Twelve Greater Boston artists named Brother Thomas Fellows for 2019

Mid-career artists from multiple disciplines receive $15,000 unrestricted fellowship supported by innovative legacy gift

October 3, 2019

Boston – The Boston Foundation and the Pucker Gallery today publicly announces that twelve talented Boston-area artists have been named Brother Thomas Fellows for 2019. The twelve artists, each of whom has established their place across the artistic spectrum, are each being awarded a $15,000 unrestricted grant from the Brother Thomas Fund at the Boston Foundation.

The 2019 Brother Thomas Fellows

Collage of 2019 Brother Thomas Fellows Click here to learn more about the Fellows

“Every two years, we have the honor of highlighting both the remarkable creative work of Brother Thomas and the extraordinary legacy he has created,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “For ten years now, these grants have given some of the region’s most brilliant artists, across all disciplines, an opportunity to spend more time on their creative work, in the process enriching art and culture for all of us.”

The Brother Thomas Fund was established at the Boston Foundation to honor the legacy of Brother Thomas Bezanson, a Benedictine monk and world-renowned ceramic artist, who wanted the sale of his work to support artists at critical junctures in their careers.

In all, 56 Greater Boston artists have received Brother Thomas Fellowships totaling $840,000. A list of all Brother Thomas Fellows by year is available at

The goal of the biennial Brother Thomas Fellowship program is to support and celebrate a diverse group of Greater Boston artists working at a high level of excellence in a range of disciplines—the visual, performing, literary, media and craft arts—and to enhance their ability to thrive and create new work. The Boston Foundation also hopes that fellowship winners will have greater access to a variety of markets, including galleries, residencies and commissions, and that the importance of artists to the vitality of Boston will be more broadly recognized.

Each Brother Thomas Fellow receives an unrestricted award of $15,000.  Fellowships— given without stipulation as to how the funds are spent—match the needs of artists as well as the wishes of the donor who wanted to help other artists as his friends had helped him.

Introducing the 2019 Brother Thomas Fellows

Jorge Santiago Arce
Performing Artist

Jorge Arce was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, a city known for its rich cultural traditions. In addition to lifelong training as an actor, dancer, singer, performer and cultural historian, he earned his B.A. in musical theater from Boston Conservatory (1985) and M.Ed. from Harvard University (1994). In 1987, he founded Humano Multicultural Project, sharing the history and arts of the Afro-Caribbean throughout the country. He was a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Fellowship Finalist in 2012.

Anjimile Chithambo

Anjimile is a queer and trans singer/songwriter based in Boston. As a Malawian-American raised in the suburbs of Richardson, Texas, Anjimile’s experiences with racism, homophobia and xenophobia in the Deep South and beyond helped to form the basis of their radical queer politics. Anjimile released their first recordings to local acclaim while at Northeastern University. The essence of their musical output is “a gooey center of warmth and tenderness” informed by the power of their intersectional identities.

Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga

Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga is the daughter of Congolese immigrants and Founding Artistic Director of OrigiNation, which utilizes innovative and culturally significant programming to promote self-esteem, physical fitness and civic responsibility among youth. She uses the relationships she has built with young people to assist them in becoming the best versions of themselves and provides tools to deal with life’s most challenging issues. Her focus is dance, youth, the community and giving back.

Robert Gibbs

Robert “Problak” Gibbs is a painter, muralist and graffiti artist who was one of six urban teens to co-found the nonprofit Artists For Humanity. Gibbs has conducted arts workshops for Girls, Inc., the Boston Foundation and YouthBuild. He has been a teacher and guest artist at the Eliot Middle School and has provided innovative programming to young men at Rayne Academy. His work has been featured in exhibitions around the country.

Ashleigh Gordon

Ashleigh Gordon is a violist, educator and arts administrator deeply committed to fostering cultural curiosity in Black history, culture and music. She is Artistic & Executive Director of Castle of our Skins, a concert and educational series devoted to celebrating Black artistry through music. In recognition for her work, she has been featured in International Musician magazine and The Boston Globe, and awarded the Charles Walton Diversity Advocate award from the American Federation of Musicians.

Arthur Halvorsen

Arthur Halvorsen is a graduate of Maine College of Art, where he received his BFA in ceramics. Arthur’s work—which has been featured in Ceramics Monthly and Pottery Making Illustrated—uses bright colors, textures and patterns on earthenware, drawing from pop art, coloring books and tattoos. Arthur is a Mudflat Studio artist, and he teaches classes and workshops there and at Lesley University, among other venues nationally. He shares his latest work regularly on Instagram @arthurhalvorsen.

Yara Liceaga-Rojas

Yara Liceaga-Rojas is a queer Afro-Caribbean poet, writer, performer, cultural administrator and educator from Puerto Rico who resides in the Boston area. Her multidisciplinary projects—Acentos espesos/Thick Accents; El despojo: ¿Alguien ha/Has Anyone?; and Poetry Is Busy—produce visibility for marginalized subjects. She’s authored four books of poetry; publishes frequently in newspapers, journals and anthologies; and offers creative writing, poetry and performance workshops in cultural centers, libraries and other institutions.

Porsha Olayiwola

Porsha Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator and curator who uses Afrofuturism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam champion and was named by Get Konnected! as one of Boston’s 100 Most Influential People of Color. Olayiwola is the current poet laureate for the City of Boston and has her first full collection of poetry forthcoming with Button Poetry in November 2019.

Oompa (Lakiyra Williams)

Oompa is a nationally-acclaimed, Boston-born poet, rapper and educator, forever representing the queer, black, orphaned, hood kids. Oompa is the Boston Music Awards 2018 Unsigned Artist of the Year, a 2018 LAB Grant recipient, 2018 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest Finalist, and the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam. Her debut album, Nov. 3, received accolades, and she is currently preparing the release of her second album, Cleo.

Valerie Stephens
Performing Artist/Storyteller

Valerie Stephens, a native Bostonian, is an award-winning performing artist with a passion for history. An actor, storyteller, vocalist, writer and producer, she has toured nationally and performed on many Boston area stages. Her original works include plays, historical pieces and tributes to singer Nina Simone. She believes in the trans- formative power of art on the personal and community levels and over the last 35 years has created performance art and programming that celebrates that power.

Billy Dean Thomas

Billy Dean Thomas, AKA “The Queer B.I.G.” is a hip-hop recording artist born and raised in Harlem, but residing in Boston. Billy challenges the music industry with lyrics that align with intersectional feminism, social justice and growing up in NYC. After performing on ABC’s The Viewand releasing the EP Rocky Barboa, Billy was nominated for two Boston Music Awards and has performed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Spotify and the House of Blues Boston.

Kyla Toomey

Kyla Toomey is a Boston-based ceramic artist. Her work simultaneously draws from Modernism and Craft, and is charged with a sense of materiality and simplicity. She is fascinated with the play of opposing forces within an object, and human interaction with materials. She splits her time between making and teaching: She has taught at many institutions including The Commonwealth School, The School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Office for the Arts at Harvard University.

Photos of all of the Brother Thomas Fellows, and a list of all 56 Brother Thomas Fellows since 2009 are available at