Artist Commissioning Program

NON:op’s artist commissioning program provides opportunities for artists, particularly artists of color and artists with disabilities, two groups of artists who have been historically marginalized and hardest hit by the pandemic. Beginning in 2020 we commissioned the following artists to create new work for our Viral Silence: Community Portraits in Response to Covid-19 and L’s GA : Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

L’s GA : Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address commissioned artists
Bloomington, Urbana, and Chicago performances in March 2023

A.J. McClenon

A.J. was born and raised in “DC proper,” and now calls Chicago a second home. In 2014 A.J. received a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in creative writing from the University of Maryland, College Park, A.J. also studied at The New School with a writing focus in media studies. It has been a pleasure for A.J. to share work and perform in spaces like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; LA Film Forum; Echo Park Film Center; Danspace Project; Woman Made Gallery; Roman Susan Gallery; Links Hall; National Museum of African American History & Culture; The Nicholson Project; Springfield Art Gallery; Third Coast International Audio Festival; Yon Nwit Ak Atis Cultural Exchange and Hyde Park Art Center.

Alongside artistic experiences A.J. is passionate about teaching and community collaborations and truly hopes that all the memories and histories that are said to have “too many Black people” are told and retold again. As a means to uphold these stories, A.J. writes, performs, and creates objects and short films. These creations often revolve around an interest in water and aquatic life, escapism, Blackness, science, grief, US history, and the global future. A.J. is deeply invested in leveling the hierarchies of truth and using personal narrative to speak on political and cultural amnesia and their absurdities. AJ is currently a lecturer at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and facilitates teen programming with youth on the west side of Chicago.

Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure

For more than 3 decades, Ja Nelle has immersed herself in the arts. As an avid dancer/instructor, jewelry artist, recycled clothing designer, spoken word poet, and author, Ja Nelle has engaged audiences throughout the United States and internationally. She strives in all she does to help all learn to express themselves creatively in whatever form that presents itself.

Royel Bijou was born out of a desire to honor my grandfather who always supported me and my wacky ways. I used the letters in his name to create Royel and Bijou just means beautiful which I feel, he was a beautiful soul. I bet you’re wondering who I am, well I am a mother of three. I am a poet, a recycle/up-cycle artist and I am a fashion designer who teaches dance. Try saying that four times fast. For the past 20 years, I have gotten involved in making art by reusing and recycling what I already have in my possession. Every piece is made from sustainable materials. Nothing can be reproduced. Through this, I have found a wonderful medium to turn trash into beautiful works of art.

That is not all I do. As you will soon see on this site, I use my many gifts and talents in the literary world, as well as dance and fashion to teach people ways to unleash their creative minds. I find that by using these skills I can be one of many who can build a community with others and strengthen the stagnant brains to think outside themselves. I want to bring together collective souls that encourage, strengthen, and have them support one another. I will embody a pathway for people to explore themselves internally and externally. I am comical and silly, and I truly enjoy bringing people from all walks of life together to share, to explore, to uplift through art.

Ja Nelle has published poems in Crows on the Line, a poetry book published by the CU Poetry group. She has also self-published 2 books, Eyes Open and Splitting 650, both poetry books. She writes, “I am passionate about taking what others see as ugly and spoiled and turning it into something beautiful. Some of her interests include cooking, running, reading murder mysteries, spending time with her children and making memories.”

Portrait of Kao Ra Zen. A black man with long black dreads, short beard and mustache, gazing with deep brown eyes into the camera, Zen is wearing a white collared shirt and a beaded colorful necklace.

Kao Ra Zen

Kao Ra Zen, born Kenya Fulton, hails from Chicago, Illinois. Kao’s art practice involves creative writing, spoken word, music, video directing, and performance art. He has also worked on creative projects related to drawing, painting, acting, modeling, and dance. He has curated events and performed at many prominent venues throughout Chicago including Symphony Center, Links Hall, Dank Haus (German American Cultural Center), Subterranean, Alhambra Palace, and Elastic Arts. In his travels, he has performed and exhibited artwork in Germany, performed at an Open Mic in Guatemala, and helped to install solar panels in El Salvador.

Kao’s poetry has appeared in ‘Not My President-The Anthology of Dissent’ from Thoughtcrime Press, ‘Illinois’s Best Emerging Poets’ and ‘America’s Best Emerging Poets’ from Z Publishing, ‘A Love Supreme’ (an oral history of Chicago Hip Hop collective, the legendary Nacrobats), Fnewsmagazine, Tuck Magazine, Highland Park Poetry, and ‘Gut Check digest’ from Shady Pines Radio.

In February 2020, Kao released his first official music video, “Morning in America”, a controversial work that would twice be removed from YouTube. Kao would direct the debut music video, “Killing in the Name of Love” for longtime friend and creative collaborator, Dodo Mafioso, first released in April 2020. Following the murder of George Floyd, Kao would team up with another Chicago Hip-Hop stalwart, Ness The God, to release the single and music video addressing police brutality, “I’m Tired”, on the 4th of July, 2020. Kao has released numerous music videos since such as “Advent”, “G.O.D. Bless”, and “F.T.A.”.

Kao earned an Associate in Fine Arts degree from Harold Washington College in 2015. A recipient of a Presidential Merit Scholarship, he earned his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in December 2020. He plans to eventually earn a MFA degree in Creative Writing. He is currently recording material for his solo debut album, ‘TIME of the SIGNS’, as well as working on music with his performance art/music troupe, The Ungovernables, for an EP tentatively titled: “SUMMER of LOVE”. Kao works as a teaching artist at multiple schools in Chicago. He teaches poetry and dance classes to young people of all ages.

Willie “Prince Roc” Round

Willie “Prince Roc” Round is a playwright, songwriter and hip hop artist, actor, videographer. Without metaphor or hyperbole, theatre was key to rescuing him from homelessness and saving his life. He is dedicated to sharing this life-saving art form with others, using art and theatre as a means of expression and to authentically illustrate life on Chicago’s artistically exploited West Side. Much of his writing, poetry and lyrics reflect the sign of the times within his community.

Born May 20, 1991, Willie Round III grew up in North Lawndale (known as the “Holy City”) on the West Side of Chicago, a region with high rates of violence and low household incomes. Wil- lie had strong art influence and mentorship during his youth, which allowed him to buck the statistics and gain the trajectory his life has taken. Music was Round’s first artistic influence and form of stress relief and expression. He was raised by a single mother, with an incarcerated father, in a 3-bedroom apartment filled with 12 people. It was loud, crowded, and full of music. Music was in his family, at home, and in church. Round’s uncles were the hip hop group Do or Die. As a hip hop artist, Round has performed across the country and was the opening act for Grammy Award-winning artist Lil Wayne as well as Gucci Man, thanks to Ren of Go Boyz ENT. He has also opened for Grammy Nominated Artist Ralph Colbert.

Round was the first person on either side of his family to attend college and graduate. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications – Broadcast Media from Central State University in Ohio. Access to strong, consistent, and effective mentorship made this possible. He taught videography at an alternative school on Chicago’s SW side.

Willie Round was first introduced to theatre by his now long-time collaborator, G. Riley Mills. At the time, Round was homeless. His play Broke Down Drone was produced in Collaboraction’s 2019 Peacebook Festival, and it ran in New York City Off-Broadway at the Chain Theater’s One-Act Festival in July 2021, in which Willie also performed. Round wrote, created, and produced a short documentary for Collaboraction’s Peacebook Festival titled This is North Lawndale. After meeting playwright J. Nicole Brooks at Peacebook in 2019, Round made his theatre acting debut in 2020 in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s hit play Her Honor Jane Byrne written and directed by J. Nicole Brooks.

The impact of art partnered with mentorship has been transformative in Willie’s life. Round does extensive outreach in the North Lawndale neighborhood, where he grew up, and is a mental health professional and behavioral aid. He works to help people find positive and effective coping strategies for depression, addiction, anxiety, PSTD, among others and works to help people remove stress and give them a creative and social outlet. He has mentored inner-city youth as part of the College Mentoring Experience and as part of his own youth movement MUD LIFE (Motivating the Urban to be Determined).

Kameron Locke
Kameron Locke

Kameron Locke (he/him) is a classical singer and research-based artist who expresses what he defines as the “facets of Blackness” through music, performance, and study.

Locke navigates cultural, community, and academic spaces as a social justice-centered creative, artistic leader, producer, educator, and musicologist. From within these spaces, he reflects on representation and inclusion, and how to engage and solve challenges that bring equality to continuously evolving communities.

Born and raised in Chicago, he recently emigrated to Berlin after a fulfilling stint in London.

Viral Silence Commissioned Artists and Communities (2022)

JoVia Armstrong and Stephan Moore, Trap and Release, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Chicago

JoVia Armstrong is a well-traveled percussionist, sound artist, composer, and educator. She is an endorsed artist with four notable companies, including QSC, Sabian, Icon Pro Audio, and Gon Bops. In 2014, she won the Best Black Female Percussionist of the Year through the Black Women in Jazz Awards. JoVia received the 3Arts Siragusa Foundation Artist Award in 2011 for her work as an educator and is a member of Chicago’s AACM. JoVia produced an EP for popular Chicago soul group JC Brooks Band in 2017 and is a member and composer behind Detroit-based World /Jazz group Musique Noire. Their 2008 debut CD, Good Hair, was nominated for three Detroit Music Awards. They won “Best Black Female Jazz Group” through Black Women in Jazz Awards in 2015 and have a 2017 release entitled “Reflections: We Breathe.” She released her debut album, “Fuzzy Blue Robe Chronicles” in 2009. She has performed with El DeBarge, Rahsaan Patterson, Maysa, EricRoberson, Frank McComb, Res, Omar, The Impressions, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, Malian musicians Ballaké Sissoko & Babani Kone, Joe Vasconcellos, Martha And Reeves. 

Currently, she is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, in the music department’s Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology program. While working on her dissertation, she has been a collaborating composer for various projects such as The Black Index Art Exhibit, curated by Dr. Bridget Cooks, and Your Ocean, My Ocean, curated by John Crawford for Eco ArtLab. She is also composing the film score and sound design for an adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” being released in 2022 as a short film.

Stephan Moore is a sound artist, designer, composer, improviser, programmer, engineer, teacher, and curator based in Chicago. His creative work manifests as electronic studio compositions, improvisational outbursts, sound installations, scores for collaborative performances, algorithmic compositions, interactive art, and sound designs for unusual circumstances. Much of his work has been realized in collaborative projects, most notably with sound artist Scott Smallwood in their duo Evidence and with choreographer Yanira Castro in the collective a canary torsi. He is the curator of sound art for the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, organizing annual exhibitions since 2014. He is also the president of Isobel Audio LLC, which builds and sells his Hemisphere loudspeakers. He was the music coordinator and touring sound engineer of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (2004-10), and has worked with Pauline Oliveros, Anthony McCall, and Animal Collective, among many others. In 2019, he co-founded the Chicago Laboratory for Electro-Acoustic Theater to promote and encourage the creation of multichannel audio works. He is a Distinguished Associate Professor of Instruction in the Sound Arts and Industries program at Northwestern University.

Eddie Breitweiser

Eddie Breitweiser, Six Words, McLean County Museum of History

Edward Breitweiser is an artist, musician, and writer. Incorporating models from various intellectual traditions and bodies of knowledge, Breitweiser organizes particulars (software, electronics, audio/visual signals, text, networked distribution channels, improvisational music, performative activities) into arrangements whose products are the macro-result of the emergent interactions of all components at once.

His works have been presented at Festival MusicAlp (Courchevel, France); Network Music Festival (Birmingham, UK); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago); Illinois State University Galleries (Normal, IL); MobileHCI (Stockholm, Sweden); Salle Cortot (Paris); threewalls (Chicago; the Giorgio Cini Foundation (Venice); Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, IL); the Fuse Factory (Columbus); the McLean County Arts Center (Blooming, IL); and sixty Inches From Center (online). Breitweiser serves as Director of pt.fwd (Facebook, Instagram), a contemporary music and sonic arts performance series featuring new work by local and regional artists in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Breitweiser studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA ’12), l’École Normale de Musique de Paris, and Elmhurst College (BFA ’09).

X, Portal, virtual geolocated soundscape app

X, M.Arch, MFA is an Indigenous futurist, multidisciplinary artist and architect specializing in land, architectural, and new media installation. His work illuminates the liminal space between the ancestral plane and our accelerating post-human world.

X is a 3Arts Award Winner, a 2020 New City Top 50 Artist and the first Native American contributor to the Chicago Architecture Biennial. His work is exhibited and collected internationally including the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Ars Electronica, and the MCA Chicago. In 2020, X was commissioned by the U.S. State Department as lead artist of The American Arts Incubator Brazil, where he traveled to Brazil and conducted workshops culminating in a virtual reality exhibition, entitled PORTAL.

X, received a Bachelors of Environmental Design from the University of Colorado, a Masters of Architecture from the University of Southern California, and a Masters of Fine Arts Studio in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is an enrolled citizen of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana (Koasati) and Indigenous CHamoru from the Island of Guam (Hacha’Maori).

Viral Silence Commissioned Artists and Communities (2021)

Honna Veerkamp
Honna Veerkamp & Jay Needham with Carbondale Community Arts

Honna Veerkamp is a community-oriented artist and educator. Her specialties include audio and video documentary, painting, and socially engaged art. Honna’s work explores natural and human-made environments and celebrates creative resistance—from tiny interventions to grassroots social justice movements, and the stories in between. Honna earned a Media Arts MFA at Southern Illinois University in 2015 and a diploma in Audio Engineering at the Institute for Audio Research in 2002. She was a CAT fellow in 2017-2018 and currently serves on the alumni advisory board. She has taught audio, video, writing, and fine art in university and community settings.

Jay Needham

Jay Needham is an artist, musician, writer-editor, and cultural producer who utilizes multiple creative platforms to produce his works, many of which have a focus on sound and site-specific field research. As a hearing-divergent person, Needham makes work that often involves sensing and experiencing sound across many modalities. His sound art, works for radio, visual art, performances, and installations have appeared at museums, festivals, and on the airwaves, worldwide. Needham is the founding co-editor of Resonance: The Journal of Sound and Culture, published by The University of California Press. He is a Professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Digital Media at Southern Illinois University and he received his MFA from The School of Art at California Institute of the Arts.

Allen Moore with the Auburn Gresham 21st Ward, Block Club 21 Community Garden

Allen Moore is a Black American Interdisciplinary Painter, Experimental Sound Artist, Educator, Youth Mentor and Curator born and raised in the Historic Village of Robbins IL. His work examines both visual and experimental music, emphasizing the importance of nurturing the Black Imagination with social representation and converses with the signifiers of African American and popular culture, bringing to view the underlying themes of racial, emotional, and socioeconomic conditions. Moore has exhibited and performed across Chicago and the greater Midwest, including exhibitions Experimental Sound Studio, Elastic Arts, Threewalls, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago. His work is featured in the Netflix Original Series “Easy” Seasons 1 and 2.

Allen Moore
VVAM! Vision and Voice Amplified through Media (Keith Moore & Bourema “Ibrahim” Ouedraogo)
with Ashanti Files and The Writers of Oya and the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center
Keith Moore

Keith Moore is a composer and sound artist, writer, curator, and community media maker currently based in Urbana, Illinois. Keith uses the fields of acoustics and psychoacoustics to compose expressive and conceptually rich works that compel listeners to consider the beauty and breadth of perception itself. He has collaborated with numerous distinguished organizations such as musikFabrik WDR (Cologne), Ensemble de l’itinéraire (Paris), Ensemble Modern and the International Ensemble Modern Academy (Frankfurt), PRISM Quartet (NYC), Talujon Percussion (NYC), Ensemble 21 (NYC), and soloists including Tomas Bächli (Berlin), Karen Bentley Pollick (CO), Kevin Boyer (London), Maja Cerar (NYC), Juliana Snapper (LA), Taimur Sullivan (Chicago) and Kelland Thomas (Hoboken). In addition to creating original compositions, Keith Moore pursues his research through writing, performance, curating, and teaching.

Ibrahim Ouedraogo

Bourema “Ibrahim” Ouedraogo is a founder of VVAM! (Vision and Voice Amplified through Media), on the production team of Urbana Public Television, and the owner of Global Visual Media Studio. He is married with two children and has lived in the US for the past ten years. He began engaged-community building in his home country of Burkina Faso, where he worked in community, arts, and cultural preservation; and he has continued that effort in Illinois as a board member and now active volunteer at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center.