Arts Council
Al Smith Fellowships awarded to 5 Kentucky artists

Press Release Date:  Friday, July 17, 2015  
Contact Information:  Tom Musgrave
Communications Director
502-564-3757, ext. 489

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Five of Kentucky’s top artists have been honored with $7,500 Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council for exemplifying excellence in their respective creative disciplines.

The prestigious award, named in honor of former arts council chair and Kentucky journalist Al Smith, recognizes professional artists who have reached a high level of achievement in their careers. Since its beginning in 1983, the program has provided more than $2.5 million in funding to artists in the visual arts, literary arts, media arts, composing and choreography.

The 2015 recipients are:

  • Jacob Gotlib, composing (new music), Louisville
  • Diane Kahlo, visual arts (installation), Lexington
  • Douglas Miller, visual arts (drawing), Louisville
  • James Robert Southard, visual arts (photography), Lexington
  • Melissa Vandenberg, visual arts (sculpture), Richmond

“I am incredibly honored to receive the Al Smith Fellowship. Not only will it allow me to pursue some exciting, ambitious projects that I have only dreamed of being able to complete, but to have my name counted among the tremendous artists that have come before me is truly humbling,” said Gotlib, a composer of experimental chamber and electronic music. “I hope, through the work this grant allows me to do, to continue in the tradition of the artists who have helped make Kentucky such a uniquely vibrant place in the creative arts.”

“I’m humbled to be among the recipients – past and present – of the Al Smith Fellowship. There are so many wonderfully accomplished artists in our state, so to be selected is an extreme honor,” said Kahlo, whose work in the past five years has focused on homicide against women in Juarez, Mexico. “The fellowship funds will allow me to continue to do work that addresses various social justice issues and allows me the freedom to explore new materials. I am truly grateful to the Kentucky Arts Council for being one of the few states who reward their artists in such a profound way.”

“This fellowship provides an exciting opportunity to explore larger, more diverse projects that I would be unable to accomplish without this generous support,” said Louisville-based Miller, whose work has been exhibited throughout Kentucky and in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Portland, Oregon. “I’m truly honored.”

“Receiving the Al Smith Fellowship reminds me of where I'm from. I have been lucky to travel around the world for work, but only at home am I given this great of an opportunity and trust to make a serious leap in my career,” said Southard, a Lexington photographer whose work has been exhibited internationally. “Without a doubt, this fellowship will allow me to execute bolder projects than I have in the past.”

“The distinction of an Al Smith Fellowship is both an affirmation and motivation. The funds acknowledge previous efforts while supporting further artistic inquiry,” said Vandenberg, a multidisciplinary artist and teacher who has exhibited her work across the United States. “I thank the Kentucky Arts Council for standing up for hard work and experimental creativity. I am beaming with pride over this recognition.”

Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowships are awarded in different categories each year on a rotating schedule. The next opportunity for visual artists and composers to apply will be in 2017. The deadline for applications for the next round of funding in the fields of choreography and literary arts (fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry) is Feb. 15, 2016.

For more information contact Tamara Coffey, arts council individual artist director, at or 502-564-8110, ext. 479.

The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, fosters environments for Kentuckians to value, participate in and benefit from the arts. Kentucky Arts Council funding is provided by the Kentucky General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. The arts council, along with the NEA, is celebrating 50 years of service in 2015, which the arts council is recognizing as the Year of the Arts in Kentucky.

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