Past Diane Dammeyer Fellowship Recipients

Beginning with a collaboration between Columbia College Chicago and leading global anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance from 2015 to 2020, and now working with other Chicago community organizations, the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues creates a space for a socially engaged creatives 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 fellows play a critical link between art practice, their chosen community partners, and Columbia College Chicago. Collectively we seek out opportunities where the fellows’ art practice elevates culture, values, and philosophy of care in action. The fellows’ artistic practice unfolds through a variety of meaningful, co-created activities for engagement and learning—activities that are funded by the fellowship allow participants, community partners and the artists to benefit throughout the duration of the fellowship and culminates in a final public presentation.

Orientation and immersion into a self-identified community is key, so the fellows spend a substantial amount of time within the community listening, and learning. The fellows identify opportunities where they focus and engage others in service to the larger goal of advancing awareness of social issues and community aspirations.