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San Antonio artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk has been named a 2020 United States Artists (USA) fellow, an honor which comes with an unrestricted grant of $50,000.
USA is a national organization based in Chicago that annually grants awards in that amount to 50 artists in varied disciplines. Since USA was founded in 2006, $27 million has been granted to 600 artists.
In an announcement, USA board chair Ed Henry said, “We believe strongly that the arts are critically important to the well-being of our communities and at the heart of the arts is the individual artist. We are proud to offer this unrestricted award to encourage artists to explore the possibilities of their practices and support their livelihoods.”
Datchuk joins such esteemed company as past awardees poet Claudia Rankine, fiction writers Teju Cole and Annie Proulx, playwright Anna Deavere Smith, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and Houston conceptual artist Dario Robleto.
Datchuk was in awe of being included in the same company as some of her primary art heroes, including co-2020 awardee Wendy Maruyama.
“Oh my gosh … I die thinking about it,” Datchuk said. “I know who they are but I’m pretty sure they don’t know who I am, so there’s still a little imposter syndrome creeping in. But I’m so excited. I’ll get to meet them all in person, and fangirl them.”
USA annually convenes awardees to foster connections between generations and disciplines, and to encourage makers to become aware of each others’ work, said Deanna Haggag, USA president and CEO.
USA is unusual for its breadth and scope in disciplines and locations considered, with grantees from such diverse locations as Anchorage, Alaska; Door County, Wisconsin; Honolulu; Miami; New London; Connecticut; and Water Valley, Mississippi.
“One thing that’s really important to United States Artists is to demonstrate the caliber of incredible artmaking happening in every corner of the country,” Haggag said.
Awardee disciplines are categorized as architecture and design, craft, dance, film, media, music, theater and performance, traditional arts, visual art, and writing. But the list of disciplines among artists who have won expands those definitions to include fiber art, public art, printmaking, experimental filmmaking, choreography, instrumental music and composition, storytelling, activism, basket making, blacksmithy, fashion design, and others.
Datchuk, an assistant professor of studio arts and ceramics at Texas State University, said it was important to her to apply in the craft category, as her baccalaureate degree is in crafts and her graduate degree is in artisanry.
In her application, Datchuk, a Chinese American, focused on her research into the colors blue and white, common to a type of ceramic porcelain known as “chinoiserie,” a French word used to describe a style appropriated from Chinese porcelain.
“A lot of people work in blue and white, but I really saw it as a part of talking about global migrations, and this line of cultural appreciation, appropriation, and cultural reappropriation,” Datchuk said. “As someone who lives her life within this third culture of being too Chinese for my white family, too white for my Chinese family, I really question what am I allowed to do or own or claim? And I just framed it all back to this research.”
The unrestricted funds can be used for any purpose, as determined by the artist. Datchuk said she has been hesitant to decide what to use the money for, though she has considered such practical steps as paying off a significant portion of her student loans, or funding potential projects “that have only lived in my sketchbook,” she said.
As the USA panel of 30 nominators is anonymous, Datchuk does not know who put her name forward, either this time or three years earlier when she applied but did not win. Between 500 and 600 artists are nominated each year, who then submit applications.
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“I feel like someone’s been looking out for me,” Datchuk said of her anonymous nominator. “I’ve been doing this work for like 10-plus years, and I keep doing it because I believe in it. It’s a really great affirmation to your practice and the work you do that you don’t always get recognized or paid for. I feel great overwhelming love and support. And whoever nominated me, I’m super thankful for them.”
USA advises its nominees on the application process and gives feedback if artists are rejected. Datchuk said she keeps a folder of rejections, “so I can always go back and look at how I could improve. The second time around I felt like I was better prepared.”
Regarding USA’s mission to recognize and reward artists for their achievements, Haggag said staff, board members, and donors all appreciate risk-takers and see artists as vital contributors to society.
“Sometimes we need to dream up a different reality than the one we’re living in,” Haggag said. “I think what artists do is cultivate the world we should be in or a possibility for a different world. … I’m not saying that every artist is out here redefining how we live our lives, but I’m saying we need the arts at large to be able to do that.
“So to invest a little in artists, or to treat it like it’s not an important, dire profession to our overall health and wellbeing in this country is kind of ridiculous. And to reward creative practitioners is vital and important.”