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Cleveland Arts Prize Announces 2021 Winners

The musical collective Mourning [A] BLKstar will receive an Emerging Artist prize [Mourning [A] BLKstar]
The musical collective Mourning [A] BLKstar will receive an Emerging Artist Prize

Clevelanders ranging from cutting-edge musicians to theatrical innovators are among this year’s winners of the 2021 Cleveland Arts Prize.

For more than 60 years, the Cleveland Arts Prize has emphasized the importance of local artistic achievement by celebrating both those who create art and those who work to sustain a vibrant arts scene.

Ideastream Public Media has a rundown of the honorees.


Mourning [A] BLKstar (music)

This eclectic collection of musicians and multimedia artists has won local acclaim for their stage shows, which feature a blend of soul, hip hop and Afrofuturism. Their performances have also been praised by The Wire, a British music magazine and NPR’s "All Songs Considered."

Lauren Yeager (Visual Arts)

The Nashville native relocated to Cleveland where she works as a photographer and sculptor, often using found objects. Among her many local exhibitions, Yeager was featured in the 2018 FRONT International Triennial for Contemporary Art.


Alice Ripley (Theater and Dance)

The Kent State graduate is a Tony award-winning actor who has appeared in numerous Broadway productions. She’s also a mixed-media artist, a songwriter and performs in her eponymous band, RIPLEY.

Corrie Slawson (Visual Arts)

Using inspirations from her daily commute and journeys abroad, Slawson combines her own photographic images with spray paint and pencil to create other worldly landscapes. Her work has been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally.


Raymond McNiece

McNiece has spent decades performing on local and international stages, sometimes with his band Tongue-in-Groove, sometimes working solo with his dynamic poetry. He’s toured with such literary lights as Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and he acted as Woody Guthrie in a special Ideastream production.

Robert P. Bergman Prize

Dr. Joseph Garry, Jr.

Garry’s long-running, 1970s production of the cabaret-style musical “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” has long been cited as helping bring new life to Playhouse Square at a time when the theater complex was on the brink of becoming a parking lot. Garry subsequently staged numerous productions across the city and internationally. He’s also lectured at international theater conferences and hosted the “Broadway Buzz” lectures at Playhouse Square.

The Martha Joseph Prize

Sean Waterson

Watterson was heading towards a career as a lawyer, but his life took an unexpected turn 13 years ago when he became a co-founder and co-owner of the Happy Dog on Cleveland’s West Side. He helped turn a classic bar into a live music venue and community gathering spot. But his vision has expanded from running a single club to becoming an advocate for independent venues across Cleveland and around the country.

The Barbara S. Robinson Prize

Clara Rankin

Philanthropist Clara Rankin is a longtime benefactor of legacy institutions, such as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cleveland Museum of Art, where the Galleries of Chinese Art are named in her honor. At 104, Rankin remains active in her advocacy for the arts.

Special Citation

Franz Welser-Möst

Welser-Möst first lifted his baton as the Cleveland Orchestra’s music director in the 2002-03 season. Over the next 20 years, the Austrian native has established himself as a champion as an advocate for new musical works and inventive programming. Despite his many years as the leader of a world-famous orchestra, he refuses to be called “Maestro,” by colleagues and fans. He’d rather be known as Franz.

All of the 2021 Cleveland Arts Prize winners are due to get their awards at a special ceremony at the Cleveland Museum of Art in October.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.