Announcing the 2020 Arts Innovator Award Recipients

Published: August 17, 2020

Categories: Featured | Grants & Fellowships

Artist Trust today announced recipients of the 2020 Arts Innovator Award: artist collaborators Haruko Crow Nishimura and Joshua Kohl, and artist Etsuko Ichikawa.  

Funded by The Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation, the Arts Innovator Award (AIA) comprises two unrestricted awards of $25,000 that recognize Washington state artists of all disciplines who demonstrate innovation in their practice.

The 2020 AIA recipients create works that push viewers to think deeply about transformative social change. Across a variety of mediums and disciplines, these artists invite audiences to explore the personal responsibility within these efforts and to critically question current society’s legacy.

Award Recipient Etsuko Ichikawa
Etsuko Ichikawa is a Tokyo-born, Seattle-based, multi-media artist. She graduated from Tokyo Zokei University in Japan in 1987 with a BFA and moved to Seattle in 1993 to continue her studies.

She most recently used uranium glass as a key element in her sculpture, installation, film, and photography, a material that relates to the devastating 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan. Etsuko visited the Hanford site, where she learned about vitrification technology, which transforms radioactive waste into glass for ultimate disposal.

This experience connected her love of glass, her Japanese heritage and nuclear legacy, her perspective looking through the lens of America, and her fear, hope, and responsibility for the future.

Etsuko shared, “To be recognized as innovative represents a tremendous step forward for my art practice. The Arts Innovator Award gives me the confidence to pursue my own original vision and continue creating work. To receive such a prestigious award is an honor. My gratitude to all who have believed in me and offered their support!”

She is a co-founder of Artists for Japan, a Seattle-based grassroots group to support the relief efforts of Great East Japan earthquake and aftermath, and a member of NOddIN, a Tokyo-based collective of filmmakers and creators who are paying attention to various social, political, and environmental issues.

Ichikawa’s work has been exhibited internationally. She has received grants from numerous institutions including the Pollock Krasner Foundation and Americans for the Arts Funding, and her exhibit NACHI was supported by Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and National Endowment for the Arts.

Award Recipients Haruko Crow Nishimura and Joshua Kohl
Haruko Crow Nishimura and Joshua Kohl have been a creative team from an early age. Their work started in the 90s with the formation of a big-band-garage-orchestra The Young Composers Collective blending orchestral sensibilities with performance art produced in rock clubs.

In March 2019, they premiered Skeleton Flower, a “semi-autobiographical exploration of a creative person’s struggle with identity, depression, and the awakening of personal power.”

On receiving the award, Haruko and Joshua shared, “In the midst of deeply uncertain times, it is tremendously grounding to receive the support of the AIA Award. The award gives us renewed energy to continue to create at the fullest of our capacity in a time of huge change, upheaval, and a time with the potential for deep transformation. Artist Trust gave us our very first grant many years ago and has continued to support our work throughout our career and has supported so many of our region’s artists that we admire. We are deeply grateful for this life-changing support. We are also inspired and honored to be receiving this award at a time when Artist Trust is going through a very challenging but deeply important evolution in partnership with the artist community.”

They formed Degenerate Art Ensemble (DAE) in 2000, with a focus on fully staged interdisciplinary performance work that is equal parts dance-theater and music. Each of their projects proposes a new set of challenges that push their work and the genre into new territory, through new technologies, inventing new instruments, developing costume innovations, and discovering new ways to tell stories.

DAE has shown their work throughout the United States and Europe, known for their large-scale dance and theater projects, concerts, site-transforming spectacles, and ongoing public experimentation. They have collaborated with Kronos Quartet, Robert Wilson, Uz Jsme Doma and many other notable artists, architects, and technologists.

While their work culminates on the stage, there are many phases of development in which the public is asked to participate including rituals, art-making, and interactive experimentation. They have received support from Creative Capital, MAP Fund, and New Music USA.

Artist Trust would also like to acknowledge that this announcement is overdue. It is with tremendous regret that we recognize our mishandling of the adjudication process related to this award. Our public apology is not enough. We are engaging a third-party to do a complete 360 review of our 2020 Artist Trust AIA process in order to make the necessary changes to ensure this situation does not happen again. The findings of this analysis will be shared publicly.

In addition to their work adjudicating the Artist Innovator Award, Artist Trust wants to publicly recognize the panelists for the amount of additional personal time they each invested to pull the artist community together in collective action to correct our erroneous decision, in particular panelists Anida Yoeu Ali, Shin Yu Pai, John Feodorov, and Chieko Phillips. Artist Trust is made stronger by living up to our values, being accountable to our artist community, and owning our mistakes.

“We regret that our process has distracted from these amazing artists and their powerful work,” said Mark Olthoff, President, Artist Trust Board of Trustees. “We thank them for their perseverance. It is an honor to be able to recognize and celebrate them.”

The full list of 2020 Arts Innovator Award finalists includes:

2020 Arts Innovator Award Finalists 
Degenerate Art Ensemble – Joshua Kohl and Haruko Crow Nishimura, Performing, King County
Priscilla Dobler, Visual, Pierce County
Lori Goldston, Performing, King County
Tessa Hulls, Multidisciplinary, Jefferson County
Wes Hurley, Media, King County
Etsuko Ichikawa, Visual, King County
Casandra Lopez, Literary, Whatcom County
Barbara Earl Thomas, Visual, King County

2020 Arts Innovator Award Panelists  
John Feodorov, Associate Professor of Art, Western WA University, King County
Shin Yu Pai, Literary artist, King County
Chieko Phillips, Heritage Program Director at 4Culture, King County
Kryston Skinner, Executive Director of Laboratory Spokane, Spokane County
Anida Yoeu Ali, Artist, Pierce County

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About the Arts Innovator Award  
First presented in 2010, the Arts Innovator Award is given to artists who are originating new work, experimenting with new ideas, taking risks, and pushing the boundaries in their respective fields. In 2020, a total of 136 applications were received across four disciplinary categories: visual, literary, performing, or media. Past Arts Innovator Award recipients can be viewed on the Artist Trust website.

About The Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation 
The Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation’s mission is to inspire and educate the public regarding all forms of art, and to provide support to artists and arts organizations.

About Artist Trust 
Artist Trust is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and encourage individual artists working in all disciplines to enrich community life throughout Washington state. Since its founding in 1986, Artist Trust has invested over $11 million in individual artists through its grant programs. The organization also provides a comprehensive suite of professional development training and resources to help artists achieve their career goals. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Artist Trust launched The COVID-19 Artist Trust Relief Fund. The Fund is part of the organization’s immediate shift towards rapid response programming, with $650,000 reaching nearly 400 artists throughout 20 Washington State counties.  As a fundraising organization, Artist Trust is grateful to the many donors and partners who make our work possible. Learn more at