Born in India, Raja is an artist, curator, mentor and a strong proponent of collaboration. She teamed with photographer Lois Bielefeld for the project “On Belonging,” for which Belefeld photographed Raja wearing saris in many Milwaukee locations, including Bradford Beach, the Milwaukee County Courthouse and Miller Park (now called American Family Field).
A native of Puerto Rico, Ledesma (who uses they/them pronouns) has been artist-in-residence for the Cesar Chavez Drive Business Improvement District and the Milwaukee Public Library’s Mitchell Street branch. They also co-founded the community-focused Cosecha Creative Space.
Coincidentally, Raja and Ledesma were also both 2020 winners of Mary L. Nohl Fellowships in the established artists category.
The arts board also named art collector and advocate Cynthia Henry and musician-activist Ray Nitti its 2022 Friends of the Arts, awards given to individuals who give exceptional service to the local arts community.
Nitti, aka Rayhainio Boynes, is a rap musician, activist and entrepreneur. He is part of the development team behind Community Within the Corridor, working on a $66 million project to bring affordable apartments along with commercial and recreation space to the economically distressed North 30th Street Industrial Corridor.
With her partner, the late Gregory Stanford, Henry opened the Ayzha Fine Arts Gallery & Boutique in the Grand Avenue downtown, specializing in art of the African Diaspora. She is a board member of African American Arts Alliance at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and has been a vice president of the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network.
The award winners will be honored during an event 4:30 p.m. June 14 at the Marcus Performing Arts Center.
Artists of the Year receive a $1,500 cash award. Funds for the award come from arts board members.
Former alderman and playwright Wayne Frank launched the board’s Artists of the Year program in 1995. The Artists of the Year Award was renamed in 2020 in honor of late arts board member Mildred L. Harpole.
Past winners include Klassik, Anne Kingsbury, Rosy Petri, Ras ‘Ammar Nsoroma, Rosemary Ollison, Ray Jivoff, Tia Richardson, Sheri Williams Pannell, Jane and Chris Flieller, Dasha Kelly Hamilton, Della Wells and Barbara Leigh.