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. Four awards are given: one $2500 award, two $1000 awards, and one $500 award. Recipients are selected by a panel of renowned artists and cultural leaders from around the Midwest, with a range or expertise across artistic disciplines.

The 2020 review panel includes Aaron Dworkin, a social entrepreneur, performing artist, philanthropist, and University of Michigan faculty member, Michelle Herman, a novelist, essayist, and Ohio State University faculty member, and Nadiah Rivera Fellah, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Applications for the 2020 Merit Awards are now closed. Recipients will be announced in December 2020.

Recipients of the 2019 Merit Award

Artist Services Merit Award Recipients 2019

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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 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 Rieggers 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.”


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.”

Recipients of the 2018 Merit Award

Artist Services_Merit Award Winners_2018

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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 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 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.

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.

Recipients of the 2017 Merit Award

Artist Services_Merit Award Winners_2017

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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 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 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 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.

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