VisArts is pleased to announce Ọmọlará Williams McCallister (pronouns: o, love, beloved) as the recipient of the independent non-profit art center’s first Art and Social Justice Fellowship award. The Art and Social Justice Fellowship is a year-long opportunity for a visual activist to explore how thoughtfully curated art, dialogue, communication, and collaborations between artists and communities can productively navigate and inspire change towards a more equitable, just, and inclusive society. As a Fellow, Ọmọlará will receive a monthly stipend, time and space for research, mentorship, and opportunities for public programming, teaching, and writing.
“I am excited to have this time to invest in the background work that goes into maintaining my studio, research, pedagogical and community-based practices,” says Ọmọlará. During the next twelve months with VisArts, O plans to incubate The Freedom School for Artists (FSFA) — a popular education space that fosters critical connections between people, information, resources and skills in order to support the cultivation of sustainable professional art careers and practices. FSFA is maintained for and by networks of artists and cultural workers who identify as queer, trans, Black, indigenous and/or as people of color. O looks forward to implementing organizational models and practices designed to support and change the user experience of people who interact with VisArts who have been historically excluded from, exploited by, and marginalized within arts spaces.
“Ọmọlará is the spark that we were looking for to fill this inaugural fellowship,” says Frank McCauley, Gallery Director and Curator at VisArts. “O brings extraordinary vision, generosity, and practical strategies to the work of building just, equitable communities through art. O’s work fuses art and activism with immersive, interactive, and co-authored forms that catalyze change, make visible, and empower.”
Ọmọlará, raised in Atlanta, Georgia, credits an upbringing in the Black south combined with childhood experiences as a vocalist and bassist in church, education at a public arts magnet school, and experience as a social justice organizer since age thirteen as foundational experiences. Love’s evolution as artist/educator/organizer has been nurtured by O’s chosen family. As a poor, Black, Nigerian American, queer, genderfluid child of an immigrant, O believes that community bonds are where transformation is nurtured. O has presented numerous socially engaged public events, performances, and exhibitions, developed curriculums of change, and created critical action programs including founding Black Lives Matter DC in 2014. The interweaving of community and art are central to O’s ethos that art can shift systems and change the quality of people’s lives.
The Art and Social Justice Fellowship at VisArts was created in consideration of vital questions raised by a deadly pandemic, civil unrest, progressing climate change, deeply rooted inequities, and systemic racism. How can artists, curators, and arts organizations address these challenges and offer expressions of hope, solidarity, and mutual aid? How do we focus our efforts and work together for a sustainable anti-racist future that enlists creativity as an essential civic tool while staying safe and healthy? What can we do now and over the long haul within and between communities to make change? The initiative is funded by a generous donation from VisArts’ former Board Chair Bob Buchanan and his wife Sharon.
The addition of the Art and Social Justice Fellowship to VisArts’ roster of opportunities for artists and curators builds on the organization’s commitment to a sustained exploration of the potential of art to transform individuals and communities and to engage radical imaginations.
Applications for the Fellowship were solicited through an open call and reviewed by the VisArts Artist Advisory Council. The review panel narrowed the dynamic field of engaged and inspiring visual activists and VisArts’ staff made the final selection. Since its founding in 1987, VisArts has provided safe and equitable spaces for artists and audiences designed to cultivate trust, empathy, creativity, diversity, and inclusion. The new Arts and Social Justice Fellowship is designed to facilitate and amplify this essential work.
About Ọmọlará Williams McCallister
Ọmọlará Williams McCallister (pronouns: o, love, beloved) makes work that is a call/response blend of: sculpture, performance, installation, ritual, space holding, community building, surface design, adornment, word, sound, song, movement, moving images and photography. Roles that Ọmọlará steps into include artist, educator, organizer, cultural strategist, conjurer. In all forms O’s work is immersive, interactive, and co-authored by the people who inspire and encounter it.
About the Art and Social Justice Fellowship
VisArts’s Art and Social Justice Fellowship is a year-long opportunity for a visual activist to explore how thoughtfully curated art, dialogue, communication, and collaborations between artists and communities can productively navigate political flashpoints, chronic systemic inequities, and entrenched perspectives to inspire change towards a more equitable, just, and inclusive society.
The Fellowship supports visual activists whose research, practice, and passion centers on social, racial, economic, and/or environmental justice.
VisArts is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to transform individuals and communities through the visual arts and a vision of a vibrant, diverse community enriched and connected by the visual arts. Each year, VisArts serves more than 30,000 children, teens and adults through our arts education, exhibitions, and studio artist programs. Through these efforts, we strive to provide individuals with an opportunity to express their ideas, broaden their talents, and enrich their lives through the visual arts. Building inclusive audiences overlays each of our programmatic priorities, from attracting diverse audiences to our gallery exhibitions and educational programs, to engaging and supporting a wider community of artists, to offering scholarships and waived participation fees in order to increase access. Visit the website.