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Two Early-Career Cultural Critics of Color Awarded the Democracy Center’s Second Annual Irene Yamamoto Arts Writers Fellowship

LOS ANGELES, CA – The Daniel K. Inouye National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Democracy Center) at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) has awarded the second annual Irene Yamamoto Arts Writers Fellowship to Nicole Leung and Adam Wassilchalk, two early-career cultural critics of color who are making notable contributions to the theater, dance, and performance art world. 

A rare funding opportunity for arts writers, the Yamamoto Fellowship launched in August 2023 to encourage diverse cultural and political perspectives that enrich and broaden arts writing as a practice and profession. This year’s focus is on theater, dance, and performance art, given persisting setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic. Each fellow will receive a $5,000 award to support their work over a six-month period. 

Nicole Leung is a freelance dancer, performer, and writer based in New York City. Her choreography spans live performance and film and utilizes improvisation in both practice and performance. As a writer, she contributes to The Dance Enthusiast and hopes to inspire others to playfully explore and experience their own movement as a healing practice. A native of Seattle, Washington, she attended the International Ballet Academy where she received formative dance training from teachers affiliated with The Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Beijing Dance Academy, and New York City Ballet. She received a BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School. 

Adam Wassilchalk is a Harlem, New York-based arts and culture critic, stage manager, and production manager. He is passionate about Black, queer, and experimental performing arts, with a particular interest in dramatic storytelling that expresses the inner lives of Black folks onstage in unique and innovative ways. His reviews have been published in The New Haven Independent as part of the Independent Review Crew initiative, which aims to seed a network of writers in cities across the country to review in-person local cultural events. Originally from Austin, Texas, he received a BA in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies from Yale University.

The Irene Yamamoto Arts Writers Fellowship is made possible through a gift from Sharon Mizota to honor her late aunt. This project is also supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color cofounded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

More information on the Yamamoto Fellowship is available at

About Irene Yamamoto

Irene Yamamoto (1937 – 2020) was a lifelong lover of the arts. Born in Los Angeles, she was incarcerated with her family during World War II in Gila River, Arizona. Upon returning to Los Angeles, she attended UCLA and had a long career as a production artist for several design and advertising agencies. In her free time, she loved to draw, learn new languages, visit museums, and travel.


About the Japanese American National Museum (JANM)

Established in 1985, JANM promotes understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. Located in the historic Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles, JANM is a center for civil rights, ensuring that the hard-fought lessons of the World War II incarceration are not forgotten. A Smithsonian Affiliate and one of America’s Cultural Treasures, JANM is a hybrid institution that straddles traditional museum categories. JANM is a center for the arts as well as history. It provides a voice for Japanese Americans and a forum that enables all people to explore their own heritage and culture. Since opening to the public in 1992, JANM has presented over 100 exhibitions onsite while traveling 40 exhibits to venues such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Ellis Island Museum in the United States, and to several leading cultural museums in Japan and South America. JANM is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday–Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and on Thursday from 12 p.m.–8 p.m. JANM is free every third Thursday of the month. On all other Thursdays, JANM is free from 5 p.m.–8 p.m. For more information, visit or follow us on social media @jamuseum.

About the Daniel K. Inouye National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Democracy Center)

The Democracy Center is a place where visitors can examine the Asian American experience, past and present, and talk about race, identity, social justice, and the shaping of democracy. It convenes and educates people of all ages about democracy to transform attitudes, celebrate culture, and promote civic engagement; educates and informs the public and public officials about important issues; creates strength within and among communities to advocate for positive change; and explores the values that shape American democracy. The Democracy Center looks for solutions that engage communities in self-advocacy, explore the evolving idea of what it means to be an American, and result in actions that bring everyone together.