Illinois Humanities’ Public Humanities Awards 2021 Honors Photographers and Social activists Dawoud Bey and Tonika Lewis Johnson.

The 2021 Public Humanities Awards will celebrate the humanities and honor photographers and activists Dawoud Bey and Tonika Lewis Johnson. The Public Humanities Awards event will feature performances, stories, and conversations with this year’s honorees. Registration is free and open to the public at Donations made during the event will support Illinois Humanities’ COVID-19 emergency relief efforts supporting the public humanities in Illinois.

Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community, and strengthen civic engagement. Illinois Humanities provides free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration.

Public Humanities Awards Chicago Defender
Tonika Johnson

Dawoud Bey, photographer, and educator, will receive the Beacon Award. For the past five decades, Bey has been committed to collaborating with his subjects, involving them, and revealing themes largely suppressed by popular culture or marginalized communities. He is known internationally for his street photography, large-scale art photography, and portraits that intimately showcase Black lives; he presently has an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Tonika Lewis Johnson, activist, and artist, will receive the 2021 Public Humanities Award. Her work rewrites narratives on segregation and historical marginalization. She uses maps, photographs, and other media to show connections and disconnections between people and communities. Her Folded Map project centers portraits of “map twins” who live on the north and south sides of Chicago at the same addresses and provides tools for these map twins to meet, converse, and connect.

The 2021 Public Humanities Awards will air May 20, 2021, at 12 pm CST on YouTube. The YouTube live link will be published 24 hours before the event on the Illinois Humanities website. To register for this free event, visit





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