March 21, 2023
Bryan Thao Worra

CHICAGO (Dec. 2, 2018) — The Joyce Foundation announced Dec. 3 that the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota in Minneapolis is one of six winners of the 2019 Joyce Awards, which  honor collaborations between artists of color and arts and cultural organizations throughout the Great Lakes region.

The Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota will engage poet, Bryan Thao Worra, to produce Laomagination: 45, an interactive, interdisciplinary exhibition presenting multi-generational stories of the Lao community as it marks its 45th anniversary of migrating to Minnesota, now home to one of the largest Lao populations outside of Southeast Asia.

“This is an important time for the Minnesota Lao community to assemble and share our personal and collective stories,” said Sunny Chanthanouvong, executive director of the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. “This grant will allow Thao Worra and his fellow Laotian artists to present 30 new visual artworks and 15 performance pieces during the exhibit’s run.”

The work, launching in the spring of 2020, intends to spark new conversations among Lao refugees living in the state, and Lao leaders nationwide, to help tell the story of their migration and cultural heritage over the last 45 years.

Nearly 400,000 Laotian refugees escaped Laos since the Secret War ended in 1975. Approximately tw0 in 10 refugee immigrant are rebuilding their lives in Minnesota. Less than one in 10 graduate college, yet Minnesota is home to many of the leading Lao American artists in the country. Laos was a monarchy the size of Great Britain whose arts express cultural values of compassion, the search for enlightenment, education, truth and the building of community. The arts open many opportunities for social transformation.

Bryan Thao Worra is an internationally-published, award-winning Minneapolis-based artist with over 20 years of professional experience. His widely regarded multidisciplinary works explore the relationship between art, transformation, and communal healing.

He holds the distinction of being the first Lao American to receive an NEA Fellowship in Literature in 2009 for poetry. In 2012, he was selected as the Lao delegate to serve as a Cultural Olympian during the London Summer Games. He was appointed to the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans in 2018, and is also the Lao Minnesotan Poet Laureate. The author of over six books, his work appears in more than 100 publications globally including Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany, France, Singapore, Mexico, Hong Kong, Korea, Chile, Pakistan, and the United States. His writing is translated in Spanish, French, German, Thai, Tagalog, Bengali, and Lao.

“Although Minnesota is home to nationally-recognized Lao artists, there is so much more we can do to support for contemporary Lao cultural production,” said Tracie Hall, director of The Joyce Foundation’s Culture Program. “This grant will provide the local Lao community an opportunity to tell its stories, during an important historical milestone, through the artistic vision of Bryan Thao Worra.”

Thao Worra will work throughout this project with Lao American artist Kaysone Syonesa. She holds a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota, and over the last decade has been a performing artist, director, set and costume designer and playwright. She has performed with various performing arts companies including Pangea World Theater, Teatro del Pueblo, Green T Productions, and Ananya Dance Theatre. She previously collaborated with Thao Worra on the pop-up exhibit series Laomagination: Transitions and is presently collaborating with them on the network’s upcoming 20-year retrospective, and their exhibit So You Want To Start A Secret War.

To date, the Joyce Awards have granted $3.5 million to commission 65 new works connecting artists with cultural organizations throughout the Great Lakes region. The $50,000 award is used to support artists in the creation and production of a new work and provides the commissioning organization the resources needed to engage potential audiences, new partners and their larger communities.

The other 2019 Joyce Awards winners include Milwaukee’s TRUE Skool, with pioneering female hip-hop artists, Ana “Rokafella” Garcia, Cita “CHELOVE” Sadeli and Aja Black; Cleveland Public Theatre with playwright, Lisa Langford; Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Foundation with theater artist, Kaneza Schall, and author and illustrator, Christopher Myers; The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and visual artist, Emmanuel Pratt; and the University of Illinois Chicago with Mexican visual artist, Adela Goldbard.

To view a video on the Joyce Awards,  please click here.

For more information on the Joyce Awards and the Joyce Foundation, please visit

The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. We support policy research, development, and advocacy in five areas: Education & Economic MobilityEnvironmentGun Violence Prevention & Justice ReformDemocracy, and Culture. The Joyce Foundation has budgeted 2018 charitable distributions of $50 million on assets of approximately $1 billion.

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