Local activist Ahya Simone has received a Kresge Artist Fellowship. While she is most known in the LGBT community for her work with the Trans Sistas of Color Project, Simone is a Detroit-based harpist, singer and artist. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Wayne State University, where she was the principal harpist for the Wayne State University Wind Symphony in 2011.
Simone said she was unaware of the Kresge Artist Fellowship program until a friend mentioned it to her.
“I did my research and decided to try,” she said, recalling applying for the award.
Upon finding out she had been chosen, Simone said she was thrilled.
“I was elated,” she said. “It was definitely one of the most amazing feelings. I actually received the call after finding out I had broken my toe. I was leaving the doctor’s office pretty bummed about it. Ryan Meyers-Johnson from Kresge asked how my day was going and I told her very plainly: depressing. She said, ‘Well, I have some good news for you’ and I nearly cried on the phone.”
The $25,000 fellowship comes unrestricted, allowing artists to spend the money as they wish.
“It’s no strings attached,” Simone said. “It allows the artist to self-determine their careers with some support along the way. They also have several opportunities that help with the more business side of being an artist that will be happening over the next year that I’m excited to take part in as well. I still have so much to learn.”
Simone, believed to be the first black trans woman to receive a Kresge Artist Fellowship, said the award has a metaphysical meaning to her.
“It’s a huge ‘yes’ from the universe to continue to grow and shift as an artist, individual and member of multiple communities,” she said. “It means I can finally take a break. It’s life-affirming. It’s definitely validating to be recognized for the work I have been able to do over the years. But the financial support and being able to use the coins to aid more personal things in my life like my transition is really special.”
Looking forward, Simone said she can’t wait to let her creative juices flow.
“There are so many avenues, mediums and ideas I want to explore,” Simone said. “For right now, I am really into electronic music and I’m interested in expanding the contexts in which harp is used, continuing the legacy of jazz harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby.”
Simone is also currently working on a debut music project and developing a web series called Femme Queen Chronicles.
“We are honored to have Ahya Simone among the 2018 Kresge Artist Fellows,” said Kresge Arts in Detroit director Christina deRoos. “Talent, passion, creativity and community impact are among the selection criteria for a Kresge Artist Fellowship. Each of these qualities were present in abundance in Ahya’s music samples and artist statements, leading this year’s panelists to select her for a 2018 award from among hundreds of very competitive applications.”
Administered by the College for Creative Studies, the Kresge Artist Fellowships represent one aspect of The Kresge Foundation’s investment in the artistic communities of metropolitan Detroit, providing support to artists living and working in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The Kresge Arts in Detroit program has contributed over $4.5 million to the local creative economy through the Kresge Eminent Artist awards and through Kresge Artist Fellowships.