NAKA Dance Theater
NAKA Dance Theater's José Navarrete Mazatl and Debby Kajiyama with members of Mujeres Unidas y Activas | Credit: Scott Tsuchitani

Launched last March, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation funds fellowships for Bay Area artists working across varied disciplines — dance, film, public space, and theater — who “push the boundaries of creative expression, anchor local communities, and advance the field.”

From a performance collaboration that highlights the stories of Indigenous and Latina immigrant women to participatory public art installations with a focus on collective healing, the 2022 Rainin Fellows mobilize their disciplines to innovate new modes of communication and connection.

NAKA Dance Theater - "Atlacualo Fish under Salt"
NAKA Dance Theater’s Atlacualo Fish under Salt | Credit: Ross Pearson

The 2022 Rainin Fellows are: NAKA Dance Theater, Ryan Nicole Austin (theater), Brett Cook (public space), and Maria Victoria Ponce (film). Each receives an unrestricted $100,000, plus supplemental professional support, designed to amplify the impact of the grant, both for them and the community.

The fellowship announcement describes each of the recipients:

— NAKA Dance Theater uses movement as a means to connect and heal, exemplified by their collaboration with Mujeres Unidas y Activas which highlights stories of Indigenous and Latina immigrant women.

The socially engaged dance theater collective was founded by Debby Kajiyama and José Ome Navarrete Mazatl in 2001 to create interdisciplinary, experimental performance works. Through dance, storytelling, multimedia installations, and site-specific environments, NAKA builds partnerships with communities and engages people's histories and culture through accessible performances to challenge viewers to think critically about social justice issues.

— Grammy-nominated Theater Fellow Ryan Nicole Austin has led a wide range of productions with a focus on the intersection of art and activism.

A polymath who finds her most fulfilling experiences at the intersection of art and activism, Austin has led productions as an actress, director, and playwright at theater companies throughout the Bay Area. She is a writer and producer on the developmental teams for the upcoming musicals Curren$y and CoFounders, and streaming series American (G)race. She has been featured on TEDx San Francisco and ESPN’s NBA at Christmas with Daveed Diggs and has performed for Google, Sony, LinkedIn, Apple, and Barack Obama.

— Brett Cook creates immersive public rituals: creative community building exercises that integrate movement, photography, and creativity of all kinds.

An interdisciplinary artist and educator, Cook uses storytelling to distill complex ideas and creative practices to transform outer and inner worlds of being. Using inquiry-based approaches, Cook designs inclusive processes and products that promote awareness and embody the complexity of loving communities. His public projects feature elaborate installations, community workshops, arts-integrated pedagogy, music, performance, food, and more to create fluid boundaries between art-making, daily life, and healing.


Bret Cook - "Black (W)Hole"
Brett Cook’s Black (W)Hole

Recognized for a history of socially relevant, community-engaged projects, he was selected as cultural ambassador to Nigeria as part of the US Department of State’s smARTpower Initiative. His work is in the collection of the Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery, Walker Art Center, and the Studio Museum of Harlem.

— Fremont-based filmmaker Maria Victoria Ponce’s script Washing Elena is on the Black List’s inaugural Latinx List, and her work has been screened at film festivals across the country.

The San Francisco Bay Area film writer and director’s work navigates the complexities in the routine lives within poor and working-class neighborhoods: themes of immigration, sexuality, and coming of age. Ponce is a fellow at Cine Qua Non Lab, National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Latino Media Market, and Latino Screenwriting Project and an artist resident at SFFILM FilmHouse. She was a finalist for Tribeca/AT&T Untold Stories 2019 and has received grants from PBS’s The Latino Experience and The Berkeley Film Foundation.

Her films have played at Aesthetica Shorts Film Festival, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, Femme Frontera, San Diego Latino Film Festival, CineFestival San Antonio, Boston International Latino Film Festival, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, and HBO/New York International Latino Film Festival, among others.

Maria Victoria Ponce
Maria Victoria Ponce | Courtesy of Maria Victoria Ponce

This year’s Fellows were nominated by Bay Area artists and cultural leaders and selected through a two-part review process with the help of national reviewers and a panel of four local jurors. The reviewers were Carra Martinez, Danielle Burns Wilson, Leonardo Bravo, Beatrice Loayza, Ianeta Le’i, Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, Armando Huipe, David J. Roberts, Pia Kishore Agrawal, Ali Rosa-Salas, Rosie Herrera, Tara Aisha Willis. The jurors were Deena Chalabi, Rebecca Novick, Rosa Morales, and Yayoi Kambara.

The Rainin Fellowship describes itself as “a new model that could offer a blueprint for other foundations across the country. By pairing Rainin’s deep understanding of the local community with a national organization’s perspective and expertise working with artists, this Fellowship exemplifies Rainin’s commitment to supporting the Bay’s local creative ecosystem.”