LB’s Khmer Arts co-founder receives USA Knight Fellowship

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Sophiline Cheam Shapiro (right) teaching dancer Pum Molyta. Photo by James Wasserman

Choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro of Long Beach and ceramicist Kukuli Velarde of Philadelphia were named the first two USA Knight Fellows Tuesday night. Each artist received an unrestricted $50,000 grant from United States Artists (USA) courtesy of a $1 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“In Europe, artists have celebrity status. Yet in the United States, many of them struggle to earn a living from their work,” said Dennis Scholl, a program director for Knight Foundation. “Whether in Miami or Macon, San Jose or St. Paul, the USA Knight Fellowships will highlight the importance of the arts and the meaningful contributions individual artists make to the vitality of our communities.”

A master of classical Cambodian dance, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where she trained and taught at the University of Fine Arts and was a principal with the Classical Dance Company of Cambodia. After coming to the United States in 1991, Shapiro created training workshops in classical dance and music throughout Southern California for hundreds of young people living in the region’s large Cambodian refugee community. In 2002, she co-founded the Khmer Arts Academy, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering the vitality of Cambodian arts and culture. She is the only U.S.-based choreographer of Cambodian dance who develops major dances that tour internationally. Shapiro also received a National Heritage Fellowship earlier this year from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Kukuli Velarde borrows from pre-Columbian ceramic traditions that originate in her native Peru to create fantastical clay figures that confront contemporary topics such as gender, identity and socio-political concerns.

Velarde and Shapiro will be named as part of the announcement of all 50 USA Fellows for 2009 at a celebration in Los Angeles and broadcast live on Each year, United States Artists conducts a rigorous national selection process and awards 50 fellowships to artists from all disciplines in recognition of the caliber and impact of their work. Experts in each discipline nominate artists. The selection process is confidential.

The 18 USA Knight Fellowships — part of the 50 USA Fellowships granted each year — are reserved for artists who live in one of the 26 cities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. In addition to their $50,000 unrestricted grants, USA Knight Fellows will each receive an additional $5,000 to engage local residents by conducting workshops, talks or other events.

Since 1959, Knight Foundation has invested more than $720 million in the communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities. More at

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