The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Democracy Center) has awarded the first annual Irene Yamamoto Arts Writers Fellowship to Raquel Gutiérrez and Chrystel Oloukoï, two emerging cultural critics of color who are making outstanding contributions to the art world.

A rare funding opportunity for arts writers, the Yamamoto Fellowship was launched this year to encourage diverse cultural and political perspectives that enrich and broaden arts writing as a practice and profession. Each fellow will receive a $5,000 award to support their work over a six-month period.

“This fellowship will help strengthen the portfolios of writers of color, expand the stories that are told about contemporary art created by marginalized communities, and broaden the scope of contemporary art nationwide,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of  the Japanese American National Museum. “We are indeed fortunate to have Raquel and Chrystel as inaugural fellows and look forward to new conversations and perspectives that they bring to the field.”

“This unique fellowship recognizes that writers of color have knowledge and experiences that differ from dominant Eurocentric ones, and that their perspectives can give art produced by marginalized communities the depth of attention and consideration it deserves,” said Democracy Center Director James E. Herr. “By providing support to arts writers of color, this fellowship ensures that their voices and perspectives are heard and valued too.”

Raquel Gutiérrez is a critic, essayist, poet, performer, and educator whose first essay collection, “Brown Neon,” was named one of the best books of 2022 by The New Yorker and selected as one of Hyperallergic’s best art books of 2022.

Gutiérrez’s poetry, non-fiction, and critical writing are rooted in explorations of movement, mobility, and migration from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. These explorations elaborate on their perspective as a queer and brown writer engaging histories of desire and colonization in the Southwest U.S. They teach in the Oregon State University-Cascades Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Program and are based in Tucson, Ariz.

Chrystel Oloukoï is an art writer, researcher, artist, and curator interested in experimental moving image works, queer cinema, and Black continental and diasporic cinema. Their dissertation “Night/life: Maroon Ecologies of the Night in Lagos” and series of experimental short films entitled “black nocturnal” explore imaginations of the night in Lagos and the afterlives of colonial technologies of temporal discipline.

Oloukoï works across text and video essays, with a focus on moving image works that straddle a range of spaces — from the theater to the gallery to public spaces and the virtual. Their writing has appeared in Film Comment, Sight & Sound, and World Records, among other places. They are completing a Ph.D. in African and African American studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

“The Irene Yamamoto Arts Writers Fellowship provides a little financial support and encouragement to two BIPOC arts writers,” said Sharon Mizota, who funded the fellowship through a gift to honor her late relative. “Arts writing and criticism are crucial to our understanding of the arts. In these days of shrinking compensation for writers, it is important to ensure that the perspectives, values, and opinions of BIPOC communities are represented in our national and international dialogues.

“My aunt, Irene Yamamoto, was a lifelong lover of the arts who read everything I wrote in The Los Angeles Times. Knowing she was reading kept me grounded, reminding me that arts writing is for everyone.”

“As a proud co-sponsor of the inaugural Irene Yamamoto Arts Writers Fellowship, Critical Minded is delighted that these two exceptional writers are receiving this recognition and support for their work,” said Critical Minded Executive Director Rashid Shabazz. “Critics of color today are bringing the diversity of insights that we need to elevate our cultural discourse and equalize representation, as the art world evolves to reflect today’s realities.”

Critical Minded is an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color.

The arts writers were selected by a panel of four jurors: Carolina A. Miranda, columnist at The Los Angeles Times; Erica N. Cardwell; Jeannine Tang, assistant professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University; and Oscar Garza, -professor of professional practice and director of the Graduate Program in Specialized Journalism/Arts and Culture at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

More information on the Yamamoto Fellowship is available at

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