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Ohio Arts Council honors two University of Dayton faculty with Individual Excellence Awards and $4K grants

By Ashley Junkunc '21

The Ohio Arts Council honored two University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences faculty Individual Excellence Awards for their respective creative work in filmmaking and graphic design. Jesseca Ynez Simmons, assistant professor of communication, and Misty Thomas-Trout ’11, assistant professor of art and design, received the awards and $4,000 grants to develop their skills and advance their careers.

The council awarded grants to 75 artists from across the state in art sectors that include crafts, interdisciplinary, media arts, design arts, 2D and 3D visual art and photography last year.

Simmons submitted two documentaries for the award that symbolized her love of “docu-fantasy” 一 an original, self-created genre that combines aspects of documentaries and experimentation. One of these films, Emerald Ice, explores the mind of American poet, Diane Wakoski.

Thomas-Trout’s winning design arts submission was called Atlas of Dayton: A City in Progress, a collection of maps, posters and visual representations of opportunity, equity and resource access issues in Montgomery County. This project represents her passion for graphic design 一 the ability to shape information visually with a social justice agenda intended to reach broad communities.

“Watching the panel review my application was the greatest feeling,” Thomas-Trout said. “The way they spoke about my work brought me to tears ... I had my heart in that project. When I heard those words of affirmation from those highly recognized designers, I started crying. That was more valuable than receiving the message that I had won.”

The Ohio Arts Council (OAC), a state agency, works to fund and support quality art experiences to culturally, educationally and economically strengthen Ohio communities. Through funds from the Ohio legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, the council is able to provide grant funding programs and services to help grow arts in Ohio.

“Individual Excellence Awards represent investment in imagination, artistry and talent by giving artists the resources to innovate, explore their art forms, develop skills and advance their careers,” said Donna S. Collins, Ohio Arts Council executive director. “These awards honor the outstanding accomplishments of Ohio artists, who we are proud to support as they continue to shape creative conversations in our state through their work in and mastery of their chosen disciplines and crafts.”

Simmons said arts funding is hard to come by. She scours the Internet monthly for opportunities to help offset the expensive cost of filmmaking. After stumbling upon the Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Excellence Awards, she quickly bookmarked the page. One year later, she received news she was one of the recipients.

“You have to start somewhere to find these types of opportunities,” Simmons said. “The nature of experimentation is that you just don’t know how it’s going to land. It was nice to get that validation and it was a big boost to morale, knowing that there’s an audience for my work.”

Thomas-Trout has had her eye on the Ohio Arts Council since she graduated from the University in 2011, before going on to graduate school for graphic design. She heard about the award from a college professor who had been a previous recipient.

Simmons and Thomas-Trout applauded the anonymity of the grant’s application process, with all submitted art judged solely on artistry and quality. A unique aspect of the award was the opportunity for professional feedback, made possible with the ability to watch the judging panel critique each submission live through Zoom video conferencing.

“I have great love for this grant program because it gives a variety of makers the possibility to go into that level of competition and feel recognized for what you put your heart into,” Thomas-Trout said.

Thomas-Trout’s inspiration came from growing up in the village of Jewett, Ohio, where the limitations of access to resources created a culture that valued frugality, driven by necessity. She plans to use the grant money to purchase supplies, such as rolls of fabric, to print her projects on.

Simmons’ work is focused on themes of nature, poetry, gender and female perspective. She will use the grant money to help fund her next feature film, Medusa, a documentary highlighting the story of Greek methodology’s snake-haired woman.

“I’m very grateful for this award,” Simmons said. “It is wonderful that the Ohio Arts Council is supporting artists. Four thousand dollars really can go such a long way, and I’m very excited to put it to good use.”

Top of page (l to r): Misty Thomas-Trout and Jesseca Ynez Simmons.

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