Beloved Detroit artist Shirley Woodson selected as 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist

Shirley Woodson’s work reflects stories of her ancestors, city she loves

Shirley Woodson has dedicated decades to her art and developing opportunities for other Black artists.
Shirley Woodson has dedicated decades to her art and developing opportunities for other Black artists.

DETROITA Detroit artist received one of the cities most coveted cultural prizes.

Shirley Woodson has dedicated decades to her art and developing opportunities for other Black artists.

Woodson’s paintings are part of nearly two dozen permanent collections in the U.S. They include the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum.

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Woodson said she was out having a cup of coffee when she got the unforgettable phone call that she had been selected as the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist.

“Kresge means something special,” she said.

The award is a coveted cultural lifetime achievement award.

“I was very totally surprised. And then I couldn’t say anything. And I think they said, ‘Are you there?’ I said, ‘Yes,” Woodson said.

Rip Rapson, President of the Kresge Foundation, noted that to see that sort of genuine delight and sort of unfiltered appreciation is wonderful.

“But you know, it is important to say that it’s our privilege, not hers,” Rapson said.

The Kresge Foundation said they chose Woodson because of her signature style as a painter and her dedication to educating and inspiring future generations of artists.

“You need art to open people to different possibilities. You need artists to sort of show the way that we might not see on our own and that’s exactly what Shirley does. She just could not be a more perfect choice for this time and place,” Rapson said.

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Woodson’s paintings and collages reflect the stories of her ancestors and the city she loves.

“Art is very political. Art has a range of resources, a range of perspectives,” Woodson said. “My art basically contains my experiences, my family, my family traditions. Ancestry is very important to me, always has been. And just the love of form.”

Throughout the year, and especially during Black History Month, Woodson’s message to young artists of color is to persevere.

“Don’t step back, step up, and believe in yourself, and believe in what you’re doing is a value. Value to you and value to the society,” Woodson said.

The Kresge Eminent Artist award comes with a $50,000 cash prize.


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About the Author:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism