2017 Fellows Profiles

Herman Aguirre, visual artist
Born and raised in Chicago, Herman Aguirre’s U.S. citizenship not only sheltered him from the impoverished, crime-filled area in Mexico that was home to other members of his family but it also provided him with opportunities for education and training. As a public school student in Chicago, he won prizes for his painting, then received an undergraduate scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and finally a merit scholarship in the MFA program in painting. His work has been shown at Yollocalli, a youth initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, and The Mad Center Gallery. His Fellowship will cover the substantial costs of materials, studio rental, and travel, including trips to Madrid, New York City, and Mexico City. He also intends to send proposals and portfolios to various institutions throughout the U.S. and Mexico to gain exposure for his work with an international audience.
Ato Blankson-Wood, actor
Ato Blankson-Wood is multi-talented -- an actor, singer, and dancer -- who is capable of deftly blending poetry, story-telling and music in performance. The third of five children born to Ghanaian parents, his childhood home was filled with dancing, laughter, story and song. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he earned early-career professional credits with the Broadway revival of Hair (2009-10) and Lysistrata Jones (2011). Eager to expand his abilities and range, he enrolled in the MFA Acting program at the Yale School of Drama. After receiving an MFA degree, he was selected for the lead role in the musical The Total Bent at The Public Theater, and Spike Lee has cast him in She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix. The Fellowship will put him that much closer to his artistic and professional goals: continued training (on-camera classes, voice lessons, audition coaching), activities to advance his career (trips to Los Angeles for pilot season, a trip to Ghana and its National Theater to study storytelling traditions, a weekend songwriting retreat), and investments in other professional services.
Emily Erb, visual artist
Teachers and critics agree: Emily Erb is a courageous artist who takes on large and often difficult topics. “For me,” she explains, “it’s always been to make pretty things to make people think” and “I like to make art about things that I want people to care about.” To this end, she uses silk as the medium for her large-scale watercolors, creating beautiful and accessible paintings to highlight subjects such as the role of women and slaves in American history, and gun violence, thus encouraging viewers to look closely and reflect on important issues. Born in Richmond, Virginia, she earned a BFA at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 2005, and an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2012. She has had solo exhibitions at the Visual Arts Center in Richmond, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and the Museum of American Finance in New York City. Her work also has been shown at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. She was a 2015 TEDx speaker in Richmond. Hoping to benefit from both the creative and career opportunities associated with the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship, she plans to attend art fairs in Miami, Chicago, and New York City, present her work at galleries, art institutes, and museums in a dozen cities, rent separate studio space, purchase equipment and supplies, and participate in an arts residency in Japan.
Samantha Hankey, opera singer
Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey has a dream: “to keep opera alive and share its relevance with audiences today.” Passionate about singing and performing, she began studying music at a young age, enrolled in The Walnut Hill High School for the Performing Arts, and pursued undergraduate and graduate studies at The Julliard School. She will graduate from Julliard in May 2017 with a Master of Music degree as a Kovner Fellow. In her final year at Julliard, she received awards from the Gerda Lissner Foundation Opera and Lieder/Art Song Competitions, Opera Index, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, and The Bel Canto Vocal Scholarship Foundation, and the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. She will use the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship support to prepare for major engagements in San Francisco and Oslo, Norway, and to cover various start-up costs for her career, including European auditions, pianist fees, travel, performance attire, scores, demo recordings, application fees for competitions and training programs, and professional photography.
Khari Joyner, musician
A cellist with a long list of honors, awards, and important performances, Khari Joyner earned both his Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School. While studying in the School’s Accelerated BM/MM program, he pursued a concentration in Mathematics in an exchange program with Columbia University. He is currently completing his degree in Juilliard’s prestigious Doctor of Musical Arts program. In addition, he has served as a Fellow for the Perlman Music Program, appeared as a soloist with many orchestras (including the New World Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Atlantic Symphony Orchestra), and he has given solo recitals both here and abroad. He has performed with chamber music groups, and he was featured in performances for President Barack Obama at The White House, Coretta Scott-King at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta, and two of Hank Aaron’s birthday celebrations (D.C. and New York). With his Fellowship, Khari will make a solo debut recording, embark on a recital tour that “would combine aspects of community engagement and educational opportunities for various communities across the U.S. (e.g., churches, hospitals, college campuses, concert halls, community centers), and invest in a range of career needs (e.g., a Sartory bow for his cello, professional headshots, travel, and fees for international/national competitions and various orchestral auditions).
Jia Kim, musician
Associated with the Perlman Music Program since 2003, cellist Jia Kim attended PMP’s Summer Music School for high school students and then participated in the Chamber Music Workshop. In addition, PMP invited Jia to travel to Israel for its 2010 residency in Jerusalem, and she worked as a Summer Music School Fellow. She graduated from The Juilliard School with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She has had solo performances both here and abroad, orchestra engagements, chamber music concerts, summer festivals and masterclasses. She served as a tone judge for the Violin Society of America’s International Competition in 2016. As Artistic Director of a unique nonprofit called International Music Sessions, she is committed to ensuring that music is the universal language that makes connections beyond language and words. IMS’s mission is to bring music students from third world conflict areas around the world to the U.S. as a means of bridging the gap between cultures through the communicative power of music.
Ruibo Qian, actor
Ruibo Qian is a versatile actress. She starred in the plays Tiger Style! (Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, and Alliance Theatre Company, Atlanta), Water by the Spoonful (The Old Globe, San Diego), and Henry IV, Part 1 (The Pearl Theatre Company, New York City), and will appear this year in a new play, Bull in a China Shop (Lincoln Center Theater 3). She also appeared in the television series Broad City (Comedy Central, 2014) and Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon, 2014-16), and the Oscar-nominated film Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Viral Beauty (2016). With the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship, she plans to continue her artistic studies at the Dell-Arte School of Physical Theatre, participate in on-camera workshops and take private voice lessons. In addition, she will cover career development costs, including a professional demo reel, professional equipment, wardrobe, and headshots.
Cassandra Trenary, ballet dancer
A native of Lawrenceville, Georgia, American Ballet Theatre Soloist Cassandra Trenary began training at Southern Ballet Theatre in 2006, studying not only ballet but also jazz, tap, modern dance, and hip-hop. After attending ABT’s Summer Intensive programs as a National Training Scholar, she joined ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2009. In 2011, she was offered an apprenticeship with ABT and, in November of that year, a corps de ballet contract. She was promoted to Soloist in 2015. With assistance from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund, she can reach “outside the comfort of the only company I have ever known” and stretch her artistic experience with coaching from three major companies: The Mariinsky, The Royal Ballet, and The Netherlands Dance Theatre -- her “three destinations for learning.” She also plans to take acting classes to aid her in telling stories “with the utmost clarity and conviction,” focus on strength and conditioning, and create an abstract art film.
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