Two UToledo Faculty Recipients of 2021 Arts Commission Merit Awards

January 24, 2022 | News, UToday, Alumni, Arts and Letters
By Kirk Baird

A pair of faculty in the UToledo College of Arts and Letters are recipients of The Arts Commission’s Merit Awards for 2021, which recognizes outstanding local literary, performing and visual artists.

Dr. Kimberly Mack, UToledo associate professor of English and a scholar of African American literature and American popular music, received the award for Literary Arts; and Dr. Ashley Pryor, associate professor of humanities, received the award for Visual Arts, Collage.


Mack and Pryor each received $1,000 as part of their awards.

Mack is the author of “Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White” about how blues artists — both Black and non-Black literary and real-life blues musicians — use their work to invent personas that resist racial, social, economic and gendered oppression. She is writing a memoir, “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll: A Black Girl’s Musical Journey Across America’s Great Racial and Class Divide.”

“The Arts Commission Merit Award means a lot to me, as it provided timely financial support for research I conducted at the Center for Brooklyn History at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City,” Mack said. “My memoir-in-progress is about the importance of rock music in my relationship with my mother during my 1970s Brooklyn childhood, and I needed to do research about Brooklyn in order to provide a larger cultural and historical context for my narrative.”

“The award is also meaningful because, as a busy academic with numerous teaching, research and service commitments, I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to my creative writing — the artistic work that I care a lot about,” Mack added. “And so, this honor has given me the opportunity to turn my focus back to my creative writing for a significant amount of time, and for that I am deeply grateful.”


Pryor is a collage and digital artist who uses digital collage and the manipulation of old photographic processes like calotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes and daguerreotypes to create a bridge between the past and the present — especially as it relates to those who have been forgotten, overlooked or underrepresented in history.  She has participated in several collaborative artists groups through The Kolaj Institute and her collage work was recently exhibited in Birr, Ireland, and at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Her works have appeared in numerous online and print publications.

“Recognition by the Arts Commission is particularly meaningful, not only on a personal level, but it reflects on the growing appreciation of collage as a fine arts form,” Pryor said. “While I am drawn to collage as a democratic and accessible tool for community engagement, collage has an important history both inside and outside the art world. Perhaps because this art form is so accessible, requiring only fragments of materials (paper, fabric, etc.) and something to hold the elements together (glue, thread, etc.), collage has sometimes been neglected as a significant artistic form.”

“This award will help me extend the reach of collage as a medium through which we can explore difficult and often polarizing issues such as race, class and gender to foster greater understanding and dialogue,” Pryor added. “This semester I am teaching a course on collage and community inside the Toledo Correctional Institution. Students will have the opportunity to explore in writing and — thanks to this award — collage, complex social and political concepts. The class will culminate with the students creating a large-scale collage for display in conjunction at International Collage Day in May. The monetary award allows me to purchase materials for my students that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.”

Visit the Arts Commission website to read more about the merit awards program including other 2021 award recipients.

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