April 21, 2021

Rhode Island Foundation Awards $25,000 prize to East Providence Songwriter

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Among the nation’s largest no-strings-attached grants for composers, the MacColl Johnson Fellowship will enable Courtney Swain to spend more time making music and less time making ends meet.

East Providence, RI – An East Providence composer has won what is considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to musicians in the United States. Courtney Swain will receive $25,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation through the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund.

The fellowship is intended to enable artists to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions. She was selected from among 74 applicants based the quality of her work samples, artistic development and the creative contribution their genre, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance her career as emerging-to-mid-career composer.

“We are providing the financial support necessary to enable these artists to put more time into their music. This is a remarkable opportunity for them to accelerate their success in advancing their craft,” said Ricky Bogert, the grant programs officer at the Foundation who oversees the program.

Swain is a singer/songwriter who creates music in a variety of styles such as indie rock, chamber pop and contemporary classical. She has released four solo albums and five albums fronting the Boston-based indie rock band Bent Knee. She has performed nearly 1,000 shows solo and with artists such as Bent Knee in North America, Europe and Japan. In addition, she is a keyboardist, music director and educator who has worked with Trinity Rep, the Wilbury Group, RIOT and the Celebrity Series of Boston among other organizations.

“Over the last few years, I’ve become more aware of how my presence as an artist influences the people around me. Last spring I heard from a fan; a teacher, on her first day of school during COVID-19, frustrated by the lack of resources for remote learning. She told me how relieved she felt listening to my music after a long day. That meant a lot to me. Even beyond those who interact directly with my output, my presence as a flourishing creative also touches my family and friends: I like to think I push them to confront their passions and frustrations more directly, and to challenge their own limitations,” she said.

Swain says the fellowship will enable her to improve the quality of her work, and experiment creatively in new ways.

“Throughout my career, I’ve often been forced to cut corners with my work because of a lack of resources. With the fellowship, I can take more time and creative risks across all aspects of my creative process,” she said.

“Doing more of my writing in the studio, investing in new gear to develop different workflows, rehearsing and refining my pieces with other performers, developing evocative artwork and music videos to accompany my music, and working with resourceful publicists and others in the field who can help me expand my reach; these are all things I’m really excited and grateful to have the opportunity to do this year,” said Swain.

Storm Ford of Providence and Adrienne Taylor of Providence also received fellowships. In addition, three finalists – Anthony Andrade of Providence, Morgan Johnston of Barrington and Roz Grace of Providence – will receive $2,500 stipends.

Applicants had to be legal residents of Rhode Island. High school students, college and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree-granting program and artists who have advanced levels of career achievement were not eligible.

Established in 2003, the MacColl Johnson fellowships rotate among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. The next round will be awarded to writers. The application will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Mr. Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a fulltime painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the fellowships.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $68 million and awarded a record $87 million in grants in 2020. Since its centennial five years ago, the Foundation has awarded more than $284 million in grants and has raised more than $328 million. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit www.rifoundation.org

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