News / Press Releases

Artist Trust Announces 2016 $25,000 Arts Innovator Award Recipients

For Immediate Release:

Seattle, WA - Writer Elissa Washuta and performer Ahamefule J. Oluo have received Artist Trust’s 2016 Arts Innovator Awards. Each will receive $25,000 in unrestricted funds for originating new work, experimenting with new ideas, taking risks, and pushing the boundaries in their respective fields. The Arts Innovator Awards are funded by The Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation.

Elissa Washuta (Seattle) is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and an essayist. She is the author of two books, Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, and was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Chronicle of Higher Education, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. Elissa holds an MFA from The University of Washington, currently serves as the undergraduate adviser for the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, and is a nonfiction faculty member in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is a faculty advisor for Mud City Journal and Saturday editor for The Rumpus.

Ahamefule J. Oluo (Seattle) is a musician, composer, and comedian. Oluo co-founded the Stranger Genius Award-winning hard-jazz quartet Industrial Revelation and is also leader of the jazz-punk trio The Honorable Chief. He has collaborated with Das Racist, Hey Marseilles, Macklemore, Tacocat, Cataldo, and many others. He works extensively with his wife, writer Lindy West, and co-produced comedian Hari Kondabolu’s debut album, Waiting for 2042, for Kill Rock Stars. He was the inaugural artist-in-residence at Seattle’s Town Hall, and his 2014 performance of Now I’m Fine at On the Boards received universal acclaim. In 2015, Oluo was featured on This American Life.

Previous Arts Innovator Award recipients include filmmaker Clyde Peterson and visual artist Rodrigo Valenzuela, choreographer Dayna Hanson, and sculptor John Grade, among others. A full list of former Arts Innovator Award recipients can be found here.

Says recipient Elissa Washuta: “When I began writing personal essays, I made a decision to let my work be as weird as it needed to be, knowing there was a chance that I would never be able to reach wider audiences. Thank you, Artist Trust, for valuing my weirdness, for having faith in my risk-taking, and for giving me the freedom to do the only creative work I want to do.”

In addition, Artist Trust is grateful that the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation has chosen to extend its funding for the Arts Innovator Award for another three years in 2017-2019, pledging $150,000 in grant support. The Arts Innovator Award was founded in 2010, and this renewal marks the beginning of a third three-year cycle of support for artists who take risks, like Aham and Elissa.

“Leslie and I are so pleased with the impact the Arts Innovator Award has had on the lives and careers of the artists who have received this award since we first started the program.  In order to build on these successful stories, we have now decided to continue the program for another three years.” – Dale Chihuly.

Artist Trust is grateful for the following panelists who reviewed applications and interviewed semi-finalists before selecting the recipients. The panelists were:

Arlene Kim (Seattle, WA) / Literary Arts

Elisha Miranda (Cheney, WA) / Media Arts

Gretta Harley (Seattle, WA)  / Performing Arts

Luis Croquer (Seattle, WA) /  Visual Arts

Kristan Kennedy (Portland, OR)  / Multidisciplinary Arts

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 nonprofit organization whose sole mission is to support and encourage individual artists working in all disciplines in order to enrich community life throughout Washington State. Since its founding in 1986, Artist Trust has invested over $10 million in individual artists through grant programs, and provides a comprehensive suite of professional development training and resources to help artists achieve their career goals. Learn more at