Lao Americans Win Joyce Award

The Joyce Foundation announced that the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota in Minneapolis is one of six winners of the 2019 Joyce Awards, which honor collaborations between artists of color and arts and cultural organizations throughout the Great Lakes region.

The Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota will engage award-winning poet, Bryan Thao Worra, to produce Laomagination: 45, an interactive, interdisciplinary exhibition presenting multi-generational stories of the Lao community as it marks its 45th anniversary of migrating to Minnesota, now home to one of the largest Lao populations outside of Southeast Asia.

“This is an important time for the Minnesota Lao community to assemble and share our personal and collective stories,” said Sunny Chanthanouvong, executive director of the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. “This grant will allow Thao Worra and his fellow Laotian artists to present 30 new visual artworks and 15 performance pieces during the exhibit’s run.”

The work, launching in the spring of 2020, intends to spark new conversations among Lao refugees living in the state, and Lao leaders nationwide, to help tell the story of their migration and cultural heritage over the last 45 years.

“Minnesota is home to an important community of Lao artists. This Joyce Award is an acknowledgement of Bryan Thao Worra’s past and potential contributions to that community and its ongoing cultural production,” said Tracie Hall, director of The Joyce Foundation’s Culture Program. “It seems fitting that this award would come as the Lao population in the state faces an important historical milestone. In that way it serves to acknowledge the vital role that artists like Thao Worra play in the evolution of collective identity and voices.”

To date, the Joyce Awards have granted $3.5 million to commission 65 new works connecting artists with cultural organizations throughout the Great Lakes region. The $50,000 award is used to support artists in the creation and production of a new work and provides the commissioning organization the resources needed to engage potential audiences, new partners and their larger communities.

The other 2019 Joyce Awards winners include Milwaukee’s TRUE Skool, with pioneering female hip-hop artists, Ana “Rokafella” Garcia, Cita “CHELOVE” Sadeli and Aja Black; Cleveland Public Theatre with playwright, Lisa Langford; Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Foundation with playwrights Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers; The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and visual artist, Emmanuel Pratt; and the University of Illinois Chicago with Mexican visual artist, Adela Goldbard.

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Bryan Thao Worra is an internationally-published, award-winning Minneapolis-based artist with over 20 years of professional experience. His widely regarded multidisciplinary works explore the relationship between art, transformation, and communal healing. He holds the distinction of being the first Lao American to receive an NEA Fellowship in Literature in 2009 for poetry. In 2012, he was selected as the Lao delegate to serve as a Cultural Olympian during the London Summer Games.

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Thao Worra was appointed to the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans in 2018, and is the Lao Minnesotan Poet Laureate. The author of over six books, his work appears in more than 100 publications globally including Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany, France, Singapore, Mexico, Hong Kong, Korea, Chile, Pakistan, and the United States. His writing is translated in Spanish, French, German, Thai, Tagalog, Bengali, and Lao.

He will be working closely with his regular collaborator, the Lao Minnesotan artist Kaysone Syonesa, throughout the year on this project. Sahtu Press will be publishing his 2019 poetry collection Before We Remember We Dream at the beginning of the year, featuring the art of Nor Sanavongsay.

For more information on the Joyce Awards and the Joyce Foundation, please visit The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. We support policy research, development, and advocacy in five areas: Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy, and Culture. The Joyce Foundation has budgeted 2018 charitable distributions of $50 million on assets of approximately $1 billion.

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