Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay
Affiliated Writer
St. Paul, MN
Biography

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay aka Refugenius is a Lao American writer. She was born in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand and immigrated to Minnesota in 1985. Because of her unique background, her work is focused on creating tools and spaces for the amplification of refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production.

CNN’s “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell called her work “revolutionary.” Governor Mark Dayton recognized her artistic contributions with a “Lao Artists Heritage Month” Proclamation. She’s a 2019 recipient of a Sally Award for Initiative from the Ordway Center for Performing Arts which “recognizes bold new steps and strategic leadership undertaken by an individual...in creating projects or artistic programs never before seen in Minnesota that will have a significant impact on strengthening Minnesota’s artistic/cultural community.”

Her plays have been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Theater Mu, Consortium of Asian American Theater Artists, Theater Unbound, Lower Depth Theatre, Asian Improv aRts Midwest, Lazy Hmong Woman Productions, Walking Shadow Theater Company, Fortune's Fool Theater, and elsewhere. She was a 2018 Playwright's Center and 2011 and 2012 Theater Mu fellow in playwriting, a 2018 Loft Literary Center fellow in poetry, a 2019 Loft Literary Center fellow in children's and young adult literature, a 2018 Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art, and a 2017 Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation fellow.

She's received creative grants from the Jerome Foundation, Bush Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, MAP Fund, Andy Warhol Foundation, Visual Arts Fund, Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and the MN State Arts Board, and elsewhere.

She holds a Master in Liberal Studies degree and co-hosted a podcast on Minnesota Public Radio. She is currently an Andrew Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at Theater Mu, a McKnight Foundation Fellow in Community-Engaged Practice Art, a Jerome Hill Artist Fellow for Playwriting; and a Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support grantee and a Forecast Public Art Mid-Career Research and Development grantee for her new project MOTHERLAND ORPHANS, a stage play + exhibition.

Successes

ST. PAUL, MN, January 27, 2021— The Jerome Foundation is pleased to announce the 2021 grant recipients in the second round of the Jerome Hill Artist Fellowships program. 60 Fellowships are being awarded (10 each in the disciplines of dance, film/new media, literature, music, theater/performance/spoken word, and visual arts) to early-career artists based in Minnesota and New York City, with 84 additional awards to finalists and alternates.

Two-year Fellowship awards total $3 million. Each award is $50,000 over two years ($25,000 per year) in direct support to artists to create new work, advance artistic goals and/or promote professional development.

Applicants applied either individually or jointly to share a single award as part of a sustained collaborative. Discipline-specific panels, composed of artists, curators, artistic leaders and arts administrators, reviewed a total of 820 applicants before identifying 144 as finalists for fuller discussion in advance of recommending a slate of Fellows to the Jerome Board of Directors for approval. In their deliberations, panels considered applicants’ samples of past works, additional past artistic accomplishments, the potential impact of a fellowship on their careers and their artistic field, their readiness to take maximum advantage of support and their alignment with Jerome’s values of innovation, diversity and humility. In reaching the final roster of Fellows, panels were charged with recommending to the Jerome Board a cohort that collectively captures the energy and diversity of their respective fields.

At their meeting on December 6, the Board unanimously and enthusiastically approved the recommended 27 Fellowships supporting 27 artists from Minnesota and 33 Fellowships supporting 35 artists (two 2-person collaboratives) for artists based in New York City.

“This year’s cohort represents an extraordinary social and aesthetic range, advancing their practices and engaging their community in exciting ways, even in these difficult and unprecedented times. It also exemplifies Jerome Foundation’s commitment to diversity and the diversity of artists across all disciplines with 85% of the Fellows identifying as Black, Native American, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian or Arab American or as Artists of Color. The work of all of these artists in binding our communities together and in stimulating our imagination has never been more important,” said Board Chair Linda Earle of New York City. Jerome Board members also include officers Kate Barr of Minneapolis (Vice-Chair), Daniel Alexander Jones of New York (Secretary), and Rick Scott of Minneapolis (Treasurer); Minnesota Directors Sarah Bellamy (St. Paul) and Sanjit Sethi (Minneapolis); New York City Directors Thomas Lax and Elizabeth Streb; and South Dakota Director Lori Pourier (Rapid City).

Fellows are also offered individualized professional development guidance through The MAP Fund of New York’s Scaffolding for Practicing Artists (SPA), designed to help artists individually and collectively consider, invent and co-devise solutions tailored to their specific practice and aesthetic ambitions.

Program Director, Eleanor Savage observed, “Fellows in the first round of this program told us how transformative this approach of direct support and individualized guidance can be.  By providing a sustained source of flexible funding over the course of two-years, in combination with this individualized professional development through The MAP Fund, Jerome Foundation hopes to offer artists the resources to be adaptive in their approaches to vibrant and sustainable careers.”

The Jerome Board also agreed to award one-time grants of $5,000 each to the 60 additional finalists and $7,500 each to the 24 additional finalist applicants designated by panels as “alternates” in the event that a recommended Fellow had been unable to accept the award. “Given the extraordinary promise of the applicant pool and the unprecedented challenges facing artists in this moment, the Foundation felt it was essential to expand the Fellows program with additional smaller grants to all the finalists that the panels had discussed at their meetings. All of us are deeply inspired by these artists and are honored to support them as they move forward.” said Jerome Foundation President Ben Cameron.

These additional smaller grants, totaling $480,000, bringing the total direct investment in individual artist to $3.48 million and the total program support, including the individualized professional development support, to more than $3.8 million.

Through HowlRound and the Mellon Foundation National Playwright Residency Program, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay will be Theater Mu's playwright in-resident.

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is the recipient of an Emerging Artist Project Grant from Forecast Public Art for their project IN THE CAMPS: A REFUGEE MUSICAL, which follows the lives of Laotian families who have escaped communist Laos and await resettlement approvals in Saint Paul, MN. More info.

In the Camps: A Refugee Musical has been selected as one of the winners in the 2017 St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge. The show will tell the story of the Lao people who resettled in St. Paul through a musical with traditional folktales and songs informed by 1970-1980s Thai and American pop.