The 2019 Brother Thomas Fellows marked the sixth class of the program. Practicing in a mix of disciplines from music to spoke word to ceramics and more, each fellow received a $15,000 unrestricted grant to allow them to strengthen and invest in their art. To learn more about the Brother Thomas Fellows program and view a roster of all the Brother Thomas Fellows, visit tbf.org/brotherthomas.
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 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 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 on how to deal with life’s most challenging issues. Her focus is dance, youth, the community and giving back.
Rob “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 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 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 at @arthurhalvorsen.
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 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 is a nationally-acclaimed, Boston-born poet, rapper and educator, who is 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. Oompa's debut album, Nov. 3, received accolades, and she is currently preparing the release of her second album, Cleo.
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 transformative power of art on personal as well as community levels and over the last 35 years has created performance art and programming that celebrates that power.
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 View and 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 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.