Americans for the Arts announces today that theater artist and cultural organizer Mark Valdez is the recipient of the 2019 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities. The $65,000 award will support him in advancing his work in community-based theater during the fellowship year.
For two decades, Valdez has been partnering with communities, organizations, civic institutions, and others, using theater and creative tools to address community needs and amplify community voices and stories. He began this work in his home base of Los Angeles as the Associate Artistic Director for Cornerstone Theater Company, an ensemble that creates plays in, with, and for communities in Los Angeles and across the nation. Among his projects with Cornerstone, Valdez directed the first-ever approved adaptation of the Kaufman and Hart comedy classic, You Can't Take It With You, adapted to the American-Muslim community in the wake of 9/11. He also directed Order My Steps, a collaboration with African-American churches and clergy focusing on the issue of HIV/AIDS within the African-American community. Through such projects, Valdez honed the kinds of skills and sensibilities required to draw out community perspectives about often contentious issues and to build relationships and promote dialogue.
Valdez’s theater-making skills and sensibilities have been sought after in communities around the country. He has been a long-term artist-in-residence with Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, where he is working to create programs and strategies that deepen and strengthen relationships between the theater and its neighborhood. As part of this work, Valdez has developed a “Good Neighbor Framework” to articulate and assess the company’s work and intentions with the community. The result is an expanded array of community cultural activities including quarterly hip-hop open-mic nights, baby raves (dance parties for toddlers and their parents), weekly youth leadership initiatives, and more. Additionally, Valdez has helped design and implement Project 154, a collaboration with local health providers to use story and personal narrative to improve health outcomes and patient advocacy in the neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside.
In Atlanta, Valdez is working with Alliance Theatre creating a community-based production along a highway that is home to one of Atlanta’s largest immigrant and new American communities; it also has the nation’s second highest rate for immigration raids and deportations. In Rhode Island, Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company has commissioned Valdez to create a performance with and for members of the Latinx community. Influenced by cultural parades and festivals, the performance will be developed through a series of Story Circles and interviews and will include stories, songs, and activities that celebrate Latinx history in Rhode Island.
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. In addition to establishing new funding programs for artists, Valdez launched the MicroFest USA initiative—hyper-local events that explored the value and impact of the arts and artists to communities. These events took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Appalachia (Knoxville, TN/Harlan County, KY), New Orleans, and Honolulu.
“Mark is a field leader who innovatively uses theater and creative tools to address community needs and bring attention to community voices and stories. I congratulate him for this well-deserved recognition,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “I’m excited to see how he applies some of his fellowship resource to a project on issues of housing equity, as well as an exploration of ways we can support each other in our respective work. Mark’s interest in deepening the connection between his theater work and policy is an especially intriguing intersection point for us.” Valdez will engage with Americans for the Arts’ constituents at its annual convention and in other ways during the Fellowship year.
A seven-person selection panel reviewed 12 artists who were nominated for the Johnson Fellowship by 12 fellow artists and arts professionals. The Johnson Fellowship celebrates the legacy and work of the late Robert Leroy “Yankee” Johnson, who served as the first executive director of the King County Arts Commission. An accomplished musician and writer in his private life, Yankee and his late wife, Laurel Lee Johnson, both believed that artists, when given the opportunity, can create real paths for change. The fellowship is supported by the generosity of the Laurel and Yankee Johnson Trust. More information on the artists and committees is available on the Johnson Fellowship page
Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of more than 55 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.