McKnight Fellowships

McKnight Fellowships for Musicians

McKnight Fellowships logo

Working artists activate our communities and deepen the dimension and quality of our lives.

Support for individual artists has been a focus of the McKnight Foundation’s Arts program since its inception. McKnight Artist Fellowships increase the exploratory opportunity, economic stability, and productive capacity of artists by providing $25,000 in unrestricted support for midcareer artists and discipline-specific artistic and professional development opportunities.

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation’s arts program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1981. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 10 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $1.7 million per year to its statewide fellowships. More Information.

The McKnight Fellowships for Musicians are intended to recognize and support mid-career musicians living and working in Minnesota who demonstrate a sustained level of accomplishment, commitment, artistic excellence, a distinctive musical voice, and a significant performing career over a period of time. The McKnight Fellowships for Musicians are committed to honoring the breadth of Minnesota musicians of all genres; aesthetically, geographically, and culturally.

If you are a performing musician in any genre, MacPhail Center for Music invites you to apply for a McKnight Fellowship for Musicians.

McKnight Fellowship for Musicians 2021-2022 Press Release

About the McKnight Fellowships for Musicians

With the generous support of the McKnight Foundation, MacPhail awards four $25,000 fellowships to outstanding and distinctive mid-career solo artists or small ensembles/bands. A McKnight Musician Fellowship can help an artist set aside periods of time for study, reflection, experimentation, and exploration; take advantage of an opportunity; or work on a new project. Ensembles/bands that are recognized as finalists and/or fellowship recipients will split awards between members; individual ensemble/band members will not each receive the full award amount. Awards are subject to state and federal income tax guidelines.

A four-member panel consisting of experienced and well-respected music professionals selects the McKnight Musician Fellows. The panel members are performing musicians, producers, composers, directors, and educators with an appreciation for and knowledge of a diverse range of musical styles and genres. All panelists are from outside the state of Minnesota. Panelists, insofar as possible, represent a diversity of age, ethnicity, gender and geography.

The McKnight Musician Fellowship panelists remain anonymous during the selection process.

Applicants are evaluated and selected based on the quality of their work as evidenced in submitted materials, most importantly work samples. Distinctive musical voice, exceptional artistic merit and the content of the artist statement will be considered during the selection process.

Consideration is given to accomplishments to date as well as promise for continued development and the impact the fellowship will have on the artist. The panel will also be asked to consider the breadth of artistic practices among Minnesota musicians, which include a wide range of styles and genres, which may be influenced by ethnicity, gender, and geography.

Solo artists and ensembles/bands in all styles compete together.

Panelists will review the tracks submitted as a part of Work Sample A. The panel will choose approximately one-third of the applications to advance to the second round. Panelists are not given the names of applicants in the first round. Applicants who do not advance to the second round are told by email.

The panelists will review the tracks submitted as a part of Work Sample A & Work Sample B, the optional live performance video, résumés and artist statements. After making individual selections from the full list of second round applicants, panelist will meet via conference call to discuss the applicants who are of greatest interest to them. Nine solo artists/ensembles/bands will be selected to perform in the live auditions. Applicants will be notified about their application status by email one month prior to the live audition date.

Finalists are invited to perform for the panel at MacPhail Center for Music. All finalists must be present to be considered for a fellowship – no exceptions. Finalists receive a $1,000 honorarium for their performance; for fellowship recipients, the honorarium is considered part of the $25,000 award. Finalists present a live performance of no longer than 20 minutes; panelists have up to an additional 15 minutes to ask questions of and talk with each artist/ensemble/band. Panelists consider the performance and conversation with finalists alongside previously submitted materials in selecting four solo artist/ensemble/band fellowship recipients. Finalists are not required to perform works from their online submissions at the final audition. Performance times are scheduled by lottery. Finalists are notified of the judges’ decision by phone shortly thereafter.


Please read carefully. Applicants who do not meet all of the following criteria and expectations will not be considered and should not apply.

The intent of this program is to recognize and support midcareer artists living and working in Minnesota who demonstrate a sustained level of accomplishment, commitment, and artistic excellence. Artists who are eligible for these fellowships:

  • Have or maintain MN residency for at least one year prior to application and for the duration of the fellowship year.
  • Are midcareer with a body of work that demonstrates a sustained level of accomplishment, commitment, and artistic excellence.
  • Can only apply to one McKnight Artist Fellowship in any artistic discipline within a year.
  • Can only apply as a solo artist or an ensemble/band member within a year.
  • Have not been a recipient of a McKnight Artist Fellowship within any artistic discipline in the last five years.  Recipients of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 McKnight Fellowships in any discipline are not eligible.
  • Demonstrate growth and ongoing artistry since their most recent McKnight Artist Fellowship.
  • Are not staff, board, or immediate family of the McKnight Foundation or fellowship administrative partners.  (Independent contractors and faculty are not considered staff and are therefore eligible to apply).
  • Are not enrolled full-time in an academic program.


  • Have performed together for three or more years with the same members and name as stated on the application.
  • Be made up of no more than five members.
  • Be an active ensemble/band, having at least four significant performances in each of the last three years.

Application Guidelines & Requirements

Downloadable slides from the How to Apply Workshop from 2021

You must provide live or studio recordings, totaling 24 minutes of material, made in the last three years. Recordings should represent your highest quality, best work. Solo artists must submit recordings of solo performances, and ensembles/bands must submit recordings that feature all ensemble/band members listed on the application. Recordings of solo artists and ensembles/bands can include accompaniment. However, the panelists should be able to easily identify and listen to the performance of the applicant. Panelists will have the knowledge of the instrument being performed. Do not include any introductory spoken commentary on your recordings.

Time requirement: 4 minutes or less

Work Sample A should include one or more of the solo artists’ or ensembles’/bands’ works, which when added together, do not exceed a combined total of four minutes. Fading in or fading out a recording is acceptable to avoid exceeding the time allotted. Work Sample A is the only material reviewed by the panelists in the first round.

Time requirement: 20 minutes or less

Work Sample B must contain two or more additional works, which when added together, do not exceed a combined total of 20 minutes in length. Fading in or fading out of a piece of music is acceptable to avoid exceeding time allotted. The panelists will listen to Work Sample A and Work Sample B of all applicants who advance to the second round.

Applicants will be disqualified from the competition if the total time of all works included in Work Sample A exceeds 4 minutes or in Work Sample B exceeds 20 minutes.

It is recommended that all works be uploaded as individual tracks so that panelists may easily advance through the applicant’s recordings.

Applicants must submit a supplementary page listing the names of the works and composers submitted on Work Sample A & B to be submitted as a PDF.

Upload a video of a live performance no longer than five minutes, made in the last three years. The video does not have to be in front of a live audience but must be unprocessed. The audio must be from the same take as the image. Clips from different recordings may be put together into one video to total up to five minutes. The video may or may not include songs performed in your Work Sample A & B recordings. Ensembles/bands must submit recordings that feature all ensemble/band members listed on the application. Recordings of solo artists and ensembles/bands can include accompaniment. However, the panelists should be able to easily identify and listen to the performance of the applicant.

An artist statement no longer than 500 words.

Your artist statement might address the following:

  • What is your background as a performing musician?
  • How would you describe your distinctive musical voice?
  • What do you see as the future of your art form and how does your work contribute to that?
  • What are you doing as a performing musician that isn’t already being done?
  • What is next for you as an artist?

If you are a previous McKnight Fellowship for Musicians recipient please answer the following question:

  • How has your work developed since your last award?

2-pages or less and be submitted as a PDF.

Submit a current résumé pertaining to the solo artist’s or ensemble’s/band’s music career that highlights your professional accomplishments and achievements including performances, recordings, awards and grants. Ensemble/band résumés must include at least 12 significant performances (4 per year) from the 3 years prior to the application deadline.

At the top of your résumé please include each applicants name (up to 5 for bands/ensembles), the solo artist’s/ensemble’s/band’s name, and corresponding instrument/s.

Résumés may not include: email addresses, web site addresses, quotes or reviews, pictures, photographs, cover letters or letters of recommendation.

Clearly legible copy of a driver’s license for each applicant or other proof of legal

Minnesota residency to be submitted as a PDF.

Past Recipients of McKnight Fellowships for Musicians


José A. Zayas Cabán, saxophone—new/classical, Minneapolis has presented performances and taught master classes throughout Europe, the Caribbean and North America. A native Puerto Rican and musician activist, José is building an artistic career focused on developing projects, albums and collaborations that address, respond and raise awareness about current events and social issues. José is currently collaborating with multiple Grammy Nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón on a work titled El País Invisible (The Invisible Nation, 2019), that reflects on the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States Empire. In addition, he is developing a project with Angélica Negrón that will result in a new composition, by Angélica, titled Pedacito de Tierra (Little Piece of Land). Influenced by the work of Rafael Tufiño, and photographer Erika Rodriguez, Pedacito de Tierra will celebrate Puerto Rico’s stories and struggles. The collaboration with Angélica Negrón and Miguel Zenón is part of a larger, long term, project called Puerto Rico se Re-Inventa. José is developing this project to schedule annual residencies in Puerto Rico and bring free music concerts to the communities of Puerto Rico and, by documenting these visits to the island, raise consciousness and awareness about Puerto Rico in the mainland United States. His upcoming debut album, Centennial, commemorates the women’s suffrage movement and the ratification of the 19th amendment in August 1920.

José is the co-founder of the Chamber Music Trio {Trés}, which was started as a collaborative project by José and Colin Young with the purpose of creating transcriptions and commissioning new works for a two saxophone and piano ensemble to perform. The trio has since performed chamber music by a wide range of composers in Central America, the Caribbean and throughout the United States. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and María, {Trés} finished a national tour (2018) titled A Tribute to Puerto Rico to help raise funds and awareness about Puerto Rico and the island’s efforts to recover from the hurricanes. In November 2019, the trio completed its first residency in Puerto Rico.

PaviElle French, voice—soul, Columbia Heights is an interdisciplinary artist, Emmy Award and Sage Award winner. Ms. French is Minneapolis City Pages “Best R&B Vocalist of 2015.” As a Voice-Over artist, she has done national commercials for Pepsi and Boston Market. She has two documentaries, TPT’s “Lowertown Line,”(2015) and “MN Original” (2019). She has written and performed two one-woman shows: Runnin’ (2014); Ovarian Fortitude (2016). She is a recipient of the ACF Create Grant and received a commission by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, writing a symphony about her Mom’s service to the Rondo Community entitled, “A Requiem For Zula,”(2019). PaviElle began her career as a child with City Songs, Penumbra Theatre Company and, SteppingStone. As a teacher, she has worked at Maxfield Magnet and Saint Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts. She has facilitated creative writing workshops and residencies in both Saint Paul and Minneapolis Public Schools. Currently, she is a faculty member at MacPhail Center for Music.

Diane Miller, a.k.a. D Millsvoice—Hip-Hop, folk, alternative, rock, Minneapolis, is a singer, rapper, looper, beatboxer, songwriter and guitarist who infuses a variety of influences into her music. For nearly a decade Miller has fronted the band D Mills & The Thrills, a 6 piece hip-hop/rap group originated in Fargo, ND. A devout fan and follower of classic hip-hop, Diane pays stylistic homage to the genre accompanied by lyrics authentic to her worldview. Miller raps and sings about love, personal growth and struggle related to growing up as a shy outcast in the rural Midwest. Miller and the band also powerfully showcase songs of legendary hip-hop/rap groups such as Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, Rage Against The Machine, Beastie Boys, Wu Tang Clan, TLC and more.

Diane has gone on to become a fixture in the state of North Dakota, performing music and/or emceeing big events such as TEDxFargo, Celebration of Women and Their Music, Woodstock 50th Anniversary Celebration, DylanFest, Back is Black (Tribute to Johnny Cash), Martin Luther King Day Celebration at Fargo Theatre, Alley Fair and much more. Diane’s work has also been covered by nearly every major news source in the Red River Valley, including Forum News Service, High Plains Reader, MPR, Prairie Public, Fargo Monthly, WDAY, KFGO and others.

Since moving to Minneapolis in September 2018, Diane has been focusing on solo performances and collaborating with a variety of different musicians, including Kiss The Tiger, Haley (f.k.a. Haley Bonar), Greg Schutte (Mickey Hart Band, Ryan Bingham), Jeremy Ylivsaker (Alpha Consumer, The Suburbs, Andrew Bird) and JG Everest (Roma Di Luna). On January 1, 2020, she released her first solo hip-hop single “What Gets Ignored”, which has been receiving airplay and praise from MPR’s The Current.

Kirsten Whitson, cello—classical, St. Paul, performs extensively as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician.

She has played throughout the US, Cuba, Europe and Japan with Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, Milwaukee Symphony, Florida Orchestra and Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic. She has also performed at the Festival of the Lakes in Alexandria, the Grand Teton Music Festival and with Zeitgeist New Music.

Kirsten has presented solo cello concerts throughout the Twin Cities and has been featured on programs broadcast by KFAI and Minnesota Public Radio. She is passionate about the extensive repertoire available for solo cello and has premiered several commissioned pieces.

Composers Timothy C. Takach, David Evan Thomas, Carl Witt and Jocelyn Hagen have written music for her. One of Jocelyn Hagen’s pieces for her involved live digital looping.

Kirsten received a B.M. and an Artist Diploma from Indiana University, where she studied with Fritz Magg and Janos Starker. Kirsten received Artist Initiative Grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2002 and 2018.

Sedra Bistodeau, 
violin and fiddle, PrincetonGao Hong, traditional Chinese music, NorthfieldMaria Isa, Afro-Latin hip-hop, St. Paul
Will Johnson (W/ILLS), post genre, St. Paul

Jonatha Brooke, singer-songwriter, Minneapolis
Kill the Vultureship-hop artists, Minneapolis
MaLLyhip-hop artist, Minneapolis
Clara Osowskivocalist (mezzo-soprano), Brooklyn Center

Tonia Hughes, 
voice, Minneapolis
Aida Shahghasemi, voice and composition, Minneapolis
Carrie Henneman Shaw, voice, Saint Paul
Tim Sparks, guitar, Burnsville

Francesca Anderegg – 
Javier Santiago – jazz
Pooja Pavan
 – composer Tracey Engleman – voice

Atlantis Quartet – Zacc Harris, guitar; Brandon Wozniak, tenor saxophone; Chris Bates, double bass; Pete Hennig, drumsTroy King (King Fuvi), emcee and songwriterPat O’Keefe, clarinet and bass clarinetWilhelmina Smith, cellist

Danami Maurice Champion, songwriter, musician; from St. Paul
Ignacio Nachito Herrera, pianist, arranger and musical director; from White Bear Lake
Siama Matuzungidi, guitar; from Minneapolis
Jacqueline Ultan, cellist, composer; from Minneapolis

Haley Bonar, voice, guitar, piano, keyboard, from St. Paul
Cléa Galhano, recorder, from St. Paul
Paul Metzger, banjo, from St. Paul
Maiya Papach, viola, from St. Paul

Christopher Atzinger, piano, from Dundas
Gao Hong, pipa, from Northfield
Laura MacKenzie, flutes/pipes/whistles/concertina/voice, from Northfield
Karen Mueller, autoharp, from Minneapolis

Orkestar Bez Ime, Colleen Bertsch, violin/vocals; Dee Langley, accordion/vocals; Katrina Mundinger, clarinet/percussion/vocals; Natalie Nowytski, vocals/percussion
The Roe Family Singers, Quillan and Kim Roe
John Snow, oboe
Noah Hoehn, harmonic/marimba/voice/percussion

Bryan Nichols, pianist
Nirmala Rajasekar, veena player
Parker Quartet, Daniel Chong, violin; Karen Kim, violin; Jessica Bodner, viola; Kee-Hyun Kim, cello
Carrie Henneman Shaw, voice

Asako Hirabayashi, harpsichord
Bernhard David Scully, horn
Christopher Marshall, bassoon
Fora Baltacigil, double bass

Linda Chatterton, flutist
Sarah Kwak, violinist
Gao Hong, Chinese pipa player
Arek Tesarczyk, cellist

Noah Hoehn, harmonica player
David Karr, saxophone player
Charles Lazarus, trumpeter
Matthew Young, violist

Katja Linfield, cellist
Patrick Harison McPeck, accordionist
The Minneapolis Quartet, string quartet

Connie Evingson, vocalist
Amy and Sara Hamann, piano duo
Ross/Rapier Cello Duo
Voice Trek, vocal ensemble

Stephanie Arado, violinist
Artaria String Quartet
John Snow, oboist
Thomas Turner, violist

Steven Copes, violinist
Noah Hoehn, harmonica player
Dean Magraw, guitarist
Stephanie Wendt, pianist

Leibundguth-Witt Duo, flute & piano duo
Neal and Leandra, voice/guitar duo
Nina Tso-Ning Fan, violinist
Soyulla Duo, violin & cello duo

Dare to Breathe, vocal ensemble
Gao Hong, Chinese pipa player
Prudence Johnson, vocalist
Anthony Ross, cellist

The Bakken Trio, piano trio
Rosalyra Quartet, string quartet
Timothy Paradise, clarinetist
Connie Evingson, vocalist

Duologue, flute & guitar duo
Jorja Fleezanis, violinist
Diane Jarvi, vocalist & instrumentalist
Peter Mayer, vocalist/guitarist

Linda Chatterton, flutist
Laura MacKenzie, Celtic multi-instrumentalist
Ruth MacKenzie, vocalist
Sunita Staneslaw, harpist

Ensemble Capriccio, string trio
Gao Hong, Chinese pipa player
Shank-MacLaughlin Duo, violin & piano duo
Tadeusz Majewski, pianist

Contact & Resources

If you have questions after reviewing these guidelines, please contact:

Regarding Eligibility and Guidelines:
Lindsay Lewis
Phone: 612-767-5586

Regarding the Online Application Software:
Acceptd Customer Support
Phone: 1-888-725-2122

McKnight Artist Fellow Logo
McKnight Musician Fellows should feel free to use these logos which have been designed for McKnight Artist Fellows.

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