Several months ago, Del Harrow got a call with some very good news.
On the other end of the line was United States Artists, a Chicago-based philanthropic nonprofit. They told him he’s one of 50 artists across the country to receive a 2020 USA Fellowship
“They do this really sweet thing where they call you up, they tell you you got the award and then they all applaud on the telephone,” the Fort Collins-based ceramicist and Colorado State University associate professor said.
The annual accolade is given to artists across 10 disciplines who are considered at the top of their game: dance, film, architecture and design, theater and performance, traditional arts, writing, visual art, craft, media, and music. It comes with a $50,000 cash award to be used however the recipient sees fit.
United States Artists has doled out more than $25 million to 550-plus artists living and working across the country since the award started in 2006.
“I feel like it's one of the most prominent recognitions within my field,” said Harrow, who received his honor in the Craft category. “When I just look at the other artists who've received these fellowships, it's kind of insane company to be in.”
Past honorees include celebrated choreographer and dancer Yvonne Rainer, award-winning actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, visual artist Nick Cave, podcaster Starlee Kine, and Colorado jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves.
“You just try to do your best to live up to it,” he said.
Artists are nominated anonymously and evaluated on things like their creative vision and influence on their profession and discipline.
“It is a critically important time to support the livelihoods of artists and we are ecstatic to be able to honor 50 of them this year... every one of them stands out as a visionary influence in their respective field,” United States Artists president and CEO Deana Haggag said in a released statement.
With no restrictions on how the artist can use their funds, the cash prize has been put toward creative projects, as well as personal expenses like health care, debt, rent and supporting family, the nonprofit noted.
Harrow is mulling over a few ways to spend his award.
A few years ago, he and his wife, potter Sanam Emami, began to build a studio and as they approach the end of the project, it’s become a larger expense than anticipated.
“The timing of this award really makes it possible to complete that in a way that's pretty exciting,” he said.
Harrow’s father was an artist. As young as four or five, he loved going into her father’s ceramic studio, “playing around with the clay in there.”
“I remember just the smell of his studio, like a particular smell that clay has,” he said. “And there's a way that I think studio spaces are organized that's practical on one hand, but then there are all of these things in this space that are visually interesting, intermingled with tools and other kinds of things. I’ve always loved that kind of space.”
He knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. His teenage experience with “an incredible high school ceramics teacher who had this gift for creating [both physical and mental] space for students to work in” is also a lingering influence.
Since the news of the fellowship award, Harrow’s experiences in the classroom now have also been on his mind — he teaches sculpture, digital fabrication and ceramics at Colorado State University.
“I've really been starting to try to imagine ways that I could use some of the support of this award to give something back into the communities that have supported me... to build something else within this community,” he said.