Mayor, Milwaukee Arts Board honor Artists of the Year—both UWM alums

Nirmal Raja. Background image: Her exhibit, “Me/You/Us and the Question” (hand embroidery on hand-dyed silk organza, 48” x 48” x 48”), which explores “how the pandemic has asked us to investigate not only the self but also our relationship to the other and the larger community.” Images: portrait, MAB logo from ; background image from .

From the City of Milwaukee

Mayor Cavalier Johnson and the City of Milwaukee Arts Board (MAB) honored the 2022 Mildred L. Harpole Artists of the Year—UWM alumni Ck Ledesma (BFA, Painting/Art History, 2013) and Nirmal Raja (MFA, Art, 2011)—and 2022 Friends of the Arts award recipients—Cynthia Henry and Rayhainio Boynes (Ray Nitti)—at a ceremony June 14. These honorees represent excellence and exceptional service in Milwaukee’s arts community.

Nirmal Raja – MFA, Art, 2011

Raja is an interdisciplinary artist living in Milwaukee. She lived in India, South Korea and Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States 30 years ago.

Raja holds a bachelor of arts in English Literature from St. Francis College in Hyderabad, India, a bachelor of fine arts from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), and a master of fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Raja is the recipient of several awards, including a 2018 Graduate of the Last Decade honor from UWM and a Mary L. Nohl Fellowship . She was a mentor at RedLine Milwaukee, a community arts incubator, and is now a mentor for the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network.

She has participated in solo and group shows throughout the region, the nation, and the world. Raja collaborates with other artists and strongly believes in investing energy into her immediate community. Raja curates exhibitions that bring people together from different cultures and backgrounds.

Ck Ledesma – BFA, Painting/Art History, 2013

Ck Ledesma Image from .

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Ledesma is a transdisciplinary artist from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Currently residing in Milwaukee. They are passionate about serving their community while building authentic relationships and the liberation of all BIPOC people.

Ledesma co-founded Cosecha Creative Space, a community-focused space that centers connections, understanding, and building togetherness through creative engagement, mutual aid, and the arts.

Ledesma is a 2020 Mary L. Nohl Fellow and has served as the artist-in-residence for the Cesar Chavez Drive Business Improvement District, the Milwaukee Public Library Mitchell Street branch, and Casa Candela in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Their work has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally.

Mayor Johnson also recognized the 48 arts organizations that are receiving a total of $264,000 in MAB sustaining grant awards in 2022.

“Our arts community is unique and makes our city special. Artists and creators throughout Milwaukee are full of creative energy that adds value to our neighborhoods,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said. “I am proud to honor this year’s Artists of the Year, Friends of the Arts, and sustaining grant recipients. These individuals and organizations are leaders in Milwaukee’s creative community who are helping position this city as an inclusive arts and cultural hub.”

The Artists of the Year program was inaugurated in 1995 by former Alderman and then-MAB chair Wayne Frank. The Artists of the Year Award was renamed in 2020 in honor of late, beloved arts board member Mildred L. Harpole. Each recipient receives a $1,500 cash award. Funds used to launch the first award included a memorial bequest in honor of Milwaukee artist and former MAB member Jim Chism. Additional funds for the award come from MAB members.

The MAB sustaining grant program is funded by the City of Milwaukee, with support from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts. See the full list of 2022 Milwaukee Arts Board Sustaining Grant recipients .

Learn more about the MAB at .