Past Diane Dammeyer Fellowship Recipients

A collaboration between Columbia College Chicago and leading global anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance, the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues creates a space for a socially engaged photographer to produce a compelling and dynamic body of work highlighting human rights and social issues.

Meet the past fellows: 

  • 2017 – 2018 Fellow: Anahid Ghorbani

    Anahid Ghorbani is an Iranian artist who was drawn to study in the United States, particularly Chicago, because of the diversity of cultures that defines the city. Her previous experience with socially engaged photography embodies the utilization of various mediums that include photography, video, and installation. Her photography is centered on social issues such as the oppression of women and denial of identity, and, ultimately, her goal with this fellowship is to engage, inform, and invite dialogue around human rights.

    Through the fellowship, Anahid hopes to give voice to women in exile, particularly immigrant and refugee women, and to make them visible with dignity. Her work may touch upon poverty, traumatization, and other ways women experience marginalization, and a goal is to invite an audience of outsiders to the experience of being voiceless and to find an opportunity to empathize with these feelings.


  • 2016 – 2017 Fellow: Ervin A. Johnson

    Ervin A. Johnson was born and raised in Chicago. After graduating from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign with a bachelor's in Rhetoric he began work on his second bachelor's at Columbia College Chicago in photography and completed his MFA in photography at Savannah College of Art and Design. Ervin utilizes photo-based mixed media to reimagine his cultural and racial identity via photography and video. In his body of work, #InHonor, Ervin pays homage to the lives lost to police brutality and racism through a series of portraits (photo-based mixed media) created to honor Blackness. More specifically, it speaks to the racial violence and discrimination currently occurring across America, particularly in the form of police brutality. The faces in these portraits reference validation, representing not only individuals but in a deeper way the face of humanity.

    During the year of the fellowship, Ervin’s spent time in Englewood with Heartland Alliance staff and participants, where his #InHonor series evolved into a new iteration, #Monolith, which challenged the pre-conceived notion of Blackness as uniform, inflexible, and one-dimensional by constructing an image with elements from different portraits. The resulting work speaks to the complexity of identity and confronts the notion that Blackness is in and of itself can be articulated or understood superficially. His culminating exhibition at Gallery 19 featured an artist talk and samples of this work.

  • 2015 – 2016 Fellow: Fereshteh Toosi

    The first recipient of the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship was local artist Fereshteh Toosi. Fereshteh describes herself as an activist-learner and is well established as a socially engaged artist. Her projects range from a food heritage and urban gardens project to a collaboration with artists at Stateville Prison through the Prison and Neighborhood Art Project. She has worked with seniors and youth on a GARLIC & GREENS project to document the stories of African Americans whose roots are in the southern United States, showcasing the culture and food traditions of families who traveled north during the Great Migration. Rather than telling the stories of the participants with whom she engages, she works to facilitate the individual’s own expression of their struggles and successes in life. As a social practice artist, her goal is to subvert the power of photography in social situations through a participatory, collaborative process with others.

    Fereshteh Toosi spent her year building relationships with the residents of Leland Apartments, an affordable housing building run by Heartland Alliance in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. She led workshops with residents, sharing with them accessible photographic techniques such as scannergrams, thermal portraits, direct animation and chemigrams. Her culminating work was a presentation at the Bezazian Branch of the Chicago Public Library in Uptown, which included a screening of collaborative animation by Leland Apartments residents as well as an expanded cinema piece by Toosi that incorporates live music and manipulation of archival educational films.

How Does the Fellowship Work?

The fellow works directly with a Columbia College faculty mentor in the evolution of her or his artistic practice, while defining ways to share their experiences with and contribute talent to the Columbia College community and student body. On the Heartland Alliance side, the fellow will be immersed in the thematic and programmatic life of Heartland’s staff and participants for the ultimate purpose of advancing a message to inspire positive social change.

Together we look for opportunities where the fellow can experience Heartland Alliance’s culture, values, and philosophy of care in action and be exposed to the breadth and depth of issues that impact poverty. The artist’s artistic practice will unfold through a variety of meaningful, co-created activities for engagement and learning—activities that will be funded by the fellowship and that will allow staff, participants and the artist to benefit long before a culminating project is determined. 

On a practical level, the structure and format of activities will be determined as we go along. The fellow’s schedule will vary, depending on what activities present themselves at Heartland Alliance and at Columbia College.

Orientation and immersion into the Heartland Alliance community is key, so at the start of each fellowship year there we deliberately create opportunities for the fellow to meet people, listen, and learn. We encourage staff to share insights and stories. The artist will identify opportunities where s/he will focus and engage others in service to the larger goal of elevating awareness of social justice issues.