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Kentucky Arts Council announces Al Smith Fellowship, Emerging Artist Award recipients

Singer and songwriter Derek Feldman of Lexington received the Kentucky Arts Council’s Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship for 2020.

Feldman (provided photo)

The Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship is a $7,500 unrestricted award given to a Kentucky artist who has achieved a high level of excellence and creativity in their work. For the 2020 fiscal year, the fellowship was awarded for songwriting.

Feldman, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, was selected from 22 other Kentucky songwriters who applied for the prestigious fellowship. He grew up in St. Louis and was influenced by folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and blues musicians like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House and The Mississippi Sheiks. He has lived the past 12 years in Lexington, where he has thrived writing and performing his work.

“Kentucky started to feel like home to me when I found a community of other artists and musicians who encouraged each other’s work,” Feldman said. “I’m constantly inspired by my friends and their art. Without their encouragement and kindness, I would have quit sharing my songs a long time ago.”

The support of peers in his musical community has helped Feldman, in his words, “wrestle with songwriting.”

“It’s often a painful process filled with death-defying feats and anxiety, but I’d still rather do it than just about anything else I can think of.”

He said the fellowship has given him momentum to keep making music.

“It’s extremely encouraging for an artist like myself who struggles with self-doubt to receive the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council,” Feldman said. “It’s an honor to have my songwriting validated as a legitimate form of artistic expression deserving of financial support in the midst of a time when the arts are often seen as frivolous or unimportant.”

Like the Al Smith Fellowship, the arts council’s $1,000 Emerging Artist Award also focused on songwriting for the 2020 fiscal year. That award’s recipient, Diego Molina of Lexington, echoed Feldman’s statements about validation.

“You don’t really know your stuff is good and that it connects with other people unless you hear from them,” Molina said. “I was inspired. It’s not only emotional validation, but the money helps support me and put my vision into action.”

Molina, who was born in Connecticut but moved to Kentucky when he was 10, has been writing songs since the sixth grade.

“Songwriting was the only thing that made sense to me. It’s how I processed the world,” he said. “It was natural.”

For the 2021 fiscal year, the Al Smith Fellowship and Emerging Artist Award will be given for work in musical composition or choreography. The application deadline for those grants is Feb. 15, 2020.

The arts council will host “How to Apply” webinars Dec. 17 at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Jan. 9 at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Registration is required and will be announced in a future press release as well as on the arts council’s social media sites.

To find out more about the award programs, contact Tamara Coffey, arts council organization support and individual artist director, at tamara.coffey@ky.gov or 502-892-3121.

Kentucky Arts Council

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