Charya posed in dance.

Charya Burt is a master dancer, choreographer, vocalist, and teacher of classical Cambodian dance. Through dance, her purpose is to help the Cambodian diaspora reconcile the ongoing effects of the Khmer Rouge Genocide toward building healthier communities and strengthening cultural identity. As a traditional artist, she trained with Cambodia’s foremost dance masters who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide and has dedicated her life to mastering the 4,000 plus gestures that comprise the vocabulary as well as the dances that make up the classical repertory. Through formal instruction, workshops, public performances, and the creation of new works, she advances the classical tradition among new generations across the U.S., with longstanding and deep commitment to California’s urban centers and rural towns where Cambodians live. She has been recognized with numerous awards including a Dance/USA Fellowship, the Isadora Duncan Award for Individual Performance, a Living Cultures Award from the Association of California Traditional Artists, and a Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions award.

Realizing that the classical form would need to evolve for it to remain relevant for the young dancers and communities she serves, Charya has boldly pushed the form in contemporary ways—technically, thematically, and musically—to speak to the American-born generations. Her classical and original works provide a bridge between generations of Cambodian Americans as elders suffer from PTSD and generational trauma reverberates in families and communities. Original works provide a platform for Cambodian community members and broader publics to understand and talk about contemporary issues such as immigrant and refugee displacement, while amplifying the importance of traditional arts in community healing and celebration as well as in achieving racial and cultural equity.

Through her teaching, choreography, speaking and as a master culture bearer, Charya works to help Cambodian American communities to heal and move beyond their tragic history and define themselves by the values and beauty of their rich culture.

In 2022, Charya will bring together four generations of multi-disciplinary Cambodian American artists to begin work on a new dance theater piece, The Rebirth of Apsara. It will explore how Khmer arts have embodied the essence of Cambodian culture from ancient mythology to its post-1970s genocide revitalization. She will also create Beautiful Dark, a collaborative dance piece that explores the social and psychological impact of colorism and the physical, emotional, and cultural implications it has for persons of color.  Charya will continue to create Cambodian dance and costume instructional videos and provide teacher training to past apprentices to help ensure perpetuation of the dance.

Side profile of Mad Dog who is wearing an animal print jacket.Christopher "Mad Dog" Thomas Dancer, choreographer, educator, and activist, Christopher “Mad Dog” Thomas is an exemplar of Juke/Footwork, a dynamic dance form originating in the streets of Chicago and rooted in a culture of urban artistry and activism. Born and raised in Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens housing project, he was inspired to dance at age five by artists like Michael Jackson and New Edition.

Nearly two decades ago, Mad Dog turned to dance to survive the trauma of gun violence to which he lost a friend. Footworking was a way to be vulnerable in an environment of toxic masculinity and he became a member of, lead choreographer, and spokesperson for the FootworKINGz which made it to the semifinals of America’s Got Talent and Ellen’s Really Big Show. Mad Dog is famous for his 170 beats per minute footwork, musicality, individuality and stage presence, but also for creating deep space for others to develop their own genuine expressions. In 2020, Mad Dog was recognized as one of six Lab Artists by Chicago Dancemakers Forum to receive funds and tailored support to aid in research, development, and presentation of new dance work.

In 2005, Mad Dog joined Kuumba Lynx (KL), a healing and culture making organization working for liberation through artistic expression for Chicago’s youth and their families. As a teacher and KL’s program manager, he has built an inclusive space for young people, grounded in critical thinking, artistic excellence, popular education, and a foundation of love. Using footwork as a tool for activism and liberation, and drawing on lived experience, he engages youth and creates space to understand and address issues of environmental racism, police violence, the carceral system and school to prison pipeline. Devoted to Chicago communities impacted by these issues, he also teaches footwork at a juvenile temporary detention center as a part of a social/emotional development program.  

In 2022, Thomas will explore codifying his style of Chicago Footwork while developing new choreographies that tell the stories of how bodies react to certain traumas. Shortness of Breath, part of a collection of work titled Footwork Through the Trauma, explores the effects of environmental racism from which Thomas himself, as well as family members, have suffered with respiratory problems. Another new project will partner each of four community dance groups with a DJ and a footworking artist. Thomas will engage participants in “knowledge ciphers” on topics of toxic masculinity, anti-blackness, and social and political movements that inform and inspire the creation of new original work.


Rosten Woo (he/him) is a designer, writer, and educator living in Los Angeles. He produces civic-scale artworks that emerge from long-term collaborations between grassroots organizations, cultural and community nonprofits, and local governments.

Since 2010, Rosten has worked significantly in Los Angeles producing temporary and permanent installations and projects that help people orient themselves to places, understand complex systems and complicated histories, and illuminate present-day issues. In 2019, for example, Rosten completed Mutual Air, a commission for the Exploratorium in San Francisco and created in collaboration with the environmental justice group, West Oakland Environmental Indicators. A network of chimes gave audible physical presence to the changing air and climate quality of the East Bay and was designed to build awareness of patterns of air quality disparity in the region. In a 2020 project, Rosten, along with Anna Kobara and the Los Angeles Poverty Department’s (LAPD) Skid Row Museum and Archive, realized the exhibition How to House 7,000 People on Skid Row. The exhibition physically concretized the funding needed for 7,000 housing units for people houseless in Skid Row –and the public policies, both in place and needed, that could create the $35 billion needed to do it.

Rosten Woo is co-founder and former executive director of the New York-based Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), dedicated to using art and design to foster civic participation. His work has been exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and various piers, public housing developments, tugboats, shopping malls, and parks in New York and Los Angeles. He received a 2020 Stanton Fellowship from the Durfee Foundation to research civic memory and the civic imagination.

Laurie Woolery (she/her) is a director, playwright, and citizen artist who works in theaters across the country including: The Public Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Yale Repertory, Trinity Repertory, Goodman Theatre, Cornerstone Theater Company, and South Coast Repertory. Projects include the world premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta at both Yale Repertory and Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the world premiere musical of As You Like It co-created with Shaina Taub for The Public Theater. Laurie is the Director of Public Works at The Public Theater, a program that seeks to engage the people of New York by making them creators and not just spectators. Working with partner organizations in all five boroughs, Public Works invites members of diverse communities to join in the creation of ambitious works of participatory theater. In 2020, she produced the documentary, Under The Greenwood Tree, that tells the story of how the Public Works community banded together amidst the global pandemic and antiracist uprising. She also curated The Seed Project, a national community public art installation on the façade of The Public Theater. It featured 164 Public Works community members sharing their hopes for the future. In her long trajectory of community-engaged theater, Laurie has developed new work with diverse communities ranging from incarcerated women to residents of a Kansas town devastated by a tornado. She creates site-specific work that has ranged from a working sawmill in Eureka, CA to the banks of the Los Angeles River. Laurie is the former Associate Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater Company and Conservatory Director at South Coast Repertory.  Laurie is founding member of The Sol Project and a 2020 United States Artist recipient.

Eddy Kwon (they/them) is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and fundraiser based in Brooklyn and formerly in Cincinnati. Until 2020, Eddy served as Artistic Director of Price Hill Will (PHW), a nonprofit comprehensive community development corporation serving the diverse neighborhood of Price Hill, Cincinnati. As Artistic Director, Eddy was instrumental in integrating the arts and creative engagement into the organization’s strategy for inclusive, equitable development. They oversaw PHW’s signature arts programs: MYCincinnati, a tuition-free, daily youth orchestra program engaging 120 Price Hill youth, and the Price Hill Creative Community Festival, a free, annual, arts and neighborhood festival that uses collaborative arts to build more creative and connected communities. Eddy innovated with the design of the Creative Action Residency, an immersive year-long neighborhood residency by an artist with a goal of transforming oppressive systems through collaborative action. They also developed the Price Hill Curatorial Collective which engages local, national, and international performing artists and supports the next generation of curators and  presenters. These programs at the intersection of creative youth development, community engagement, and equitable neighborhood development, present an impactful model for how community development organizations can use the arts as a means and end for advancing equity.

As a violinist/violist, improviser, and movement artist, Eddy has collaborated with The Art Ensemble of Chicago and many other artists. Current projects include Boy mother / faceless bloom, a collaborative performance work that explores gender transformation & transgression, parenthood in a time of environmental crisis, and the spiritual costs of colonialism. Eddy is a 2016 United States Artists Ford Fellow. Currently, Eddy is Director of Individual Giving at International Contemporary Ensemble, a multidimensional organization that is committed to cultivating a more curious, engaged, and equitable society through music. Eddy identifies as trans non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.


Jazz trumpeter and classical composer HANNIBAL LOKUMBE, of Bastrop, TX was the 2020 Americans for the Arts Johnson Fellow for Artists Transforming Communities. While Hannibal’s Fellowship year coincided with COVID shutdowns and delays, he advanced two major projects in which he focuses on the African American experience.  He completed the libretto and music for The Jonah People: A Legacy of Struggle and Triumph, a major work for full orchestra, mass choir, and principal soloists to commemorate 400 years of the African American experience. Commissioned by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, it will be performed in fall 2022. Hannibal also made a first visit to Africatown, near Mobile, Alabama. This historic community was formed by a group of 32 West Africans who, in 1860, were shipped illegally and are the last known Africans to have arrived in the U.S. Working in collaboration with Africatown residents, Hannibal’s vision is to help create a “holy site” for the ancestors of enslaved Africans whom he calls the tribe of Jonah.

Other activities in 2020 included continued work in his home community with incarcerated individuals in the Bastrop County Jail, guided by a music and storytelling process rooted in vulnerability, openness, spiritualism, and forgiveness. Hannibal also made recordings of previously developed works celebrating Fannie Lou Hamer and Ann Frank. He us closing a deal with a major university press for a biography to be authored by Princeton University professor, Lauren Coyle Rosen.

Whether in prisons, the concert hall, schools, or with community and faith institutions, Hannibal’s work offers a path forward that transforms trauma into self-determined healing and justice. Hannibal’s transformative power is not only in his music but through written and spoken word. In the early months of the pandemic, he composed Love is Everything, a poem which Americans for the Arts shared broadly as a way to close out National Poetry month.

Americans for the Arts constituents had the wonderful experience of hearing Hannibal and his Music Liberation Orchestra as featured artists at the 2020 Americans for the Arts annual convention. The event combined a mini-concert and lively conversation between Hannibal and jazz and music aficionados Suzan Jenkins (director, Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County) and Willard Jenkins, (artistic director of the D.C. Jazz Festival) about Hannibal’s transformative work in communities. In addition, to bring closure to a challenging 2020, Hannibal virtually visited with Americans for the Arts staff and offered a moving and joyous presentation about his work, with musical selections performed live via Zoom by the Music Liberation Orchestra with Hannibal on trumpet.  “I Am the Power” is from The Jonah People for the Nashville Symphony.


Theater artist and cultural organizer MARK VALDEZ was 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 has created 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.

Mark describes The Johnson Fellowship award as kickstarting The Most Beautiful Home…Maybe, a multi-year collaborative project with Ashley Sparks which aims to impact housing policy.  The project is inspired by the 2016 book Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel by Christopher P. Dum. Valdez explained: “The issues we're addressing--housing insecurity and policy--have become even more urgent because of the pandemic. But also true is that there is even greater opportunity for impact. Things are being forced to change, and we want to help make that happen.”  

The Most Beautiful Home…Maybe is described as an experiment—a devised theatrical performance that brings together artists with local residents, community development corporations, and government officials to undo some of the policies that keep our most vulnerable on the margins. It involves bringing together community stakeholders in workshops to investigate the issues in each participating city, and then using that information gathered to create a play to be performed in each city.

Valdez is partnering with arts organizations and community members in four cities to develop and perform theatrical works for this project: Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, NY; Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Building Bridges Across the River in Washington, D.C.; and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, California. The Fellowship award helped to leverage 2020 grants from the Mellon Foundation ($220,000), the Doris Duke Charitable Trust ($100,000), and MAP Fund ($12,000).

During the Fellowship year, Mark delivered an inspiring keynote at the 2019 Americans for the Arts convention in Minneapolis and led a workshop at the 2019 Executive Leadership Forum and participated in the 2019 National Arts Policy Roundtable, The Arts and The Natural World: Envisioning Pathways to a Sustainable Future,” in Sundance, UT.


TANYA AGUIÑIGA (Los Angeles, CA) was awarded the inaugural Johnson Fellowship. Tanya’s work helps others understand the lived experience of the contested US-Mexico border, drawing from her own experience as U.S. born but growing up in Tijuana and crossing the border daily to go to school in the U.S.  Her participation in AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides) demonstrates her interests in the power of community and identity.  AMBOS is a series of artists’ projects created to “recontextualize borders and generate a localized hub for international collaboration.” Tanya recorded the experiences of those traveling across the border to the north every day through the use of a quipu, the Andean Pre-Columbian organizational system.  Commuters on the Mexican side were given two strands of thread and asked to anonymously tie them into a knot.  The strands represent the US and Mexico’s relationship to one another.  Each knot was tied to other knots.  The cumulative daily bundled knots were then organized into a large-scale quipu artwork and displayed on a billboard above the AMBOS storefront hub. 

With Fellowship resources, Aguiñiga completed the AMBOS border journey, traveling from El Paso to Brownsville, Texas in June 2018. Thus far, the Border Quipu has amassed more than 7,000 pieces of data on the response cards collected, which the artist describes as “the largest survey of border emotion to have been carried out by either country.” Facilitated by Americans for the Arts, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission is helping Aguiñiga to compile, analyze, make meaning, and explore ways to use this data to build awareness and perhaps even inform policymakers. 

Aguiñiga participated in multiple national platforms afforded by AFTA and the Johnson Fellowship to connect with Americans for the Arts’ constituents and staff.  She was artist-in-residence at Americans for the Arts’ annual convention in Denver and lent a strong artist’s voice to AFTA’s National Arts Policy Roundtable and Executive Leadership Forum in Sundance, Utah.  In addition, through AFTA’s strategic partnership with Independent Sector, Tanya along with Vijay Gupta, were featured artists at Independent Sector’s annual conference in Los Angeles.  Finally, Americans for the Arts staff benefitted from learning exchanges with the artist centered around a participatory felt-making experience and engaging in dialogue about her community-based work.