Merit Awards

Inspiring a Vibrant Future


The Arts Commission's Merit Award program recognizes outstanding local literary, performing, and visual artists, rewarding the many hours and personal resources each artist dedicates to their artform. Artists living within a 30-mile radius of Downtown Toledo may be eligible to apply. The 2024 Merit Awards will launch on October 1 and the deadline to apply will be November 4.

Four awards were given in 2023 and will also be awarded in 2024: one $3000 award, one $2500 award, one $2000 award, and one $1500 award. Recipients are selected by a panel of renowned artists and cultural leaders from around the Midwest, with a range of expertise across artistic disciplines.

The 2023 Merit Award panelists included Jordan Wong, an artist based in Cleveland, who produces large scale installations and public artwork for the city as well as national museums; Goode Wyche III, a visionary arts and cultural professional based in Detroit who is dedicated to serving the community by facilitating the presentation of unsurpassed artistic experiences for audiences; and Cierra Rembert, a visual artist, arts administrator and curator based in Cleveland, who currently serves as the Artist Initiative Coordinator at SPACES.

 The Merit Award program is generously supported by ProMedica, the Ohio Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Recognizing outstanding local literary, performing and visual artists.

2023 Merit Award Recipients

Ann Trondson


Ann Trondson currently resides in Toledo, Ohio. and is a multidisciplinary artist whose work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions, including Neon Heater, Findlay, Ohio (2023); Wiregrass Museum of Art, Dothan, Alabama (2023); C for Courtside, Knoxville, Tennessee (2019); Salon 94, New York (2014); Louis B. James Gallery, New York (2014); College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (2013); MAK Center of Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, California (2012); and Palm Springs Art Museum (2010). Ann received her MFA from the University of Southern California and currently is the co-director of Vinegar, an art gallery in Birmingham, Alabama. Trondson was awarded $1500.00.

“There is something so special to get that acknowledgement and recognition from your peers. I have never received an award like this before and I am so grateful to have the support of the community."

Gail Christofferson

Mosiac Sculpture

Gail Christofferson leads the team of Craig Hamilton and Debra Buchanan on a path of creating new sculptural work. Gail is a full-time nationally recognized artist whose approach has evolved from commercial art, design, and marketing. Her success with mosaic artwork has enabled her to move from the design field to pursue mosaic art full-time. Her latest work has been geared towards large scale projects, many of them community based. Debra Buchanan is a practicing and classically trained fine artist who carries her work into the contemporary realm. Craig Hamilton is a creative with an emphasis on marrying function and aesthetics through form, structural design, and craftsmanship. Christofferson was awarded $2000.00.

“The Merit Award will allow me and my team to create a new sculpture for our portfolio to continue to grow our collaborative art practice. A sculpture requires a substantial budget to truly achieve the scale we are envisioning. It is an honor to receive these funds and be recognized by The Arts Commission."

Matthew Johns


Matthew Johns is originally from Toledo, Ohio. After initially studying cinema at Ohio University, he expanded his knowledge under the post-production minds at Milkhaus in Denver, Colorado, assisting with the documentaries Casting JonBenet (2017), Being Evel (2015), and LEGO: A Brickumentary (2014). In 2021 Matthew pursued a Masters in Film Direction at ESCAC in Barcelona, initiating his work as a writer/director with the short films Encore (2021) and Wilis (2022). He has multiple works slated to begin production in Toledo through the winter and spring. Johns was awarded $2500.00.


“This award will be the launch pad for a new chapter in filmmaking, and independent production development here in Toledo. There are many players in the city that have been paving the way, but I think this push will really create something lasting, self-sustaining, and if we’re doing it right…groundbreaking.”

Alli Hoag


Alli Hoag works across mediums of glass, installation, video, and performance to investigate the human desire to connect with the unknowable. She exhibits and attends residencies internationally and nationally, most recently exhibiting at The Ireland Glass Biennale, in residence as a Glass Art Pavilion Project artist at the Toledo Museum of Art and will be a David Whitehouse Research resident artist at the Corning Museum of Glass in March of 2024. Alli completed her BFA degree at University of Hawaii at Manoa, graduated with a MFA from Alfred University, and currently serves as Associate Professor of Glass at Bowling Green State University. Hoag was awarded $3000.00.

“I feel so honored to receive this award and elated that I can pursue this new area of research! With this Merit Award I will be able to travel to the Czech Republic to learn about the process of creating hot pressed glass buttons and beads. Combining this traditional technique with modern digital modeling and scanning technology intrigues me, especially in exploring microscopic textures.”

2022 Merit Award Recipients

Ayendy Bonifacio photo

Ayendy Bonifacio

Literary Arts

Ayendy Bonifacio (he/him/his) was born in Santiago De Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic and raised in East New York, Brooklyn. He is an Assistant Professor of U.S. ethnic literary studies at the University of Toledo. Using Spanish, English, and Spanglish, his creative writing explores themes of race, immigration, citizenship, Dominican identity, memory, and loss. His writing is published in The New York Times, Slate, Juked, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Acentos Review, The Black Scholar, ASAP/Journal, and The Hellebore. He is the author of Dique Dominican (2017) and To the River, We Are Migrants (2020). His writing has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Ohio Writers Series, the Association for Equality and Excellence in Education (AEEE), and the Sacramento State Festival of the Arts. Bonifacio was awarded $3,000.

As a poet who writes about marginalized communities, support for my writing goes beyond me and extends to countless unnamed people. The Merit Award is validation that our stories matter--that we matter.

Deborah Orloff

Visual Arts, Photography

Deborah Orloff is a photo-based artist and Professor of Art at the University of Toledo. She holds a BFA from Clark University and her MFA from Syracuse University. Orloff’s artwork has been included in numerous exhibitions at national and international venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Elusive Memory was selected by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography for their Midwest Photographers Project. Her newest work explores the relationship between photography and memory while evoking the universal experience of struggling to recall the past. The images allude to lost family histories - particularly as they relate to forced migration (the case for her ancestors who fled Russian pogroms) - and speak to the ephemeral nature of memory. Orloff was awarded $1,500.

I’m so grateful for the Art Commission’s sponsorship of my latest work. The funding is indispensable to the production of a new series, and I am honored by the recognition. This award allows me to take the series in a new direction and advance the project in truly meaningful ways.

Jordan Buschur

Visual Arts, Painting/Drawing

Jordan Buschur is an artist, educator, and curator, with an M.F.A. in Painting from Brooklyn College, New York. Her work has been shown widely, including exhibitions with the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI), Center for Book Arts (NY), and Field Projects (NY). She participated in residencies at the Wassaic Project, Chashama North, and the Vermont Studio Center. Awards include the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and the Kimmel Foundation Artist Award. Her paintings have been featured in print in New American Paintings and UPPERCASE Magazine. She is a co-founder of Co-Worker Gallery and has curated exhibitions at Cuchifritos Gallery, Spring/Break Art Show, and the Neon Heater. Buschur currently teaches drawing at the University of Toledo. Buschur was awarded $1,500.

The Merit Award is a gift encouraging experimentation in my studio practice and reaffirming my commitment to building community through artist-led initiatives. These funds will be used to purchase materials and supplies for an upcoming solo exhibition at an artist-run gallery. It is an honor to receive a Merit Award to support my work and foster my ability to pursue artistic paths yet unrealized.

Krysta Sá

Visual and Performing Arts, Multidisciplinary

Krysta Sá (b.1988) is an artist, performer, and educator from Toledo, Ohio. Sá works in performance, video, image, and installation. Her work has been seen throughout the United States and Canada at venues such as Vox Populi (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), The Anderson (Richmond, Virginia), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), and the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival (Winnipeg, Manitoba). Most recently she was a recipient of the perfocraZe International Artist Residency in Kumasi, Ghana and the Digi Myths Grant from Soft Surplus in Brooklyn, NY. Sá was awarded $1,000.

I am so thankful that the financial support from the Merit Award will allow me to purchase technology that is crucial to my practice.

2021 Merit Award Recipients

Hoseok Youn

Visual Arts, Glass

Hoseok Youn is a glass artist and current studio artist at Glass Pavilion, Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio. Youn holds his BFA degree in glass from Namseoul University in South Korea and MFA degree in glass from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in Illinois, USA. His work has received various scholarships includingCorning Museum of Glass, Pittsburgh Glass Center, and Pilchuck Glass School. His work has been exhibited to several juried shows in California, Texas, Glass Art Society, and St. Louis, Missouri. Youn was awarded $2,500.

The Merit Award will be a great achievement for me to continue developing my art practice nationally and internationally. As an international artist, it is always challenging to build up a career in foreign cultures. I have come this far with a strong desire, dream, and art. I am extremely excited and honored to receive this Merit Award which will take me one step closer to my goal of life and to the next opportunities as well.

Kimberly Mack

Literary Arts

Kimberly Mack holds a Ph.D. in English from UCLA, and she is Associate Professor of African American literature and culture at the University of Toledo. She’s the author of Fictional Blues:Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White (University of Massachusetts Press, 2020) about autobiographical self-fashioning in contemporary American blues fiction and popular music. Kimberly holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has received fellowships and scholarships (full and partial) to attend residencies at VCCA, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (waiter scholarship), and VSC. Her essay, “Johnny Rotten, My Mom, and Me,” was published in Longreads in 2019. Kimberly is currently writing a memoir, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”: A Black Girl’s Musical Journey Across America’s Great Racial and Class Divide. Mack was awarded $1,000. Photo credit: Dan Miller.

I’m so grateful to receive an Arts Commission Merit Award! These much-needed funds will help me to visit New York City to conduct musical and genealogical research at the Center for Brooklyn History and the New York Public Library. This research will offer vital historical context for my memoir in progress!

Ashley Pryor Geiger

Visual Arts, Collage

Ashley Pryor Geiger is an artist-philosopher whose practice is rooted in the artistic tradition of collage, which she believes is best suited democratic practice and broadened community participation. Geiger actively seeks out collaborative projects with a community-engagement focus. Her practice is rooted in the artistic tradition of collage, which she believes is best suited to democratic practice and broadened community participation. Geiger integrates collage-making in her classes at the University of Toledo. She has also worked with displaced and disenfranchised people through the International Samaritan program, as well as within the Toledo Correctional Institution, where she regularly teaches.  

Geiger's work has been widely published and exhibited. Most recently The Holding Project – in collaboration with Barbara Miner, MFA and Lee Fearnside, MFA  appeared at The Momentum Arts Festival in Toledo, Ohio. Ashley holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is an Associate Professor of the Humanities at the University of Toledo. Geiger was awarded $1,000.

A merit award will help support my efforts to elevate and expand collage as a democratic and accessible art form in Northwest Ohio. I will use a portion of the proceeds to defray the costs of supplying collage kits for my incarcerated students through the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program at The Toledo Correctional Institution.

Brenda Singletary

Visual Arts, Mixed Media

Brenda attended Morris Brown College BA, Goddard College MFA. Her original artwork reflects forty years of cultural stories with images. Her work is represented by galleries and corporate collections such as AT&T, Marriott, and Kaiser-Permanente, and others. She has received numerous art awards from organizations such as the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, Atlanta Business League, American Express, United College Fund, and the Daimler-Chrysler Motion through Expression.

Brenda served two years as a panel judge and educational guest speaker for the President’s Commission on White House Fellows. Her artwork is a part of the White House Art Collection. Singletary was awarded $500.

This recognition is a gift that I’m grateful to receive. The Arts Commission’s funding and resources will provide me with assistance in my art making for upcoming community projects and my one woman exhibit in 2022. Experimentation with various materials creates a personal interpretation of the ordinary. This award will give me the soft cushion to fail and make wonderful discoveries.

2020 Merit Award Recipients

Dr. Joey S. Kim

Poetry/Creative Writing

Dr. Joey S. Kim is a scholar, creative writer, and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Toledo. Her poems have been published in Pleiades: Literature in Context, the LA Review of Books, Burningword Literary Journal, The Hellebore, and elsewhere. In 2020, her poem “Plunder,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her forthcoming book of poems, Body Facts won an international publication contest with Diode Editions Press and will be released in June 15, 2021. Her artistic and scholarly interests converge at the intersection of Anglophone literature and representations of the “East”—how Orientalist subjects and environments take shape in literary, artistic, and cultural objects. Kim was awarded $2500.

The Merit Award gives me the opportunity and privilege to research and share the overlooked histories of my Korean motherland for my poetry and forthcoming books. My artistic practice weaves together Korean history and aesthetics, childhood and family stories, U.S. foreign policy with North Korea, and the pressures humans place on their bodies.

Timothy Geiger


Timothy Geiger is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently “Weatherbox," winner of the 2019 Vern Rutsala Poetry Prize from Cloudbank Books. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, and has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. He is also the proprietor of the literary fine-press Aureole Press at the University of Toledo, where he is a full professor teaching creative writing, poetry, and letterpress printing. The Merit Award will help him attend Writer’s Residencies throughout the United States, allowing him time to complete work on his fourth book. Geiger was awarded $1000.

Time and solitude, away from the rum-ba-dum of the everyday hectic, are the gifts which writer’s residencies offer. To be allowed a period of uninterrupted time to work and think only on words is what any writer desires. I am extremely grateful to the Arts Commission for this Merit Award which will allow me to pursue those gifts as I apply for writer’s residencies across the country, from Oregon to Massachusetts, writing toward the completion of a new collection of poetry.
artist portrait

Michael Osborne


Michael Osborne was awarded $1000.

Public art is my passion. Doing things for the sake of art that may inspire others is my main goal. The key component in art is its audience. This award will help me bring more artwork to my target audience. Everyone.

Bradley Scherzer


Bradley Scherzer is a working artist, art educator and arts coordinator dealing in both studio and public art making. As a matter of both profession and ambition, he pursues ways to engage youth and the general public in the arts, and furthermore engage other artists in art making. He is compelled to combine his art practice with my many tangential interests and daily discoveries, the results of which are often both novel and familiar. Through the diversity of his creations he hopes to manifest the spoils of his research, experimentation, and creativity. Scherzer was awarded $500.

The Merit Award arrives at an excellent time. As I continue to grow the scope of my art practice, awards such as this quickly lower barriers. Hands on learning is the means by which I gain the most, but equipment and materials investments can be a burden. Though I've endeavored countless hours of research, modeling, and theoretical development, the idea of only having one shot to get it right gives me pause. The flexibility that this award provides allows me to push past some of those pauses and move faster toward my projects' goals.

2019 Merit Award Recipients

Elaina Hernandez


In 1996 “El Corazon de Mexico”, which translates as “The Heart of Mexico”, was founded by director Elaina Hernandez. Hernandez is a 33-year veteran of Mexican Folkloric Dance. She has studied under Maestro Carlos Vega of Mexico, Instructor Rene Cardoza of Chicago, Director Samuel Cortez of California, Maestro Placido Lopez Guerrero of Colima, Mexico, Maestro Bladimir Arredondo of Tamaulipas, Mexico, Maestra Karina Estrella of California and Maestro Jose Tena of New Mexico. Hernandez has been directing and choreographing for over 20 years. She is a certified Ballroom and Latin instructor and certified ZIN Zumba and Zumba Kids Instructor. In 2010, Hernandez received the Diamante Award for Latino Adult Leadership. In 2016, she received the Ohio Heritage Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. Hernandez is greatly honored to receive the 2019 Merit Award from the Arts Commission. This award will help her to continue preserve Mexican culture through Folkloric dance by providing free instruction to the youth of El Corazon de Mexico. Hernandez was awarded $2500.

I hope that my 23 years of commitment to El Corazon de Mexico will inspire other artists to donate their time, talent and knowledge to the youth of Toledo. Not for money, but for the passion of Art and love of our city.

Loraine Lynn

Mixed Media

Loraine Lynn is an interdisciplinary artist and Assistant Teaching Professor based in Toledo, Ohio. She is interested in working with materials and methods that are fluid, such as glass, fiber, video, and installation. Her work is intended as a critique of structures we adhere to and perform within. She's earned degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Bowling Green State University in Glass, Sculpture, and Three-dimensional Studies. The Merit Award will contribute to the purchase of an industrial tufting gun and other materials. The equipment will allow continuation of new work conceptualized during a residency this past summer. Lynn was awarded $1000.

Experimentation, and the failures that sometimes come along with it, are important aspects in my artistic practice. Receiving a Merit Award allows me the opportunity to go out on a limb and try a new way of working without having to worry about cost. I’m very grateful for the support of this award because it relieves much of the financial pressure that can come with new projects and allows me to focus solely on realizing my creative vision. I will be able to put these funds towards the purchase of supplies to continue my experimentation with tufting and other fiber-based methods.

Carly Riegger


Carly Riegger’s interest in ceramics began in high school and continued through her studies at Bowling Green State University, with anticipated graduation in May 2020. Even before college, Riegger was intrigued by sculpting the human form, and has remained involved in creating figures since then. In 2018, she traveled abroad to Florence, Italy and studied for a semester at Studio Arts International College. This enhanced her artistic skill greatly. She decided to start making ceramic dolls as her primary form of disability activism during this trip. She joined D.R.E.A.M. Club (Disability, Rights, Education, Advocacy, and Mentoring) at BGSU in 2019 to help enhance her knowledge of disability studies and advocacy. Riegger was awarded $1000

I am so moved to be awarded a Merit Award and the many opportunities it will give me this year to progress my art. This grant will help me advance the fabric work of my dolls, which I haven’t had the resources for before. I will be able to invest in creating my own fabric designs and prints so they are completely customized to express the chronic illness my art addresses. My artistic practice will greatly benefit from the resources and supplies I will be able to experiment with in my dolls. I am very excited to see where this work takes me and show you what I create with it.

James Dickerson


A street photographer born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, James Dickerson, a.k.a. dirtykics, recently produced his first solo exhibition, Lowercase at AIGA Toledo, focusing on fatherhood, transit, and candid photographs. The Arts Commission played a huge role in fortifying the link between his art and the people he serves, one example is through funding for the Beautiful People project, where portraits of Junction neighborhood locals were displayed outside the defunct Champ’s Barber Shop. Dickerson sees every photograph as an embrace of humanity. Dickerson was awarded $500

As a visual artist, the Merit Award contributes to the age-old song of material support. I could not keep up with myself if it were not for opportunities such as this, that provide peace of mind for the hobbyist and the professional who share the same drive. It's almost like a big brother who won't let you give up just yet. The Merit Award says you're in this, and we are watching.

2018 Merit Award Recipients

artist portrait

Timothy Stover


Timothy Stover is a glass artist, studio manager of Schmidt Messenger Studios and instructor at the University of Toledo and Toledo Museum of Art. Stover earned his MFA degree in glass from Kent State University and BFA in Sculpture from the University of Toledo. He has also studied at Corning Museum of Glass, Pilchuck Glass School and Pittsburg Glass Center with technical workshops. His work has exhibited in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City and Palm Beach among other cities nationally and internationally. Stover was awarded $2500.

Eric Pfeffinger


Eric Pfeffinger is a playwright and theater artist. He received his Master of Arts degree in English from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Pfeffinger has received the three-time honor of the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. His work has been most recently performed and enjoyed across the country in cities including Chicago, Denver, Louisville, Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia among others across the years. Pfeffinger was awarded $1000.

Joanna Manousis


Joanna Manousis is a glass artist and current Instructor at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Manousis holds her MFA degree in Sculpture / Dimensional Studies from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and her BFA in Glass from Wolverhampton University in Wolverhampton, England. Her work has been published in issues of Glass Quarterly Magazine, American Craft Magazine and New Glass Review among other art publications. Manousis’s work has received various awards including The Oppenheim-John Downes Memorial Award – London, GCAC Professional Development and Supply Grants - Columbus, Pilchuck Glass School Study Scholarships among other awards. Her work has been exhibited in solo shows in Toledo, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Corning, NY and an impressive list of group shows nationally and internationally. Manousis was awarded $1000.

Artist Portrait

Matt Foss


Matt Foss currently serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toledo. Foss holds his PhD in theatre studies from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance from Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL as well as participation in a certificate program at Moscow Art Theatre School in Russia. His work has received the honors of awards, including the Chicago Joseph Jefferson Award, Iowa Artists of the Year – Des Moines Art Center, and numerous regional and national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. In 2018, he received an invitation from the 9th Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre to create two highly visual, non-verbal theatre productions to enter into their international repertory. These productions will be incubated, rehearsed and previewed in Toledo with local artists, for local audiences, before they begin touring abroad. Foss was awarded $500.

2017 Merit Award Recipients

Natalie Lanese

Mixed Media

Natalie Lanese is a visual artist, holding degrees from Xavier University, Case Western University and Pratt University. Prior to being selected as a Merit Award finalist, she received an Individual Artist Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. Her work is included in the Putnam Collection of Case Western University and the Fidelity Corporate Art Collection as well as the collections of Xavier University Department of Art and The SCOPE Foundation in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently an Associate Professor at Sienna Heights University and the Klemm Gallery Director. Lanese was awarded $2500.

Lindsay Scypta


Lindsay Scypta is a ceramic artist who desires to contribute to the clay community in Toledo through teaching, collaboration and mentorship. Scypta holds degrees from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and Ohio State University. Her work has been published in issues of Ceramics Monthly and Clay Times among other book and art publications. Scypta's work is also in the collections of the Arthur E. Baggs Memorial Library and the Ohio Union at the Ohio State University. Scypta was awarded $1000.

Zac Weinberg


Zac Weinberg is a visual artist, currently creating large scale glass, found object and mixed media sculptures. Weinberg holds degrees from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and Ohio State University. With several years of teaching experience, his work has also been published several issues of New Glass Review, Glass Art Society Newsletter among other exhibition catalogues. Weinberg was awarded $1000.

Lauren Fowler

Glass and Porcelain

Lauren Fowler is an artist working in glass and porcelain with 12 years of college and independent school teaching experience. Fowler holds degrees from Bowling Green State University, Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. Her work is represented by the Sherrie Gallery in Columbus. Fowler was awarded $500.