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2021 Arts Innovator Award Recipients



It is with great joy that we announce the recipients of the 2021 Arts Innovator Award (AIA), and celebrate the community that made this possible. Visual artist Romson Bustillo and literary artist Tessa Hulls create work that explores culture, lineage, history, gender, race, power, and forgiveness, and ask viewers to question systems of power. 

Romson and Tessa will each receive $25,000 in recognition of their innovation and risk-taking in their artistic practice. They were selected as awardees from a cohort of eight finalists by a statewide inter-disciplinary panel comprised of five artists. The remaining six finalists will each receive a $500 honorarium in recognition of their collective achievement and time they invested to participate.

Read the full announcement over on our blog! 

Romson Bustillo (King County) was born on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, and is a Seattle-based artist. His layered works and immersive collaborations are tied to his Philippine lineage, South Seattle-PNW upbringing, and research travels. Mixed media artist Marita Dingus and the late painter Drake Deknatel were important influences and mentors during his early years. Carving his own path, Bustillo integrates a printmaking foundation with a transdisciplinary practice.

Romson shared, "Like many artists, nearly every resource circles back to our practice. The Arts Innovator Award is critical in helping me invest the time and tools to push this work further along its course. In the company of respected PNW artists, I am thankful and humbled to receive this award. I’m optimistic it will lead to more opportunities and open a larger audience for my artwork and ongoing investigations to engage with." 

Tessa Hulls (Jefferson County) is a multidisciplinary storyteller who is equally likely to disappear into a research library or the wilderness. Weaving visual art, writing, historical research, and educational activism, she creates genre-defying projects that interrogate the connections between the present and the past. For the past six years, she has focused on Feeding Ghosts, a nonfiction graphic novel that tells the entwined stories of three generations of women in her family to explore mental illness, loss of language, intergenerational trauma, mixed-raced identity, and the complicated ways in which mothers and daughters both damage and save one another. Tessa is paying part of her award forward, with donations of $1,000 going to twelve non-profit and community-based organizations. 

Tessa shared, "Receiving this award is a huge validation of my belief that art holds the most power when it leaves the gallery and flings itself into the world, and this award will help me continue to throw myself into the fray where I'm needed. I am grateful beyond measure for this support and am thrilled to be able to use half of this money to create opportunities for other voices." 

Please join us in celebration of this incredible community! Deep gratitude to the Chihuly Foundation, the 2021 AIA panelist and finalist cohort, as well as Artist Trust’s staff, board of trustees, and community of artists, donors, and friends for making this work possible. 

2021 Arts Innovator Award Finalist Cohort 

Priscilla Dobler, visual artist, 2014 GAP recipient, Pierce County 
Nike Imoru, performing artist, Spokane County 
Alicia Mullikan, performing artist, King County 
Troy Osaki, literary artist, 2019 GAP recipient, King County 
Maja Petric, media artist, King County 
Gilda Sheppard, media artist, 2019 Fellowship recipient, King County 

2021 Arts Innovator Award Panel

Vania C. Bynum, performing artist, 2019 GAP recipient, King County  
Jaleesa Johnston, multidisciplinary artist, 2020 Fellowship recipient, Skamania County 
Keetje Kuipers, writer, Island County 
Marilyn Montufar, photographer, 2015 GAP recipient, King County  
Carl Richardson, visual artist, Spokane County   



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