; The Heard Museum; The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, Santa Fe; The Denver Art Museum; The British Museum, London, among others) Jemison’s works are rooted in the framework of Native American art.

Jemison has also produced a number of short videos including the award winning Iroquois Creation Story, an innovative collaboration with choreographer Garth Fagan that combines live-action and animation and brought together two unlikely dance partners—traditional Iroquois Social Dancers and Garth Fagan Dance.

Jemison has curated the Iroquois Biennial at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY for 20 years. “My curatorial work,” he describes, “has always been about introducing the art world to Indigenous artists who have been underrepresented in museums, galleries, and collections and provide opportunity for them to make a living from their art and way of life.”

Watch these videos to see and learn more about Peter Jemison’s work:


Learn more about the distinguished 2023 Nominees, Nominator, and Selection Panelists

And from past years:

Learn about past Johnson Fellowship recipients

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 others to solve problems, bridge divides, and build leadership, capacity, and public will to participate in civic life. The annual award honors an individual artist who demonstrates a sustained commitment to civic participation through their 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 their 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 speaking, writing, or other engagement opportunity.

Robert Leroy 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 art 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. 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 Johnson Fellowship was arranged by former Americans for the Arts board member Jerry Allen, for whom Mr. Johnson was a mentor.

Johnson Fellowship Process

The Johnson Fellow is chosen through a nomination and selection process. Annually, twelve individuals from across the country each nominate one artist. Nominators are identified who bring knowledge of and varied experiences in community-engaged arts and culture as well as familiarity with artists and culture bearers who are committed to working in and with communities. They are identified through research and consultation with the field. Nominators are invited to look regionally and nationally as well as in their own communities.

A separate six to seven-member Selection Panel reviews and discusses all nominations and make the final choice. These individuals are identified and selected based on the above qualifications but also for particular knowledge and experience that would be valuable in considering the actual nominees. 

In identifying and inviting Nominators and Selection Panel members, racial/ethnic, age, ability, geography, gender diversity is of paramount importance.