Imagine having the time and space to create, or at least some of the means to help make that happen? That is the aim of the Rhode Island Foundation’s Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund, which since 2003 has been offering $25,000 no-strings-attached grants to Rhode Island composers, writers, and visual artists on a three-year, rotating basis. Although unrestricted, recipients are expected to devote concentrated time to their art and engage in activities that further their artistic growth. For this current round, three songwriters were selected from 74 applicants: Storm Ford of Providence, Courtney Swain of East Providence, and Adrienne Taylor of Providence.
For Storm Ford, applying for the grant meant an opportunity to acquire recording space and gear. “Something that was holding me back from getting the ideas in my head and out into the world was a lack of recording equipment or access to a recording space,” she begins. “My focus is to create something raw that everyone can connect to.” Ford relays that finding inspiration during the pandemic has been a struggle. “Despite having more time to myself, I’ve had a harder time writing – with fewer opportunities to experience things, there is less to draw on – so I’ve been spending a lot of my time bringing old songs to life while in search of new stories to tell.” She adds, “As a plus-size, first-generation, Lao, Nigerian, Narragansett Indian, bisexual woman, I am inspired greatly by my various identities and strive, through my music, to support and heal anyone else who has felt marginalized.”
A working musician ready to take professional next steps, Courtney Swain is excited about the opportunities the grant will afford. “Throughout my career, I’ve often been forced to cut corners with my work because of a lack of resources. 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.” Swain has released four solo albums and five fronting the Boston-based indie rock band Bent Knee. Additionally, she is a keyboardist, music director, and educator who has worked with Trinity Rep and the Wilbury Group among other organizations.
Adrienne Taylor is a cellist and composer and has been a Resident Musician at Community MusicWorks in Providence since 2012 and a member of the Providence College cello faculty since 2019. Like Ford, she has found the past year to be a difficult time to find and maintain inspiration. “Most of the time my life is so full with other work that I don’t make enough time to write,” Taylor notes. “I was starting to think it just wasn’t going to be possible anymore. I knew that if I was given the fellowship it would force me to find a way to make space to keep writing music. I’ll be taking time off this summer to go to the places that inspire me most – spaces in nature – and some of the music I write will come directly out of being in those places.”
The next round of MacColl Johnson Fellowships targets writers. For more information, visit RIFoundation.org.