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Ten Chicago artists receive total of $150,000 in unrestricted awards at 6th annual 3Arts Awards


3Arts is honored to announce the ten recipients of its 6th annual 3Arts Awards, presented to women artists, artists of color and artists with disabilities working in the performing, teaching and visual arts. The awards will be presented tonight, Monday, Oct. 21, by the 3Arts Board of Directors and Awards Host Committee in a celebratory gathering at the Museum of Contemporary Art. 3Arts has awarded over $1 million in total grants to more than 100 Chicago artists in the past six years. 

3Arts Awards honorees each receive an unrestricted $15,000 award to put to use according to their individual needs and priorities. The 2013 recipients are: dancer Michel Rodriguez and choreographer Vershawn Sanders Ward; instrumentalists Lisa Kaplan and Ronnie Kuller; teaching artists Marta Garcia and Robert Schleifer; actors Mierka Girten and Kelli Simpkins; and visual artists Irena Knezevic and Cauleen SmithFull bios for the honorees follow at the end of this release. Images are available here.

“In the past six years, 3Arts has distributed over $1,000,000 to artists across Chicago---a testament to our dedication to supporting a diversity of artistic voices in our community. The 3Arts Award is the first step and the foundation for our ongoing support of each awardee. They are now eligible for a network of offerings designed to help them build momentum in their practice over time including project support, residency fellowships, promotion, and informal and formal professional development programs," said 3Arts Executive Director Esther Grimm.

Driven by the belief that the vitality and creative spirit of Chicago is reliant upon a diverse spectrum of artistic voices,3Arts advocates for women artists, artists of color and artists with disabilities working in the performing (dance, music and theater), teaching and visual arts. For more information on 3Arts, please visit

The recipients of the 2013 3Arts Awards are:



Michel RodriguezChoreographer

Michel Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba and graduated from the Cuban National School of Art in 2003.  He began dancing as a company member of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba in 2003 and became a principal dancer in 2006 participating in the International Theater Festival of Havana, Biennale of Venice, Temps D'Images of Dusseldorf, and Sziget Festival in Budapest, performing in England and Mexico, and teaching workshops in Spain. He has worked with notable choreographers Jan Linkens, Kenneth Kvarnstrom, Samir Akika, Cathy Marston, Luca Bruni, Rafael Bonachela, George Cespedes, Susan Marshall and Andrea Miller. Rodriguez moved to Chicago in 2008 and began as a company member with Hedwig Dances. In 2010, Rodriguez was named one of “The Men of 2010” by TimeOut Chicago and began dancing with CDI/Concert Dance Inc. Rodriguez has also made several appearances with Khecari Dance Theatre and has worked with the Chicago Moving Company as a guest artist. Rodriguez is currently working with Ben Wardell on Nexus Project, a two man show to premier in the Fall of 2013 and joined Lucky Plush Productions as an ensemble member. He became an Adjunct Faculty Member in January, 2013 at Columbia College Chicago teaching Modern Technique. As a choreographer he has premiered Moi AussiWalking, and Por Dentro for Hedwig Dances and was honored to become a finalist in the A.W.A.R.D. Show 2010 for Moi Aussi. In 2012, Rodriguez was commissioned to choreograph Finding the Balance for the Repertory Performance Workshop/Faculty Concert at Columbia College Chicago.


Vershawn Sanders WardChoreographer

Vershawn Sanders Ward, dance scholar and choreographer, is the Founder and Artistic Managing Director of Red Clay Dance Company based in Chicago, IL. Ward holds a MFA in Dance from New York University and is proud to be the first recipient of a BFA in Dance from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been presented at festivals in New York, Chicago, Kalamazoo, The Yard at Martha's Vineyard, Toronto, Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, and Kampala, Uganda. She received a 2009 Choreography Award from Harlem Stage NYC for the creation of her solo work, NEW WORLD AFRIKAN, which premiered in November 2010 at the Dance Transitions Festival in Kampala, Uganda. Vershawn has served as an adjunct faculty member and teaching artist with many organizations and institutions in Chicago including City Colleges of Chicago, The Gary Comer Youth Center, the Dance Center of Columbia College, Urban Gateways, and the Office of Community Arts Partnerships at Columbia College Chicago. Current projects include producing Red Clay Dance’s 5th Anniversary Fall Concert at the Logan Arts Center and a choreographic collaboration with Ugandan choreographer Jonas Byaruhanga, which will premiere at the Pritzker Pavilion April 10-13, 2014. Vershawn is extremely honored to be selected as a 2013 3Arts Award recipient and would like to thank her family for their unwavering support.



Lisa KaplanInstrumentalist

Born in Motown, Lisa Kaplan is a pianist specializing in the performance of new work by living composers.  Kaplan is also the founding pianist of the three-time Grammy Award-winning sextet eighth blackbird. She has won numerous awards, performed all over the country and has premiered new pieces by hundreds of composers, including Andy Akiho, Derek Bermel, Jennifer Higdon, Amy Beth Kirsten, David Lang, Nico Muhly, George Perle and Steve Reich. Kaplan has had the great pleasure to collaborate and make music with an eclectic array of incredibly talented people - Mario Batali, Jeremy Denk, Bryce Dessner, Glenn Kotche, Gustavo Santaolalla, Steve Schick, Robert Spano, Dawn Upshaw and Michael Ward-Bergeman to name a few. Recently she has greatly enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to do some composing and arranging for eighth blackbird. Kaplan is a true foodie, gourmet cook, avid reader, crossword and Scrabble addict, enjoys baking ridiculously complicated pastry and loves outdoor adventures. She has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, braved the Australian outback, stared an enormous elephant in the face in Tanzania’s Ngorogoro Crater and survived close encounters with grizzly bears in the Brooks Range of Alaska. 


Ronnie KullerInstrumentalist

Ronnie Kuller is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, teaching artist, and member of Mucca Pazza. She has composed and performed music for Theater Oobleck and Zephyr Dance Ensemble, and is an artistic associate of Opera-Matic. Since 2006, she's been an Artist-in-Residence at Snow City Arts, where she teaches music to pediatric inpatients at Stroger Hospital of Cook County and Rush Children's Hospital. Ronnie has performed at Lincoln Center, Millennium Park, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Montreal Jazz Festival, Mass MoCA, the Watermill Centre, and 92Y Tribeca. Her compositions have been performed live on Chicago Public Radio's Morning Shift and recorded onto wax cylinder at Edison National Historical Park.


Teaching Arts:

Marta GarciaTeaching Artist

Marta Garcia received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL with a concentration in Theater. After graduation she founded Akropolis Acting Company. As the Artistic Director, her company received recognition for winning best local theater company from both Miami News Times and The Palm Beach Post. Her highly visual and conceptual pieces won her recognition as Best Local Director. Marta first picked up a camera while working on dance theater pieces as a form of note taking. Her camera work moved from being a means of arranging pieces to the streets of Miami documenting the expressive and emotional faces of people at protest during the Balseros migration. Marta studied photography at Columbia College and after graduating began her career as a freelance photographer. Her interest in social issues has allowed her to photograph a vast array of subjects; from factory floors to the political- from protests to leaders of the free world. She has shot for many national publications such as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and The Wall Street Journal. Marta is a recent recipient of the Awesome Foundation Award for her work on the Division Street Project. Her unique style and personality brings forth the sincerity in people. Marta continues to work as a freelance photographer and as a teaching artist. She currently teaches at Marwen where she has found great fulfillment in working with the young people of Chicago.


Robert SchleiferTeaching Artist

Robert Schleifer has worked as a teaching artist and an actor. He has had the privilege of teaching his classes and workshops all over the world including several renewed Opera Programs in Austria and Italy. He has taught at Act One Studios, Actors Training Center, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Chicago International Film Festival, Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, and many more. Mr. Schleifer is a member of Actors' Equity Associate. He has appeared nationwide in many prominent theatre productions, including Broadway National Tour ofBig River with co-production of Deaf West.  Recently, Mr. Schleifer performed in Suzan Zeder's The Edge of Peaceas Tuc at Seattle Children’s Theatre and University of Texas at Austin, TX. His Chicago credits include seven seasons with the famed Goodman Theatre as Mr. Adams and the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol and appeared in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as Singer at Steppenwolf Theatre, Dr. Dysart in Equus (After Dark Award for Outstanding Performance), and Holy Ghost in the Jeff Award-winning musical Pope Joan.  Outstanding Performance Award for the role of Stinger in Police Deaf Near Far (StageLeft Theatre), The Tempest as Ariel (Milwaukee Shakespeare Company), Hamlet in Hamlet Dreams (Bailiwick Rep), and many more. Mr. Schleifer was educated at R.I.T and University of Rochester in New York.  His upcoming play, Our Town is at Actors Theatre of Louisville in KY.  His website is



Mierka GirtenActor

Mierka Girten was last seen in Simpatico at A Red Orchid Theatre where she is a proud ensemble member. Off-Broadway, she was seen in Mistakes Were Made with Michael Shannon and Sam Deutsch at the Barrow Street Theater. Other credits at A Red Orchid include: Becky ShawMistakes Were MadeWeapon of Mass ImpactTheMeekKimberly Akimbo and The Treatment. Branching out to other Chicago theatre companies, you may have seen Mierka in her one woman show With Or Without WingsThe Walls (Rivendell Theatre Co.), A View From the Bridge(American Theatre Company), The Book of Liz (Roadworks), The DanubeEdmondMarat Sade and A Blood Wedding (The Hypocrites), Spitfire Grill (Provision Theater), Into the Woods (Porchlight Musical Theatre), Joy of the Desolate (Appletree), Golf (Circle Theatre), Devour the Moon and Dear Jackie (Livebait Theater), Seperation (Illinois Theatre Center), Tattoo Girl (Cobalt Ensemble Theatre), Marathon 33 and Subterranean Love Story (Strawdog). She has toured around the country in The Secret Garden and has been heard nationally, both as an announcer and jingle singer on radio and television commercials. Currently, she is the voice for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Mierka’s film credits include: The Manson FamilyThe Lake at Evening and The Drunk. Mierka is the founder of The Mookie Jam Foundation, benefiting artists with Multiple Sclerosis - because she is a daily warrior against the disease.


Kelli SimpkinsActor

Kelli Simpkins is an artistic associate of About Face Theater and is a company member of Tectonic Theater Project in NYC.  She is one of the original creator/performers of The Laramie Project (Off-B’Way, Denver Center, Berkeley Rep., LaJolla Playhouse).  THEATER CREDITS: The Kid Thing (d/Joanie Schultz) at Chicago Dramatists (Jeff nomination for principle actor); Pony (d/ Bonnie Metzgar) at Chopin Theater; In Darfur (d/ Nick Bowling) at Timeline Theater; Late: A Cowboy Song (d/Jessica Thebus) at Piven; The Laramie Tour: TLP & TLP Epilogue, 10 Yrs. Later;Celebrity Row (d/David Cromer) at ATC; Fair Use (d/Meredith McDonough), Good Boys and True (d/Pam McKinnon) and One Arm (d/Moises Kaufman) all at Steppenwolf Theatre; Execution of Justice (d/Gary Griffon) at About Face Theatre; The People’s Temple (d/Leigh Fondakowski) at The Guthrie, Perseverance and Berkeley Rep., and I Think I Like Girls (d/Leigh Fondakowski) at HERE Arts Center, Cherry Lane Theater and Z Space; 33 VARIATIONS (d/Moises Kaufman): 5 years as performer/dramaturge prior to the premiere; Spill (d/Leigh Fondakowski) is a verbatim, mulit-media play about the BP oil spill that she’s been dramaturging and performing in for the last few years.  It will premiere in Louisiana in 2014.  DIRECTING: Good Death, an original play that she directed and co-wrote with students at Western Michigan University. FILM/TV:  BetrayalA League of Their OwnChasing AmyThe Nearly Unadventurous Life of Zoe CadwaulderLaw & Order: C.I. and HBO’s The Laramie Project (Emmy nomination: Ensemble Writing.) She is a certified teacher in Tectonic’s “moment work” technique.


Visual Arts:

Irena KnezevicVisual Artist

Irena Knezevic is a Serbian artist working in various visual art formats, music, and architecture. She has performed and exhibited her work in solo projects at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; threewalls, Chicago; White Columns, New York; Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Jan Van Eyck Academie, Netherlands; University Galleries of Illinois State University, Normal; Blum and Poe, Los Angeles; Dallas Biennial, Texas; Control Room, Los Angeles and Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. Upcoming projects will be exhibited at 4th Athens Biennale, Greece, and Performa, New York. Victory of Literary School X, a monograph of scores, programs and written works, will be published by WhiteWalls in 2014. She has received her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago and currently teaches at Northwestern University.


Cauleen SmithVisual Artist

Cauleen Smith received her B.A. from the School of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University and her M.F.A. from UCLA School of Theater-Television-Film. For the past several years Smith has produced multi-channel film and video installations that incorporate sculptural objects and text. Her interests roam from her roots in structuralist filmmaking to afro-futurist narrative strategies with themes rooted in history and memory. Materials and form are central interests which are applied to projects as the project itself demands thereby making the body of Smith's work unpredictably varied and diverse. Smith is producing a series of films, objects, and events (of which Fullness is a part) that explore the psychogeography of American cities in which the intersection of black cultural production and the urban landscape created significant and global musical innovation. Recent projects include "17" a series of hand screen-printed wallpapers which ruminate on sound; and "Black Utopia LP - A Cauleen Smith movie" - vinyl records accompanied by 35mm slides featuring lectures and rehearsals of Sun Ra and his arkestra. Smith lives in Chicago, and works all over the country, from Vermont to Los Angeles, attempting to make work about space, place and the power of resistance.


For more information on 3Arts, please visit or call Executive Director Esther Grimm or Associate Director Mark Becker at 312-443-9621.

Posted by Max Nesterak on 10/21/13 | tags: fellowships art awards 3arts

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