33-year-old Alaska Native artist Nicholas Galanin of Sitka has won a $50,000 fellowship for artistic excellence. The national artists’ advocacy organization, United States Artists – or USA – awarded Galanin the USA Rasmuson Fellowship in the Crafts and Traditional Arts category. The group announced the 54 grant recipients – who included visual artists, writers and musicians – Monday in Los Angeles.
Galanin grew up watching his father make jewelry and compose music, and after he graduated high school, the 18-year-old decided to become an artist full-time. He was working for the National Park Service at the Russian Bishop’s house, and was told that during his downtime he couldn’t draw, but had to read books on Russian History.
“From that point on, I decided that I was going to do what I love, and do it passionately,” he said. “I feel great and alive and vested, and like I’m investing my time wisely.”
Galanin is an artist of many media and combines the traditional and contemporary in his work. A 2006 two-part video he produced shows a Tlingit dancer moving to techno music and a non-Native break-dancer interpreting a Tlingit song.
“It’s a huge risk,” he said. “Everything about creativity is a risk. From creating work to sharing your work to voicing your ideas and experiences…but that’s something that every artist has to overcome in order to create.”
USA has awarded $17.5 million to America’s most innovative artists in the past seven years. Galanin doesn’t know yet how he will use the grant, but says it’ll help him keep doing what he loves.