THE MACARTHUR FOUNDATION in Chicago announced a new class of fellows today, 25 visionaries who help us “reimagine what’s possible.”

Talented change makers in the visual arts are represented among 2021 MacArthur Fellows, including Nicole R. Fleetwood, who is known for her groundbreaking exhibition and book project, “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration”; Harlem portrait painter Jordan Casteel; Daniel Lind-Romas, whose artworks explore the history and rituals of his Afro-Puerto Rican community; and Jacqueline Stewart, a film scholar dedicated to bringing visibility to overlooked Black filmmakers.


Clockwise, from top left, 2021 MacArthur Fellows include Jordan Casteel, Nicole R. Fleetwood, Jacqueline Stewart, and Daniel Lind-Ramos. | Photos (4) Courtesy John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible. They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries. It happens in all fields of endeavor, among the relatively young and more seasoned, in Iowa and Puerto Rico,” Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said in a statement announcing the new class.

“Once again, we have the opportunity for exultation as we recognize the potential to create objects of beauty and awe, advance our understanding of society, and foment change to improve the human condition.”

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible. They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries.” — Cecilia Conrad, MacArthur Foundation

Recognizing outstanding individuals in the arts, sciences, and beyond, the MacArthur Fellows Program supports and encourages ambitious creative, intellectual, and professional pursuits, providing no-strings-attached awards with no obligations or requirements, such as reports or finished projects, expected in return.

Outside nominators, experts in their fields, recommend candidates for the opportunity based on their originality and insight and their potential to advance their work and further contribute to the betterment of society. Fellows receive $625,000 stipends distributed in quarterly payments over five years.

In addition to Fleetwood, Lind-Ramos, Casteel and Stewart, the 2021 fellows include civil rights activist Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, choreographer and founder of the performance ensemble Urban Bush Women; Columbus, Ohio-based music critic, essayist, and poet Hanif Abdurraqib; Ibrahim Cissé, a biological physicist; American historian Ibram X. Kendi, founder and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and author of “How to Be an Antiracist” (2019); and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton University historian and author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” (2016)

2021 fellow Reginald Dwayne Betts works at the intersection of art, law, and poetry. A Yale-educated lawyer and activist, Betts’s support of incarcerated individuals is informed by his own experience with incarceration. His redacted poems were presented alongside the work of artist Titus Kaphar in the exhibition “Redacted” at MoMA PS1 in 2019. CT


SEE FULL LIST of 2021 MacArthur Fellows


FIND MORE The MacArthur Fellows Program is celebrating its 40th year with an exhibition, “Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40,” at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago (July 15–Dec. 19, 2021). The exhibition features 29 artists including Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Mark Bradford, Mel Chin, Nicole Eisenman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jeffrey Gibson, Toba Khedoori, Rick Lowe, Julie Mehretu, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems. The Smart Museum is the main venue. Several other institutions in the city are hosting related “Toward Common Cause” programming, including the Rebuild Foundation.


Art historian and curator Nicole R. Fleetwood, 48 (New York, N.Y.). | Video by MacArthur Foundation


Nicole R. Fleetwood is author of the award-winning book “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” She organized an accompanying museum exhibition of the same name that opened last year at MoMA PS1 in New York and is currently on view at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. After 16 years at Rutgers University, Fleetwood joined New York University earlier this year as the James Weldon Johnson Professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication.

Fleetwood: “One of the primary functions of prisons is to hold people in captivity and to render them invisible to larger society. Art making in prison is a really potent way of resisting states’s erasure and rendering of one invisible.”


Sculptor and painter Daniel Lind-Ramos, 68 (Loíza, PR). | Video by MacArthur Foundation


Daniel Lind-Ramos lives in Loíza, an Afro-descendent community in Puerto Rico. His work spans a variety of mediums from painting and drawing to sculpture, video and performance. He is particularly recognized for his sculptural assemblages, which “embody the social history, religious rituals, and built and natural environments” of his community. Lind-Ramos participated in the 2019 Whitney Biennial.

Lind-Ramos: “I work with objects. Objects related with the palm trees, objects that are given to me by members of the community, and objects that I also create. Objects activate my memory and also, of course, they activate my imagination.”


Painter Jordan Casteel, 32 (New York, N.Y.). | Video by MacArthur Foundation


Artist Jordan Casteel paints nearly life-sized portraits of people she encounters on the streets of Harlem, on the New York City subway, and in her classroom. (She was a professor of painting at Rutgers University from 2016-2021). An artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Casteel recently had a major exhibition at the New Museum. “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” was her first solo show at a New York institution.

Casteel: “I have always been curious about people. I’ve always wanted painting to be an opportunity to explore. …A lot of the subjects that I have chosen maybe have had moments where they haven’t felt seen. Knowing that they get to feel seen long-term, that’s one of the greatest honors of my life.”


Film scholar, archivist, and curator, Jacqueline Stewart, 51 (Los Angeles, Calif.). | Video by MacArthur Foundation


Jacqueline Stewart is the chief artistic and programming officer at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opens to the public on Sept. 30 in Los Angeles. The author of the landmark study “Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity,” Stewart is currently on leave from the University of Chicago, where she is a professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and was appointed director of Arts + Public Life in 2019. She is also the host of Silent Sunday Nights on Turner Classic Movies.

Stewart: “There are a number of early Black artistic pioneers who were making films for segregated African American audiences during the first half of the 20th century. There was a kind of mutual relationship that I think had been under-explored. The ways that Blackness influenced the development of cinema as a medium and the way that cinema played an important role in the development of Black identity.”


Nicole R. Fleetwood’s award-winning book “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” is accompanied by a museum exhibition. Jacqueline Stewart is the author of “Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity.” The exhibition catalog “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” documents the artist’s first New York museum exhibition.


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