Hendrix College News

Hendrix Senior Awarded a 2023 Watson Fellowship

Conway Institute of Music

Adaja Cooper ’23 will spend one year traveling to study the roles of public art in five countries

CONWAY, Ark. (March 16, 2023) — Adaja Cooper, a senior studio art major and business minor from Little Rock, has been named to the 2023 class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 41 partner institutions. Cooper is the 40th Hendrix student to receive this honor.

For her Watson project, titled “Power, Preservation and Activism in Art,” Cooper will travel to England, Northern Ireland, Senegal, Mexico, and Italy to study how public art’s role — its expression, preservation, and protest forms — differs across cultures.

Adaja Cooper
Adaja Cooper

“Working alongside artists and arts organizations, I will create, document, analyze, and experience the responses to this vital art form,” she wrote in her project description.

Cooper is a national award-winning, published artist from Little Rock, Arkansas, who finds inspiration in her experience of being a Black woman in America. Her work has appeared in multiple galleries including the Hearne Fine Art Gallery, Mosaic Templars Cultural Museum, and The Baum Gallery. She was named a finalist for the 2022 Arkansas Times “Best of Arkansas” issue in the Visual Art category, which garnered her a cover feature on her contribution to Little Rock’s 7th Street Mural Project and her response to the vandalism of her mural. On campus, she works for the Windgate Museum of Art at Hendrix College, designing and installing exhibitions. Her extracurricular activities include serving as president of both the Art Club and the Hendrix chapter of the NAACP, knitting, and listening to music. She will graduate from Hendrix in May.

“I am so thankful for the Hendrix community for helping to nurture me into the woman that I am today,” Cooper said. “My experiences at Hendrix have deepened my love for art and my passion for activism, and I am excited to share those passions abroad during my Watson year!”

“Adaja’s personal story is compelling, and her art is captivating,” said Britt Anne Murphy, Hendrix’s liaison to the Watson Foundation. “Adaja is an extraordinary artist, and a Watson will allow her to explore her craft in global settings and provide a connection to others who have been motivated by activism to make public art. Adaja’s project investigates how public art can capture a time or movement, both historical and contemporary. She will visit some of the most well-known mural installations that have lasted through the decades, but are still relaying important messages, and even being updated by contemporary artists. She will also see how fresh installations by marginalized groups are being received in different locations. Adaja’s inner drive has been cultivated by her environment and allowed for expression that makes us not just think, but feel.”

Cooper is among six Hendrix students to become Watson Fellows in the past five years. Murphy said that this year’s four candidates from Hendrix continued their predecessors’ tradition of working collaboratively as they prepared to apply.

“Our four candidates this year – Adaja, Charity Bratcher, Maggie Ryan, and Evan Werner – worked together closely and supported one another through every draft and interview prep session,” she said. “They all are to be celebrated for pulling together excellent proposals for international travel in a world that presents challenges and uncertainties, but also unlimited possibilities.

“We are grateful that Hendrix is one of only 41 other colleges and universities that partner with the Watson Fellowship Program,” Murphy added. “The Watson Foundation’s investment in Hendrix students creates not just world citizens, but future leaders for Arkansas and the nation.”

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