Sponsored by The Pittsburgh Foundation and Opportunity Fund, the Exposure Artists Program (EAP) is guided by a shared belief in the need to support creative practice, to cultivate and fund diversity, and to advocate for racial justice in the arts community. EAP aims to elevate the work of artists through activities that create/generate/enhance visibility for the creative process, artwork and social issues of our time. Winston Bell is a 2022 EAP honoree.

In February 2022, The Pittsburgh Foundation awarded over $200,000 in funding to recipients of its inaugural Exposure Artists Program. This award is designed to support creative practice, and promote diversity and racial justice within the arts community. TABLE contributor Jasmine Zavala sat down with four awardees, each awe-inspiring and tenacious, who shared the impact that this grant has had on their lives and their artistry. One common theme: space. Whether physical, emotional or aspirational, each artist discussed how this award granted them more room to continue expanding their craft. Jasmine hopes that their stories inspire you to save a little art in your heart by attending one of their upcoming events, lingering at that mural a little longer, or even whipping up a sketch of your own. After all, as artist Clara Kent says, “Art is for all of us.”

With a smile as grand as his picked out ‘fro, musician Winston Bell lights up as he talks about the power of music. “One of the main things that I try to focus on as an artist is my service to others. I want to make other people happy for a moment, however long it may be, so they’re not worried about what essay they have to write, what taxes and forms they have to fill out. They’re just vibing out to my music and having a good time. I feel like everybody needs a stress-reliever like that, so if I can offer that to people, it’s really nice,” shares Bell.

I listen to the radio edit of his track “First Step” and soon find myself among the vibes of which he spoke. The rhythm within his latest single compels the body to find a natural groove, prompting the shoulders to bop in time with the downbeat and the hips to sway as they please.

Bell is a seasoned artist in spite of his youth. He has released multiple singles as a solo artist since 2020, but is no stranger to collaboration. Over the past 10 years he produced music with his former group, Funky Fly Project, as well as with his father, drummer Charles “Poogie” Bell. “My father is such a free-thinking person,” says Bell. “He’s never cared about negative opinions. You can hear that within his productions, especially on the record that we’re currently working on. This approach really helps us be free in our productions together.” This freedom that Bell speaks of is very much a part of the creative process for his upcoming album, a body of work that he is visibly excited about.

There goes that smile again. “It is one of the most fun albums I’ve ever done! The ability to create is such a blessing that makes everything enjoyable. Artistic people thrive upon the process of creation to allow us to just be. We get to say, feel, speak, and see whatever we want,” says Bell.

Bell’s new project promises multiple ideas that he is eager to share. The album’s themes are in tune with the all-too-familiar tumult of the past few years. “We touch on the events of 2020; not so much on the COVID side, but more so on the racial ambiguity of America. There are so many elements of the stress and loss that we experienced in the album, but there is also the freedom that we found. There is the happiness that we found, because we can’t let all of that stress bring us down. We tried to put as much of our experiences as possible into the album,” mentions Bell.

Bell is one of the first-time grantees of the Exposure Artists Award and he’s making the most of it. In the midst of producing his forthcoming album, he has managed to stay busy with other projects. He’s been on the road with pianist Alex Bugnon, performed numerous gigs in Cleveland with guitarist Xavier Lynn, and most recently played with DJ D-Nice for the Club Quarantine event at Carnegie Hall in New York City. “Receiving this award has shown me that one of the biggest things that you can do as an artist is to just shoot your shot. Applying for this award was me taking a massive shot. This experience has shown me that hitting your target is achievable,” says Bell. May the hits continue!

Listen to the musical stylings of Winston Bell on any music-streaming platform, or catch him live while he’s on tour with his family this year. @yuji_beats and @bell_music_group

Read about other 2022 Exposure Artist Program honorees:

LaVerne Kemp

Clara Kent

Selima Dawson

STORY BY Jasmine Zavala/PHOTOGRAPHY BY Jeff swensen

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