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New Harvard Fellowship Boosts 6 St. Louis Visual Artists

(L-R) Nyara Williams, Collin Elliott and Tef Poe joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss Harvard University's first #IntheCity Visual Arts Fellowship.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
(L-R) Nyara Williams, Collin Elliott and Tef Poe joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss Harvard University's first #IntheCity Visual Arts Fellowship.

This spring, a cohort of six talented St. Louis-based visual artists will head to Cambridge, Massachusetts, as part of a new initiative founded by local changemaker Kareem "Tef Poe" Jackson and Harvard professor (and Missouri native) Walter Johnson.

TheCommonwealth Project at Harvard University aims to model a new way for universities to engage with social problems through service and collaboration, with a special focus on St. Louis. The half-dozen local artists were selected for its new #IntheCity Visual Arts Fellowship last November.

The goal of the program is to provide exposure and resources for up-and-coming artists in the region. And it looks to attract artists who use art in a manner beyond just creating for art's sake.

From November 2019 through May 2020, the visual artists will work closely with Tef Poe, artist, activist and former Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History fellow; Walter Johnson, Winthrop professor of history and African and African American studies and director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History; and De Nichols, St. Louis artist, activist and Harvard Loeb fellow. 

Joining host Sarah Fenske on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the fellowship were Jackson and two visual artists and 2020 Harvard Commonwealth fellows: Collin Elliott and Nyara Williams

The six St. Louis fellows were tasked with answering the question: What is St. Louis to you?

“This will really get us to immerse ourselves in St. Louis and the culture in our community, so, for me, it will really challenge me as a visual artist to explore my relationship with my city,” Williams said. 

Jackson, a former Harvard fellow himself, said being at the university opened his eyes.

“There were times when I was coming back home that I felt like I was time traveling … going back and forth between universes,” he said. “Having that process and knowing what that’s like … I feel happy about being able to extend that mentorship.” 

The fellowship will lead to a partnered exhibition in St. Louis and Cambridge. The first exhibition will be hosted by the Griot Museum of Black History in north St. Louis. The second will open in a gallery within Harvard University’s Center for Government and International Studies in late April 2020. 

“There is a lot of talent here in St. Louis, and I think that it’s unrecognized, and so many artists feel the need to leave St. Louis,” Elliott said. “And it’s like, ‘What would happen if we could keep that here?’ … So I think this is an opportunity to showcase what is here in St. Louis already, and hopefully we can grow from there.”

Listen for the full conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.