annual FIRESTARTER award

2019 Firestarter Award Nominations Now Open! Deadline to Nominate: July 26, 2019

To nominate a Firestarter, click here.

The Firestarter Award honors a young feminist social change artist for their outstanding ability to inspire others to make a difference!  

Do you know an artist who is young and innovative? Someone who is making an impact on the art and social justice scene? Someone who is kindling the feminist fires of the future? If so, please consider nominating someone for 2019!  Submit your nomination by July 26, 2019

A Firestarter is: A young person who shows meaningful promise in developing as a feminist, social change artist, whose work has the potential to create change for women and girls in Kentucky. Maybe they are not there yet, but they are on their way! 

A Firestarter shows potential in:

a developing feminist voice, including new insights and visions and/or fresh approaches to feminist topics or art for social change
social justice / community engagement. (This could be in a specific neighborhood, county or region in KY and/or a focus on artmaking that provokes change)
taking risks in the creation of new art

CLICK HERE to nominate!

Previous FIRESTARTER award winners

2018 FIRESTARTER award

2018 Firestarters Announced!
KFW has four remarkable young feminist artists as our 2018 Firestarters. These four leaders are making waves in their communities through theatre, music, visual installations and literary publishing. All are forging new spaces for dialogue and engagement, thought-provoking performances and community participation. We are pleased to honor these four feminists as part of KFW Day, our annual gathering of community. We extend our sincere thanks to the nominators for bringing forward the work of our next generation of Kentucky feminists. We look forward to seeing the fires they ignite to create change for women and girls across Kentucky. Firestarters set our hearts ablaze!
Mackenzie Fraley, 20, Inez (Martin County)  

Artform: theatre.  Topics/issues addressed in her artwork: strong will power of women, mental health, early feminists

Mackenzie is a Theatre minor at the University of Pikeville. In her work with the theatre (Both at UPIKE and at Jenny Wiley Theatre), Mackenzie has sought roles that focus on female empowerment. For example, she played Aunt March in “Little Women”, a strong, independent woman. Mackenzie has taken risks with the types of roles she has sought in theatre. The topics she has tackled with her work include domestic violence in a Murder Ballads project, sexual assault and abuse in The Amish project, and mental illness in Next to Normal. These issues have forced Mackenzie and audiences out of their comfort zones and brought awareness to important factors in the lives of women.

Mackenzie sees her role in theatre as engaging the audience in a story she helps to tell. She says, “the way theatre can give people a break from real life and a moment to see a story be told is very empowering because I helped create that story.” Her nominator, professor Amanda Jo Slone wrote, “Mackenzie’s choice of focus in her theatre work demonstrates her dedication to advancing women and girls and carving a path for empowerment in future generations.”

Inspired by a class project about Appalachian Murder Ballads, Mackenzie researched the historical facts of a popular murder ballad and wrote and performed an original stage script about Lula Viers, a woman only remembered for her murder.  After the course was completed, Mackenzie continued researching the women named in these ballads and has spoken at the Elkhorn City Historical Society and other venues to bring stories of tragic and forgotten women’s history to light.

In addition to her scene work, Mackenzie has also made a name for herself in the backstage crew at the theatre, still a fairly male-dominated field. Mackenzie works with outreach and educational programs sponsored by the theatre to teach younger students how to tackle a wide variety of difficult jobs.

In the nomination, Amanda Jo Slone states, “Mackenzie is fearless. She is creative, bold, and genuine.” In response to her nomination, Mackenzie says, “I feel incredibly privileged and honored to be nominated and to be a part of this program.”


Brianna Harlan, 25, Louisville

Artform: multidisciplinary, socially engaged art. Topics/issues addressed in artwork: radical vulnerability, identity, social constructs and cultures, oppression/self suppression

Brianna works to make her art the “happening” that causes something to occur to the viewer. Through visceral storytelling and radical vulnerability, her process prompts and then manifests experiences with participants into works that invite others to discover, reflect, and shift their consciousness. Brianna’s nominator, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes Brianna’s work invites intimacy through vulnerability and can foster a more open, questioning heart in her viewers. “Her basic concept is that if people can really ‘see’ each other and understand each other as people, whether they are black or white or male or female, Muslim or Christian, that we can create meaningful social change by being empathetic with one another and vulnerable enough to learn from those who are often overlooked or talked over.” Her nominator continues, “I was particularly moved by her work in ‘Oasis’, an installation for the Festival of Faiths. She created a space where you could experience the wisdom of other women and bask in the power and comfort of that combined knowledge. I was also very interested in her photo series ‘What the Dark Knows’. She took photos of several black women in a dark room with very direct light on their face. The photos command attention and really make the viewer identify with the subject. The images are striking and testimony to Harlan’s skill as a photographer and as a feminist artist.”

Brianna focuses on creating artwork that can spark a moment of reflection in her viewer. She takes her lived experiences and the experience of others and transforms them into art that can speak across identities, age groups, and race to spark dialogue and change on an individual level. She is dedicated to her art career and to an art practice that can inspire change. She is a member of the founding class of Hadley Creatives and inspired classes at Meyzeek Middle school where she was a resident artist for the “Heroes + Sheroes” project with IDEASxLAB.

Her nominator says, “Brianna Harlan is a dedicated and industrious person. I believe that she will succeed anywhere and that Kentucky should be proud to be the home and birthplace of such a bright and promising young artist and activist.” Brianna says, “It has been a whirlwind year for me and I’m just thankful for all of the support and generosity I’ve been shown as I combine my love for art and activism!”

To learn more about her work see her website, or her Instagram @BHarlanArt


Jeri Katherine Howell, 24, Frankfort

Artform: music. Topics/issues addressed in artwork: environmental justice, social justice, cultural exchange, self-actualization and community organizing.

Jeri Katherine Howell is an Americana singer-songwriter-guitarist and teaching artist whose workshops and original songs focus on accessing one’s authentic self, building community, and “bringing to the mic” local and global social and environmental injustices.

She facilitates community arts workshops (songwriting, collage and more) focused on social change and resiliency. She has been a part of several innovative projects including facilitating a songwriting workshop with the women in Franklin County drug court as part of Hands Healing HeArts programming; participating in the Kentucky Dream Coalition’s “Artivismo” camp, during which she facilitated a “songwriting for social change” workshop in English and Spanish with several Latinx high school students; teaching beginning guitar lessons in Spanish to migrant workers at the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs; and touring Japan as lead singer in a band for “Kentucky Bluegrass Week.”

Her songwriting focuses on various social and environmental justice issues including the experiences of indigenous women in Guatemala, environmental racism and climate justice, and the experiences of child refugees migrating to the U.S. from Central America. Through her music, Jeri demonstrates a unique feminist voice using traditional Kentucky music roots and intentional lyricism to highlight the intersections of oppression in our local and global communities. She received a 2017 Fulbright grant to teach in Costa Rica and has recently been accepted into the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Artists Directory.

Jeri’s nominator, Jennifer Zingg says, “I have known Jeri since she was a freshman in high school. I have watched her grow, both as an artist and as a human being. I know very few 24-year-old women who have the determination, intelligence, and compassion, that Jeri effortlessly injects into everything she does. Her potential is endless!” Of receiving the nomination, Jeri says, “Thank you for recognizing young Kentucky women’s leadership in creating the Commonwealth we all deserve. This nomination is fuel to our collective fire to continue working towards social change through arts and activism and celebrating one another along the way.”

To learn more about her work visit OR


Lacey Trautwein, 22, Louisville

Artform: creative nonfiction, literary publishing.  Topics/Issues addressed in artwork: LGBTQ+, privilege, sexual abuse, body issues, consensual love, millennial relationships

Lacey Trautwein writes poetry and creative nonfiction and publishes an innovative literary magazine.

Lacey, who prefers they/ them/ their pronouns, often focuses their work on issues relating to sexual abuse, body issues and consensual love. Their nominator, Sylvia Collings, says, “the truthfulness that comes out in Lacey’s poetry and lyric essays are sucker-punching in the most artful ways.”

Lacey also runs a literary magazine, Lemon Star Mag. They say, “I assist young voices in an online literary publication, Lemon Star Mag, to truly shine that are otherwise not given a platform.” Lemon Star Mag is an open space for truthful work from writers and artists of all backgrounds and orientations. With Lemon Star, the main focus has been to support women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Lacey provides a safe space for anyone who needs it, part of their nominator’s definition of feminism.

In her nomination, Sylvia Collings relates, “Lacey, again, is truthful in their brutally honest way of sharing painful past life experiences. They go through the fear and feeling of vulnerability, so that other people can have hope and relate.” Lacey says, “I am truly honored to be nominated for such an innovative and compelling award!”

To learn more about Lacey’s work, visit or @lacey_trautwein for all social media.

Amani Nichae, of Lexington, was the recipient of the 2017 Firestarter Award. Amani is a photographer and activist. A student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, she is a photographer for Be Bold, an organization dedicated to feminist ideals of positive body image, self-esteem, and the empowerment of girls ages nine to eighteen. Amani organized Fairly Local, a Lexington art show designed to showcase artists and build community that benefited Step by Step Lexington, a mentoring program for at-risk young single mothers ages fourteen to twenty-four.

Annie Erskine was the 2016 recipient of KFW’s Firestarter Award. Annie was honored for her unique comic art and her strong voice for underrepresented people in the comic industry, particularly LGBTQ individuals. Annie is committed to paving the way for more female comic illustrators and greater representation of women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community in the national comic industry. addition to working for national companies, Annie also creates her own independent art through her original comic series, Variants.

alexixes grad 1146Alexis D. Meza is the inaugural recipient of KFW’s Firestarter Award. Alexis was nominated by KFW grantee Diane Kahlo and received the award in 2015. Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Alexis is a visual artist and graduate of Kentucky State University where she studied mass communications and journalism. She is currently developing a radio show as well as a documentary showcasing the experiences, struggles, and contributions of Latino immigrants in Lexington and across Kentucky.