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Meet Eight Midwest Makers in New Video Series

A woman of medium dark skin tone and dark curly hair wearing a painter's apron and smiling joyfully at an offscreen piece of art.
Photo Credit: Courtney Ball
Cedar Rapids spoken word and visual artist Akwi Nji.

The video series will highlight eight unique creatives from throughout the Midwest region, showcased through the talents of eight filmmakers.

Arts Midwest is excited to announce the upcoming Midwest Makers video series, to launch this spring.

Midwest Makers are all around us. They are visual artists, chefs, community organizers, folk and traditional arts practitioners, musicians, oral historians, farmers, and next-door neighbors. They work in large and small communities, wear multiple hats, and add to the creative culture of the Midwest. This series will be spotlighting eight different creatives throughout our region who are deeply embedded in their communities:

Meet the Makers

Joanne Aono (Illinois)

Joanne Aono is a visual artist, curator, and holistic farmer. Her research-based drawings, paintings, and installations address identity, immigration, and the environment. She directs the alternative art project, Cultivator – Chicago Art Exhibitions & Farm Art Projects and serves as gallery director for the Riverside Arts Center. Aono maintains a studio at Bray Grove Farm in north central Illinois.

Video by Eric Scott Fisher, an artist, animator, illustrator and filmmaker from the Chicago area. He studied traditional film and video at Columbia College in Chicago and has been freelancing in illustration, design, animation and film/video for over 20 years.

Akwi Nji (Iowa)

Akwi Nji is an Iowa-based interdisciplinary artist creating in words, voice, and visual art. As owner and producer/curator of Threshold Gallery, she launched In Living Color, an alternative arts experience which recently showcased 14 Iowa-based Black artists and led to nearly $10,000 invested in those artists in one week. Her forthcoming book of poetry, Under These Here Stars, is the winner of the Iowa Book Prize and will be her first full-length collection of poetry.

Video by Courtney Ball, a storyteller and community builder in Cedar Rapids, IA. Through writing, film/video, and photography, his practice is to slow down, explore, discover, appreciate the world around him, and then share for others to enjoy. He also serves as Community Building Director at Matthew 25, a neighborhood strengthening nonprofit in Cedar Rapids.

Dazmonique Carr (Michigan)

Dazmonique Carr is the visionary founder of Deeply Rooted Produce, a thriving urban farm nestled in Detroit. Her journey began amidst the challenges of food scarcity during her college years, igniting a passion for sustainable agriculture and community empowerment. Through Deeply Rooted, Dazmonique tirelessly advocates for zero waste practices, community involvement, and embodying resilience and dedication to creating a healthier, more connected society.

Video by Nisa Brooks, a Michigan born-and-raised photographer and videographer. Her passion lies in authentically capturing the stories of people of color, striving to empower them through her lens. Beyond creating compelling narratives, she is equally committed to bringing diverse narratives to our mainstream media, ensuring that underrepresented voices are heard and celebrated on a broader scale.

Mercedes Yarbrough (Minnesota)

Mercedes Yarbrough, aka “Mizz Mercedez,” is a dedicated educator with over a decade of experience in special education and behavior. She transitioned into virtual education driven by a passion for leveraging technology’s impact on youth, and incorporates video games, comic books and animations into her teaching methods. She’s an inspiring mother to four boys, dedicated to providing an enjoyable learning process with a culturally diverse curriculum that instills pride in children of color.

Video by Katey DeCelle, the co-founder and co-director of WFNU Frogtown Community Radio in St. Paul. She also runs Sounds Powerful Productions, an audio and video editing company, and is a music DJ and radio producer. Whether it is through writing, photography, film or audio production, DeCelle seeks out stories that put a spotlight on the unseen or marginalized.

Tyler Thompson (North Dakota)

Tyler Thompson is a remarkable young woman navigating the challenging intersection of law school and entrepreneurship while staying true to her faith. As the founder of Grace Academy, a thriving cheerleading and dance company in a predominantly white community, Tyler embodies resilience and determination. Her journey is a testament to the power of grace in overcoming racial barriers and societal expectations.

Video by Everlight Films, a visionary storytelling agency specializing in immersive visual experiences, founded and led by Filipo and Kimberly Williams. With a shared passion for film and storytelling, they embarked on a journey to empower others in sharing their narratives through the medium of film.

Todd Perrine (Ohio)

Djing from 1984 to present, Todd Perrine has been a DJ-Producer-Remixer of a variety of genres for going on 40 years. He is the founder and a resident of Old School Fridays (Wesley’s, Toledo), a 18 year running weekly that covers the spectrum of funk, soul, reggae, old school hip hop, disco, and booty music, Toledo’s longest running themed night in its history.

Video by Frank Weidman, aka DJ Franki Jaye, a born-and-raised Toledo DJ known for his electrifying performances and seamless mixing skills. In addition to his DJ career, Franki Jaye has ventured into the world of content creation, and has been actively involved in filming and producing short-form content.

Zach Van Harris Jr. (South Dakota)

Zechariah “Zach” Van Harris Jr. is the Research Director and Curator for the South Dakota African American History Museum, Senior PR & Marketing Strategist for Galaxy Consulting Group LLC, and co-founder/Consultant for Success Definers. Zach is a lover of nature who is steadfast about building bridges with people and discovering healthy ways in which everyone can contribute to the diverse ecosystem of this beautiful planet that we live on.

Video by Jonathan Kelley, a filmmaker, music producer, editor, photographer, creative writer, and community advocate based in Sioux Falls. Jonathan’s goals and achievements reflect a lifelong pursuit of awareness, unity, and collaboration, driven by diverse perspectives and an impulsive desire to engage with the unique stories surrounding him.

Harmony Hill (Wisconsin)

Harmony Hill is a Milwaukee based multi-media artist and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribes of Indians of Wisconsin, and the founder of Red Magic Art Festival, the largest Native American Arts Festival in Wisconsin. Through strong cultural and ancestral imagery, she strives to give voice to and empower Indigenous people across the continent, particularly women. She creates art that contains symbols and imagery that are deeply meaningful to Native people.

Video by Bradley Perich, a full time music video director and event photographer. Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Perich constantly received inspiration from the city and people around him, and his visuals are a gritty representation of life in a “big little city”.