AUGUSTA — Amanda Huotari, Candice Gosta, Hanzaburo Araki, Lindz Amer, Nisa Smiley, Patricia Daunia, and Zahir Janmohamed are recipients of this year’s Maine Artist Fellowship Award, as announced by the Maine Arts Commission.

The Maine Artist Fellowship awards each recipient $5,000 to help advance the careers of local artists. Fellowships are awarded in the following categories: Belvedere Handcraft, Fine Craft, Literary Arts, Multimedia/Film, Performing Arts, Traditional Arts and Visual Arts.

“The opportunity to honor well-respected artists in so many disciplines is a great tradition at the Maine Arts Commission, said David Greenham, executive director of the commission, according to a news release from the commission. “Along with our supporting partners, we’re proud to recognize this group of artists and craftspeople who demonstrate the very best of Maine culture.”

Nisa Smiley Contributed photo

• Nisa Smiley | Belvedere Craft, Franklin

Smiley is a studio jeweler, metalsmith, instructor, and the owner of Nisa Jewelry. She graduated from the Maine College of Art with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2000. Soon after graduation she moved to Downeast Maine to start a family.

She designs and handcrafts fine jewelry, using precious metals, gemstones and natural objects. She takes inspiration from the natural world in her work, with her creative process involving reimagining and exploring tangible relationships between organic textures, patterns, and forms found in her environment.


Since founding Nisa Jewelry in 2006, her work has been shown in juried fine craft shows, galleries, private trunk shows, public shows, and published in multiple books and publications. She is also a seasoned teacher, and loves assisting others in their creative pursuits.

“My artistic practice is motivated by an innate desire to explore the essential connections between humans and the natural world. Each piece that I create is an expression of my curiosity and delight, as well as an offering, and an invitation to pause and consider our profound interrelatedness,” said Smiley.

Visit Smiley’s website,

Patricia Daunis-Dunning Contributed photo

• Patricia Daunis-Dunning | Fine Craft, Brunswick

Daunis-Dunning is a jeweler and metalsmith by trade. She has been a professional craft artist since 1973. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design.

At RISDI she turned every jewelry making assignment into some sort of hollowware, or vessel. “When I graduated and started my own studio, I realized no one was lining up for a chalice or sterling teapot, but they were asking me about jewelry,” said Daunis-Dunning. “It was then that I discovered my ability to move the metal into all kinds of sculptural forms … allowed me to create any jewelry shape I could dream up.”

Her skills translated her sculpture and hollowware into being able to make jewelry, representing a smaller scale, site specific sculpture. Today, her studio and showroom is in downtown Portland and she resides in Brunswick.


Visit Daunis-Dunning’s website,

Candice Gosta Contributed photo

• Candice Gosta | Visual Arts, Portland

A recent graduate of Maine College of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting, Gosta’s work has been integrated into multiple group exhibitions at MECA, SPACE Gallery, and the Portland Public Library.

The “Let Equality Shine,” mural in Portland is the most recent exhibition showcasing Candice’s work. The mural is located at 50 Monument Square.

Their Afro-Boricua upbringing in New Haven, Connecticut, has a significant influence on their work. Their identity as a Black Latino has given them inspiration to use their work as a mode of documentation.

They describe their work as a diary of complex emotional trauma, memories of childhood and domesticity, and exploration of the gender binary. Creating large-scale paintings, prints, and installations, using bright and bold colors, with found objects and repurposed materials, their work relies on tactile materials to evoke viewers’ senses and create an emotional impact.


Visit Candice Gosta’s website,

Amanda Huotari Contributed photo

Amanda Huotari | Performing Arts, Buckfield

Huotari is a performer and award-winning international touring artist. Her most recent work of original productions include Pretty Face: An American Dream, A Woman Alone and The Last Chocolate, and Camp Maine: A Night of the Town.

“I approach the stage with a joyful spirit for ferocious play. I seek to make bold choices that are as empowering as they are exciting. In playing with the ‘right here, right now’ reality of the moment, I look for connection and liberation — for both myself as the performer and for the audience,” said Huotari.

For 15 years, she’s been the executive artistic director of Celebration Barn Theater, committing to supporting a worldwide community of 200 or more artists who come to Maine every year to create new work and complete training.

Stepping down from her position at Celebration Barn, she says she’s now creating the time and space to develop a new one-woman show with the working title “Full of Life.” Her ambitious new solo show will explore the anxiety of raising a daughter and questing for personal freedom from societal expectations, all while engaging the audience in delightful new ways.


She’s looking forward to doing more extended touring, which will build on her experiences with her previous solo shows, while deepening relationships with artists in creative communities throughout Canada, Europe and South America.

Visit Huotari’s website,

Lindz Amer Contributed photo

Lindz Amer | Media Arts, Portland

Amer is an independent LGBTQ+ digital creator and activist specializing in queer storytelling and performance in children’s media. Falling in love with this niche brand of media while studying theater and gender studies as an undergraduate, Amer graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science degree in theater, and a minor in gender studies in 2014.

The project that helped Amer begin their career was making a web series named Queer Kid Stuff, where they create educational LGBTQ+ and social justice videos for kids and families of all ages on Youtube. Since the beginning of Queer Kid Stuff, the series has been recognized by national publications, received prestigious grants, and recognized by important LGBTQ+ organizations such as GLAAD.

Since beginning the web series, Amer has written, produced, and co-hosted four seasons and more than 50 episodes, which has earned over 3 million lifetime views. For the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, Amer created a pride music video and campaign to honor the diversity of the queer community and #SpreadQueerJoy.


“It’s a different world today than it was when I started Queer Kid Stuff and there were no other resources for kids of its kind,” said Amer. “I want to tell stories about non-binary kids and queer families. I want to show kids that you can be queer and live a joyful life.”

Creating a TED Talk on the importance of this work, the video was featured on the front page of, and has now accumulated over 2.5 million views. Today, Amer is turning the Ted Talk into a progressive parenting book for St. Martin’s Press.

Visit Amer’s website,

Zahir Janmohamed Dennis Griggs photo

Zahir Janmohamed | Literary Arts, Portland

Janmohamed is a visiting assistant professor of English at Bowdoin College. He graduated with his Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from the University of Michigan, where he received multiple awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and playwriting. His work has been featured extensively in national publications and television broadcasts.

In 2016 he co-founded Racist Sandwich. The podcast explores the intersection between food, race, gender and class, and was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2019.


Janmohamed is working on his new book, “The Permitted Hours” where he explores the question “What does it mean to be from a country that no longer wants you?” A journalistic memoir about his conflicted relationship to the ancestral homeland of India, the book weaves in his family’s history, and his experience of race in America.

Visit Janmohamed’s website,

Hanz Araki Contributed photo

Hanzaburo Araki | Traditional Arts, Springvale

Hanzaburō, or Hanz, was named after his great-great-grandfather. In 1988, he began his apprenticeship studying the shakuhachi, a longitudinal bamboo flute, with his father, Kodō Araki V. The shakuhachi has been a part of Japanese culture for over 1,000 years. Originally played by monks as a form of meditation known as suizen (“breathing Zen”), it was considered less a musical instrument and more of a tool for this exercise.

Three decades of musical exploration into Irish, Scottish, Japanese, and American traditions has yielded Araki’s distinct style.

Combining an unprecedented feel for the Japanese shakuhachi flute with an unerring ability as an interpreter of Celtic music, Araki has carved out a rock-solid status. Fashioned through a heritage of Irish and Japanese parental influence, education and personal dedication, his musical influences combine the disciplines and traditions of both cultures.


In 2016, Araki moved from Seattle, Washington to Portland, and now lives on a farm in Springvale.

“I have had the good fortune of traveling extensively as an artist, representing this fairly esoteric art form,” Akari said. “I have been able to establish a group of students with whom I meet regularly. It has been deeply rewarding to connect with a new community of musicians with an interest in Japanese music and culture.”

Visit Araki’s website,

To learn more about the Maine Artist Fellowship Award and other grant opportunities for artists and cultural organizations, visit:

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