Choreographer and dancer Emily Johnson (Yup’ik) was awarded a 2011 NACF Artist Fellowship in Dance.
Grantee:  Emily Johnson
Native Citizenship:  Yup’ik
Location:  Minneapolis
Award:  2011 NACF Artist Fellowship
Discipline:  Dance
Web Site:

I try to create experiences which call us to pay attention to our relationship and responsibility to place, time, and each other. – Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is a dancer, choreographer and performance artist who combines dance, storytelling vignettes, props and theater sets. She was selected for a 2001 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Fellowship and a Bush Fellowship in 2004. In 2008, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian awarded her and Rhiana Yazzie an Expressive Arts grant to complete new works. Her work has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center, PS122, Out North, Franconia Sculpture Park and Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts.

In 2011, the strength of her work The Thank You Bar earned her the honor of an NACF Artist Fellowship in Dance. Later in 2011, Johnson was also selected for a “Bessie” (New York Dance and Performance) Award for Outstanding Production (at New York Live Arts).

During her fellowship year, Johnson created new works inspired by a trip to fish on her father’s land in Alaska. “As I walked along Bishop Beach in Homer, Alaska, the image of these lanterns flooded my mind. I had seen the exhibit Skin Sisters at Bunnell Street Gallery a year before, a show dedicated to the artists’ teacher, Fran Reed. It was amazing visual work. I wanted to learn,” said Johnson. “Being back in Homer absolutely influenced the appearance of this strong image of fish-skin lanterns. I imagined a stage full of them. And it made me start to learn how to make this thing I imagined.”

Johnson hosted several free fish skin lantern making workshops in Minnesota and beyond during her fellowship year. Support from the foundation allowed Johnson to create new work centered on movement, story and sound, housed within an installation of hand-made fish skin lanterns.

The resulting performance piece, Niicugni (Listen), engaged 40 community performers and reached audiences of over 350 people. The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation partnered with the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art to bring Johnson’s new work, the second of a trilogy, to Oregon audiences in 2013. She performed Niicugni, participated in panels and led fish-skin workshops.

Johnson’s work, completed with the support of a NACF Fellowship and the third piece in the trilogy, SHORE, garnered her a 2014 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. SHORE is being performed in Minneapolis over several days in June, 2014.

Choreographer Emily Johnson (Yup’ik) sewing fish skin laterns for works she completed with the support of NACF Artist Fellowship in Dance.

“Niicugni (Listen)” by Emily Johnson (Yup’ik), 2011 NACF Dance Fellow, the second work in a trilogy, completed with support from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.