The Cleveland Arts Prize Board of Trustees announced the 59th Annual Award Winners today in the following categories:

Kisha Nicole Foster

Kisha Nicole Foster is a poet, educator, coach, and mentor. She has been performing on stages and in classrooms for sixteen years. Born in Germany, she was raised in New Jersey and Ohio. She graduated from high school in Cleveland, then attended Cleveland State University from 2003 to 2008 to increase her knowledge and understanding of literature and to polish her gifts and discipline for writing poetry. 

Foster cites two of her teachers, Nuala Archer and the late Sheila Schwartz, as helping her refine her technical wordsmithing skills. She emphasizes the importance for Cleveland writers not only of learning their craft, but also of knowing the city’s literary history. “A lot of poets don’t know that [poets] D.A. Levy, Daniel Thompson and Mary Oliver (CAP 1979) were from here,” she says. “If you don’t know our history as a rich literary community, then you don’t understand the footsteps you’re walking in today.”

At the age of 23, she started performing in national slam poetry competitions. She has published several chapbooks, including her book Poems: 1999-2014 , which was published as part of Guide To Kulchur’s Vanguard Series in 2017. Currently she focuses on paid residencies, performances and teaching positions. During the past few years, Foster has seen a great resurgence in the poetry reading and slam scene. 

“Our community is getting a lot stronger, especially with programs like Twelve Literary Arts and Literary Cleveland,” explains Foster, a Cleveland Public Library Ohio Center for the Book Fellow. “We’ve also brought the slam back, and not just locally. We have poets participating nationally with Poetry Slam Inc., so that has put Cleveland back on the national scene.”

Dominic Moore-Dunson
Theatre & Dance

Dominic Moore-Dunson is now in his ninth season with Inlet Dance Theatre. He hails from Akron, Ohio where he attended the University of Akron and Firestone High School (Akron School for the Arts). Recently recognized as a “New Agent” by MOCA Cleveland, he has received numerous fellowships and recognitions as an emerging artist and arts leader including: 2018 Commission by Akron Art Museum to his solo work, “CAUTION”, a 2018 Breakout Artist by the Devil Strip Magazine (Akron), 2016 National Arts Strategies (NAS) Creative Community Fellow (DC), 2016 Colleen Porter Fellow (International Performing Arts for Youth), and an inaugural member of Leadership Akron’s Diversity on Board Program.

Currently, he is participating in National Arts Strategies Executive in Arts Leadership Program (University of Pennsylvania) to enhance his capacity in all aspects of running a successful arts and culture non-profit organization. With Inlet, he was promoted to become Rehearsal Coordinator and was selected to be the Company Representative on the Strategic Plan Steering Committee in 2014.

This season, Moore-Dunson was appointed to be the Company Dancer representative of the Capital Campaign’s Project Leadership Team. Additionally, Artistic Director Bill Wade (CAP 2012) is currently mentoring him as an emerging choreographer. Under Wade’s direction, the young dancer has established a large-scale community-based dance theatre project called “The ‘Black Card’ Project” that premiered in Sept. 2018. The project is a live action dance-theatre cartoon that examines the narrow definition of blackness and the African-American ideal of the “Black Card.” 
His long-term goal, he says, is “to become a world class artist and arts leader who understands the needs of the people, and to position myself as a beacon who can lead our communities into a time of hope, humility, trust, and radical reconciliation.”
Mary Biddinger

Mary Biddinger is a poet, editor, and professor who lives in Akron, Ohio. She attended the University of Michigan (BA in English and Creative Writing), Bowling Green State University (MFA, Poetry), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (PhD in English, Program for Writers). She is a Professor of English at the University of Akron, where she is on the faculty of the NEOMFA creative writing program.

She teaches both literature and creative writing courses, with a focus on women writers, contemporary poetry, and world literature. Her MFA course offerings include poetry workshops and craft and theory courses such as Poetry of the Body, First Books of Poetry, and Poetry of the Unexpected. Since 2008, she has edited the Akron Series in Poetry at the University of Akron Press.

Biddinger is the author of six poetry collections: Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007), the chapbook Saint Monica (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2013), A Sunny Place with Adequate Water (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), Small Enterprise (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), and a collaboration with Jay Robinson titled The Czar (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). She is also the co-editor of a volume of essays, The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics (with John Gallagher, University of Akron Press, 2011). Her first collection of prose poems, Partial Genius , is forthcoming with Black Lawrence Press in August 2019.

Biddinger has received three Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards in Creative Writing for her poetry in 2007, 2010, and 2018. She was also the recipient of a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry.

Victoria Bussert
Theatre & Dance

Victoria Bussert is Director, Music Theatre Program and Professor of Theatre at Baldwin Wallace University. BWU was number one in the 2018-19 OnStage rankings for Best Bachelor of Music (BM)-Music Theatre Programs. The publication called the university "a top destination for any student wanting to study musical theatre." A lot of the credit goes to Bussert. Of the Bussert-directed production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Idaho, an Idaho Statesman reviewer praised her for turning the popular musical into “a transformative work of art.” She also serves as a resident director at Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland and for Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

Additionally, Bussert has worked as a professional freelance director for more than 30 years. Her New York credits include The Gig at Manhattan Theatre Club, Dust and Dreams at the York Theatre and concert stagings of The Break Up Notebook: The Lesbian Musical , Factory Girls and The Circus in Winter at New World Stages. 

Her regional directing credits include work at Goodspeed Opera, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Cincinnati Playhouse, Portland Stage, Dallas Theatre Center, Firebrand Theatre, Playhouse Square, Dobama Theatre, Beck Center for the Arts, Pegasus Players, and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Her opera direction has been seen at Anchorage Opera, Piedmont Opera, Pennsylvania Opera Theatre, Skylight Opera and Cleveland Opera.

She has extensive experience directing national tours, as well, including Into the Woods , Barnum , Once on This Island , Guys and Dolls , The Secret Garden and The Who’s Tommy . Her international credits include the Danish premieres of Avenue Q (2012 Reumert Award nominee) and [title of show] for the Fredericia Theatre, Friar Tuck in Russia, along with the Danish and London premieres of Lizzie .
Janice Lessman-Moss
Visual Arts

Janice Lessman-Moss has been a practicing and widely acclaimed artist of Northeast Ohio since arriving in 1981 to teach textiles in the School of Art at Kent State University. As head of the Textile Department, she has taught for many years, and mentored and inspired several distinguished contemporary artists in our region, including Hildur Jonsson (CAP 2008).

“I have spent the entirety of my adult life living in and enjoying the culturally rich area of Northeast Ohio,” she says. “I have made every effort to share my artwork with the public through exhibitions, lectures, and studio visits, while supporting my artist colleagues in their professional creative pursuits. I hope that I have also contributed to the scene by mentoring student artists."  

As a textile artist, Lessman-Moss developed a technique to marry mathematical mapping to both the two- and three-dimensional aspects of her woven tapestry paintings. She has been a forerunner of applying digital applications to the craft of weaving beyond the jacquard, and relies on the mathematical stochastic process of the Random Walk to generate form and procedure in her work. Lessman-Moss creates form and surface through the integration of art and science, the imaginative and the logical segments of human experience.

Recent recognition of her contributions include the United States Artist Prize in 2019, a national award for creative work of the highest order. In addition, she has won the prestigious Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award in Art, and received the OAC Individual Artist Fellowship nine times. Academic accolades include the Distinguished Scholar Award, Kent State University, the OAC/Soros Artist Exchange Grant, Academy of Applied Arts, Prague, Czech Republic, and the Arts Midwest/National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Crafts in 1988.

The Barbara S. Robinson Prize is awarded to an individual or organization for extraordinary commitment to advancement of the arts through leadership in public policy, legislation, arts education and community development.

Tony F. Sias, President & CEO of Karamu House, has led a tremendous financial and artistic turnaround at Karamu House. Under his guidance, Karamu recently received a $2 million grant from The Cleveland Foundation to fund the third phase in its recent comprehensive restoration project and to ensure it remains an anchor in Fairfax, a low-income, majority-African American neighborhood.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Sias went on to earn his BS degree in dramatic arts from Jackson State University in his hometown in 1988 and his MFA degree in acting from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in 1992. While earning his MFA, Sias became an intern and resident at the Cleveland Play House in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating, he began acting in several of the city’s theaters, including a production of Kathleen McGhee-Anderson’s Oak and Ivy at the Karamu House in 1993.

In 2000, Sias became the Director of Arts Education for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Before and after taking this position, he continued to perform and direct productions throughout the city at several theaters, including Karamu House. In 2003, while still working for the school district, he became the director of the All-City Musical and served as the Artistic Director of the Cleveland School of the Arts. He also began teaching at Cuyahoga Community College. Sias has served on the board of trustees of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, Inc. and as a board member of The League of Historic American Theaters, Inc.

In a statement at the time of his hiring, Sias said; “Leading Karamu means having an opportunity to rebuild trust with the community in Cleveland and nationally. It means becoming the citadel of African-American cultural arts in this country.”

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The Robert P. Bergman Prize is awarded to an individual whose life and work are illuminated by an energetic and inspiring dedication to a democratic vision of art. The Bergman Prize recognizes the highest possible expression of art stewardship through long term commitment.

Terri Pontremoli is the daughter of a jazz guitarist who believed it was important for his children to study classical music. So, she studied classical music, and ended up playing the violin as her instrument of choice. As a classical violinist, she played with the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, the Omaha Symphony, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic among others. Her sister Anita became a classical pianist, and the two performed as the Duo Pontremoli. 

After performing as a classical violinist for many years, however, she discovered that her true passion was jazz. Pontremoli later hired musicians for traveling shows at Playhouse Square and played in the pit with them. She found herself playing shows for George Benson and Sammy Davis Jr. In the end, she says, it was jazz that “was speaking to me always.”
“Jazz is a music about freedom and soulfulness,” she said for a 2017 article in . “There's an openness and an expansiveness. It's so American. It incorporates everything from Latin music to church music to hip-hop. It's sophisticated but also down home. People don't sit around and go ‘Huh?’ They go ‘Wow!’”

In the late '80's, she became an administrator for the Cleveland Opera. In 1990, she joined Cuyahoga Community College, working at community outreach and educational shows in schools. Her position evolved into writing grants and raising money and becoming the advocate for jazz. In 2002, Pontremoli became JazzFest's director. She left to direct the Cleveland Arts Prize for a year and then the Detroit Jazz Festival for a few years, but returned to JazzFest in 2011. She also serves as a consultant at the Montclair Jazz Festival.

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The Martha Joseph Prize is awarded to an individual or an organization that has made a significant contribution to the vitality and stature of the arts in northeast Ohio through exceptional commitment, vision leadership, and/or philanthropy.

The Print Club of Cleveland was founded in 1919 by collectors of fine art prints and has continually been a source for print collectors in the Western Reserve since its inception. Today, it stands as the oldest print club in the US.

The designation of a gallery for print exhibitions when the Cleveland Museum of Art opened to the public in 1916 indicates the importance of prints at the museum’s founding. However, it was not until 1919 that the CMA print collection began to be formed when, under Ralph Thrall King's tutelage, 16 men signed the articles of incorporation for the Print Club.

Over the last 100 years, despite continual change in the roster of Print Club members, there has been unwavering dedication to the founders' twin purposes of enhancing the museum’s collection by gifts and stimulating general interest in print collecting. The group has given some of the crown jewels which considerably enrich the print collection, unsurpassed impressions of master prints of every period—by Dürer, Rembrandt, Degas, Matisse, and Picasso, among others. The commitment and support of club members continues unabated since about one-third of the museum’s superb collection of over 18,000 prints are gifts from the club or its members.

Besides helping to form a collection that boasts rare treasures ranging from the beginning of printmaking in 15th-century Europe to the present day, the Print Club of Cleveland has also reached out to the larger community. By sponsoring lectures and the Fine Print Fair, for example, the club continues to educate the general public about printmaking and to stimulate interest in the fascinating and enjoyable activity of print collecting.

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The Verge Fellowship is CAP’s response to artists who are not yet ready to receive a Cleveland Arts Prize but who have nonetheless demonstrated creativity, passion, and commitment to the arts. These often unheralded artists are forging bold paths into Cleveland’s art scene.

With a grant from the Cleveland Foundation and a special Support for Artists grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, in 2019 the Verge Fellowship will provide a $2,500 stipend to 10 artists across multiple disciplines. Like the Cleveland Arts Prize awards, the Verge Fellowship rewards practicing artists in the Literary Arts, Visual Arts, Dance & Theatre, Music, and Design.
“Support for young, diverse artists is a critical gap in Cleveland’s creative infrastructure,” said Lillian Kuri, Cleveland Foundation’s, Vice President, Strategic Grant-making, Arts & Urban Design Initiatives. “We are proud to partner with Cleveland Arts Prize to develop the Verge Fellowship so that more creative professionals have the ability to stay and build an artistic practice right here in Cleveland.”
“We’re pleased to support the Cleveland Arts Prize and their efforts to recognize and support Cleveland-area artists,” said Jill Paulsen, Interim CEO + Executive Director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. “By funding emerging artists, CAP is providing important visibility and funding for both current and future creative leaders in our community.”
The 2019 VERGE Fellowship winners are;
Brittany Benton (Music), Ephraim Butler (Literature), Archie Green ll (Music), Lexy Lattimore (Theatre & Dance), Samuel McIntosh (Theatre & Dance), Ryan Ramer (Music), Na-Te Sturdivant (Visual Arts), Antwoine Washington (Visual Arts), Mariana Whyte (Music), & McKinley Wiley (Visual Arts).

Click HERE to view winning Verge videos.


The Cleveland Arts Prize will host its 59 th Annual Awards Event
on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Winners of the 2019 Cleveland Arts Prize will be honored in the Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

This year’s event will be hosted by Dee Perry (CAP 2016)
Ticket prices: General Admission $75, VIP $250 (includes afterparty with winners and presenters at the Alcazar Hotel -
w/special appearance by Felise Bagley, CAP 2015).

A portion of each will be tax deductible. Tickets go on sale August 1, 2019.
Visit to purchase online.

There are several ways to join in the celebration and support CAP:

Congratulate your favorite winner! Ads start at $200
Photos provided by artists unless otherwise noted.