Celebrating the 2021 Arts Innovator Award Recipients and Community

Published: June 7, 2021

Categories: Featured | Grants & Fellowships

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 innovation and risk-taking in their artistic practice. They were selected as awardees from a cohort of eight finalists by a statewide multidisciplinary 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.

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.
 He was awarded the Seattle Print Arts Larry Sommers Art Fellowship in 2016. In 2017 he was co-recipient of the Garboil Grant established by the late artist Sue Jobs. An award that considers artists “…engaging audiences outside the aesthetic industrial complex.” He received Arts-Individual Projects Grants from 4Culture in 2018 and 2020 in support of his immersive installations and collaborative interventions and is a recipient of a 2019 Artist Trust Fellowship and 2016 GAP.

Romson shared, “The nature and direction of my art is rapidly evolving to include ever more transparent layers of media and approaches, complex builds, extended research, and monumental mixed media pieces. Like many artists, nearly every resource circles back to our practice. The Artist 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. She has received fellowships and awards from the McMillen Foundation, the Washington Artist Trust, Office of Arts and Culture Seattle, and 4Culture, and residencies from Yaddo, Hedgebrook, Ucross, and others. As the 2019 recipient of the PEN NW Wilderness Writing Residency, she spent six months living alone in the Oregon wilderness in an off-grid cabin with no cell service or internet.
www.tessahulls.com   Instagram 

Tessa shared, “Artists don’t become innovative in a vacuum, and this award is a testament to the incredible creative community that has fostered, challenged, and supported me over the years. 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.”

Tessa is paying part of her award forward, with donations of $1,000 going to twelve non-profit and community-based organizations: Bikeworks, The Danny Woo Community Garden, Estelita’s, FEEST, Indigenous Showcase, Intiman Theatre, Northwest Film Forum, On The Boards, Sawhorse Revolution, Vermillion, Wa Na Wari, and Young Women Empowered.

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 Dzul is an interdisciplinary storyteller, who creates multimedia installations focused on reframing the context of America’s prideful nationalism while critiquing identity and examining the structures of power in our domestic lives.

Her work has been exhibited domestically and internationally most recently she has shown at Project for Empty Space, Newark, NJ; A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; Consulate of Mexico, Seattle, WA; The Northwest African American Museum, Seattle, WA; NARS Foundation, Brooklyn, NY; 125 Maiden Lane, NYC, NY; Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, WA; King Street Station, Seattle, WA; The Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Ana, CA and Decentered Gallery, Puebla, Mexico.

In addition, she was a 2014 recipient of Grants for Artist Projects from the Artist Trust, 2015 Bailey Award, 2016 Edwin T. Pratt Scholarship, 2017 & 2021 Tacoma Artist Initiative Program Grantee and 2021 Puffin Foundation Awardee. Since 2016 she completed seven successful artist residencies on full fellowships. She received her MFA in Sculpture from the State University of New York at New Paltz in 2013. http://priscilladoblerart.com
IG: @priscilladobler_studio 

Nike Imoru, PhD, CSA, is a British-Nigerian casting director, producer, actress, and teacher. She owns and directs The Actor’s Way, a studio for actor training and performance based on breathing, being, connecting, and the psychotherapeutic principles of Wilhelm Reich. She explores these ideas in her current book project The Actor’s Way. Dr. Imoru is an accomplished stage actress, garnering awards for her performances in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Henry VI (Bring Down The House), and Titus Andronicus. Her innovative productions include a solo performance of Medea in Delphi, Greece (2000), and an autobiographical dance-theatre production, Ode – A Stage Song (2017), which received critical acclaim. Dr. Imoru is currently developing the role of Jocasta in Oedipus with artistic director emerita of American Conservatory Theatre, Carey Perloff, and award-winning classical actor John Douglas Thompson.

Dr. Imoru has cast many feature films in the Pacific Northwest and was the executive casting director for Syfy’s show Z Nation. With Rebel Kat Productions, she produced and financed All Those Small Things (dir. Andrew Hyatt), whose world premiere was at the Seattle International Film Festival (March 2021). Dr. Imoru’s academic work covers African-American theatre history, gender, and critical theory. Her PhD is from the University of Warwick, UK.

Alicia Mullikin is a first-generation Mexican-American and Native American dance artist and educator who holds an M.A. in dance from Cal State University of Long Beach. Alicia’s work weaves ancient and contemporary identities into physical manifestations by drawing from her rich cultural experiences and deep-rooted ancestral ties. She blends Americanism and Mexican mestizo to tell personal stories and bring Latinx voices to the forefront. Through all of her work, Alicia aims to empower historically marginalized communities and nurture the next generation of dance artists. As an educator, Alicia engages in community dialogue and curriculum development to create more culturally relevant and equitable educational systems. Her creative work was recently featured in an Emmy-winning episode of Borders & Heritage: Los Artists and on TASTEMADE Travel in Uncharted: Seattle. To learn more visit aliciamullikin.com or follow @el.sueno.dance on IG. 

Troy Osaki is a Filipino Japanese poet, community organizer, and attorney. A three-time grand slam poetry champion, he has earned fellowships from Kundiman and the Jack Straw Cultural Center. His work has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. He writes in hopes to build a safe and just place to live in by uniting the people and reimagining the world through poetry.


Maja Petric works with light and cutting-edge technologies such as AI to create immersive installations and dynamic sculptures that evoke the sublime in nature. Eliciting nature allows her to engage people with their innate connection with the environment and other fellow humans to the degree that one can recognize unity with something greater than oneself in a vast and interconnected universe. She has exhibited globally from New York to Hong Kong, London to Seattle, Madrid to Sao Paulo, and her artwork has been included in exhibitions at Santander Foundation, Henry Art Gallery, Google Permanent Art Collection, MadArt Studio, Winston Wächter Fine Art Gallery, etc.  Maja has received multiple prizes, including the Lumen Prize for Art and Technology for the best interactive art, Microsoft Research Residency Award, Richard Kelly Light Art Award, Doctoral Fellowship from National Science Foundation, and was nominated for International Light Art Award, Arts Innovator Award, FastCo. Innovation by Design Awards, etc. Her work has been featured in New York Times, BBC, Fast Co., FRAME, etc. Maja holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and a Master from New York University on the topic of transforming the poetic experience of space through the experimental use of technology. 

Gilda Sheppard is an award-winning filmmaker who has screened her documentaries throughout the United States, and internationally in Ghana, West Africa, and at the Festival Afrique 360 Cannes, Franceand in Germany at the International Black Film Festival in Berlin. Sheppard is a 2017 Hedgebrook Fellow for documentary film and a 2019 recipient of an Artist Trust Fellowship.

Sheppard currently completed her documentary Since I Been Down on education, organizing and healing developed and led by incarcerated women and men in Washington State’s prisons. Since I Been Down has been accepted at over13 film festivals in USA and Canada and won the Gold Prize at the Social Justice Film Festival and recognized among “Best of the Fest” at DOC NYC. 

For over a decade Sheppard has been teaching sociology classes in Washington State women and men prisons. She is a sponsor for the Black Prisoner’s Caucusand is among the founders and faculty for FEPPS- Freedom Education for Puget Sound an organization offering college credited courses at Washington Correctional Center for Women.  

Sheppard is the author of several publication’s including Culturally Relevant Arts Education for Social Justice: A Way Out of No Way (2013). Gilda Sheppard is a Professor of Sociology, Cultural and Media studies at The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus.

2021 Arts Innovator Award Panelists 

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

Thank you to the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation for their foundational support of the Arts Innovator Award.