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Originally published December 5, 2011 at 1:01 PM | Page modified December 6, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Seattle artists Byrd, Longley, Takamori win $50,000 awards

Choreographer Donald Byrd, documentary filmmaker James Longley and artist Akio Takamori, all of Seattle, are among the 50 new 2011 USA Fellows announced by United States Artists, a foundation that distributes funding to innovative artists.

Seattle Times arts writer

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Three Seattle artists are among the 2011 USA Fellows announced by United States Artists, a foundation that annually awards 50 grants of $50,000 to performing, visual, media and literary artists of unusual merit across the country.

The local honorees are choreographer Donald Byrd, documentary filmmaker James Longley and ceramic artist Akio Takamori.

Byrd, who was nominated for a 2006 Tony Award for his choreography in Broadway's "The Color Purple," has created more than 100 dance works for Spectrum Dance Theater, where he's artistic director, and for his previous company Donald Byrd/The Group (1978-2002), with whom he won a 1992 Bessie Award for "The Minstrel Show." He has also choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and other dance troupes. He is the new USA James Baldwin Fellow.

Longley, one of the new USA Ford Fellows, is the director of "Iraq in Fragments," a 2006 documentary that rendered the experience of the Iraq war through Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish points of view. "Iraq in Fragments" was an Academy Award nominee, as was Longley's short, "Sari's Mother." He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.

Takamori, another USA Ford Fellow, is professor of art and ceramics at the University of Washington, and his hand-painted figurative works are in the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art and other institutions. His work has been shown by Seattle art galleries and museums, and he has some noteworthy public-art installations around town, including a trio of large-scale sculptures in front of Whole Foods at Denny Way and Westlake Avenue. He has received three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

United States Artists began its USA Fellows program in 2005. With this round of fellowships, it will have distributed $15 million in direct funding to groundbreaking artists, many of whom have little financial security despite their accomplishments and reputations.

Seattle-born artist Roger Shimomura, who spent his early life here and whose artwork is part of the fabric of Seattle, also was named a USA Ford Fellow. He is a retired professor at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, where he began teaching in 1969.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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