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City artists get Pew awards

The dozen recipients for 2008 are painters, playwrights and traditional and folk artists. The grants are now $60,000.

A dozen Philadelphia artists, all painters, traditional and folk artists, or playwrights, have been awarded Pew Fellowships in the Arts, according to Pew officials.

The $60,000 fellowships - which have risen by $10,000 this year, the first increase in the program's 17-year history - represent the largest such awards available for artists.

"It's very exciting," said Nana Korantemaa, 57, a North Philadelphia drummer whose work is grounded within the Akan cultural and spiritual community of Ghana.

Korantemaa, who worked with dancer and teacher Arthur Hall for 17 years, spent several years in Ghana studying Akan drumming and its broader spiritual context. In 2002 she was raised to the level of the Akomfohene, head shaman of Akan tradition for North America.

The music rooted in this tradition, she said, has "a very empowering, uplifting and healing effect," and the Pew grant will allow her to weave it into new music and "create a sound for the social scene here" in Philadelphia and North America.

In 1999, Korantemaa founded StarSpirit International Inc., a North Philadelphia nonprofit that promotes education about African culture, facilitates international cultural exchanges, and sponsors health, education and economic development projects.

For playwright Ed Shockley 3d, 51, author of many works for the stage, including

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry


The Oracle


Slave Narratives Revisited


The Corner




Stone Mansion

, and


s (with James MacBride), the fellowship provides for a period of "trying not to be a vagabond."

Shockley, who teaches at the University of the Arts and at Rutgers and who founded the Temple Playwrights Lab and the Philadelphia Dramatists Center, said he was in the midst of "a year of transition."

He is seeking to establish both a theater company and a film company, and the Pew grant will nudge both closer to fruition, he said.

Painter Charles Burwell, 53, has more modest goals - acquiring health insurance, for instance.

The Pew funds, which come with no particular strings attached, will allow Burwell "to take time to do the things that take time," he said.

"It means not worrying about doing little things here, little things there," he said. "You want to make sure that over the period of the grant, by the end of the grant you're at a better place."

Other fellowship recipients are:

J. Rufus Caleb, 60, playwriting; Matthew Cox, 47, painting; Russell Davis, 60, playwriting; Katharine Clark Gray, 31, playwriting; Felix (Pupi) Legarreta, 68, folk and traditional arts; Vera Nakonechny, 61, folk and traditional arts; Venissa Santí, 30, folk and traditional arts; Anne Seidman, 58, painting; and Mauro Zamora, 34, painting.

The Pew Fellowships are awarded in a total of 12 artistic disciplines, three each year. The program seeks to support artists at moments likely to have the greatest impact on their long-term professional development.