The Nieman Arts & Culture Reporting Fellowship

Recognizing that arts and culture coverage had declined dramatically due to budget cuts and other factors challenging news organizations nationwide, the Nieman Foundation launched its Arts and Culture Fellowship with support from Harvard’s Office of the Provost in 2007.

Currently funded in full by the Nieman Foundation, the fellowship is designed to promote more creative and substantive arts and culture journalism, ultimately providing the public with new ways to understand and appreciate the value arts and culture in society and our lives.

The Nieman Fellowship in Arts & Culture Reporting is awarded to a U.S. journalist specializing in arts and culture reporting in years when a qualified candidate is found. Full-time staff and freelance journalists who work in all media, including print, broadcast, photography, film and the Web are eligible to apply.

Marcela Valdes
The Arts & Culture Fellowship was created at a time when Harvard University as a whole was reexamining its relationship with the arts and renewing its commitment to support arts-related programs through a wide array of initiatives across campus. The Office for the Arts at Harvard is now a vibrant central resource for arts information, opportunities and programs available at the university.

Marcela Valdes, the 2010 Arts and Culture Fellow, used her time on campus to study the historical roots of contemporary Latino and Latin American culture, with a focus on how film and literature grapple with the political and artistic legacies of the 1970s, including dictatorships, forced immigration and magical realism. During the year, she led a discussion with her classmates and bestselling author Rebecca Skloot and organized a talk with filmmaker Llewellyn Smith and Harvard history professor Vincent Brown after a screening of the film “Herskovits at the Heart of Darkness.” Among the classes she enjoyed at Harvard are Prof. Steven Levitsky’s “Comparative Governments of Latin America” and Prof. Peter Gordon’s “Modern European Intellectual History.” While she was at Harvard, Valdes received the Roger Shattuck Award for Criticism from the Center for Fiction in New York City.

Alicia Anstead, NF'08
Arts and Culture Fellow (photo credit: Michele Stapleton)
How do you measure a year in the life?

Alicia Anstead, the inaugural Nieman Arts and Culture Fellow in the class of 2008, found many ways to engage in the arts on campus both during her Nieman year and in the time since. Currently the editor of the Harvard Arts Beat, a blog for the Office for the Arts at Harvard, she reflects on the meaning of her fellowship and what we all can learn from creative artists.
Among the lessons I learned during my Nieman Fellowship year: Follow your heart. Or in my case: Follow the arts. At the end of my Nieman experience, I launched a freelance career after 20 years as an arts reporter at the Bangor Daily News in Maine. My decision was informed by a diminution of arts coverage at the paper and my own belief in striving for the next great moment in one’s life. And while the lessons at Nieman were formative to my professional sensibility, the lessons of passionate artists have shaped my professional quest.

“We conduct so much experimentation in our everyday lives to be artists,” the vocalist Meklit Hadero told me recently. “Right now, we’re in a place where we don’t know what’s going to happen in the arts. The thing that’s going to get us through and help us adapt the most will be our creativity and our ability to take risks – which artists are doing all the time. In order to survive, you have to constantly be experimenting and embrace the not-knowing. Artists are great at that.”

I’m no artist, but Hadero’s words have special meaning for those of us who face the double challenge of being reporters in the arts. And her message surely has resonance for non-arts journalists as well: Adaptation is key.

Alicia Anstead (bottom row, left) with students from the Harvard Arts Beat (photo credit: Office for the Arts at Harvard)

For the last two years, I’ve worked closely with the Office for the Arts at Harvard to ensure high journalistic standards for the Harvard Arts Beat, a student-driven blog that covers the arts at and around Harvard. Five students from the college contribute cross-platform stories about the experience of the arts in their community. Additionally, I teach courses in writing about the arts for the journalism department at Harvard Extension School. And I am the voice of Harvard Arts on Twitter (@HarvardArts) and on Facebook.

As a Nieman Fellow and longtime arts journalist who has also covered wars, social issues and government, I value my role as editor and mentor to these young thinkers. Some of them will go on to be the new voices of arts writing. Some will go on to be lawyers. Perhaps one will aspire to be the president of the United States. But they are all learning the value of timely reporting, narrative writing and professional standards— in the context of the arts.

In addition to my work with Harvard, I am a regular contributor and guest host for my fellow Nieman Callie Crossley (class of 1983) on The Callie Crossley Show on WGBH radio, and I continue work as editor-in-chief for the performing arts magazine Inside Arts, as well as writer for several arts blogs, Art New England and NPR’s Morning Edition. I also spend a considerable amount of time talking to students about the arts and leading town hall-style discussions with large groups of arts thinkers, most recently at the Boston Book Festival. In summer, my work switches again: I work as critic-in-residence at a professional Shakespeare festival at the Stonington Opera House on an island in Maine, where I oversee a blog, run library reads with citizen actors and facilitate discussions about Shakespeare and community life in post-show conversations with scholars, audience members and the show’s creative team.

Adaptation? Yes. A creative life? Yes. Journalism? Also yes. The next great moment? Talk to you next year.

Alicia Anstead lives in Cambridge, Mass., and Castine, Maine. She can be reached at