UC Santa Cruz assistant professor of film and digital media John Jota Leaños has been awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship for the creative arts.

Leanos is one of a diverse group of 181 artists, scientists, and scholars selected this year by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation from a group of 3,000 applicants.

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

The program considers applications in a wide variety of fields, ranging from the natural sciences to the creative arts.

Leaños is an interdisciplinary artist in UCSC’s Social Documentation program who works in animation, installation, and performance.

Leaños said the Fellowship will support his production of a series of musical documentary animations about the makings of the Southwest Borderlands called Frontera!

“The work takes a 'Schoolhouse Rock!' approach to documentary, using popular music and cartoons to tell under-recognized stories of the contested US-Mexico borderlands from Latina/o and Indigenous perspectives,” Leaños noted.

He added that the award will also allow him to continue building a sustainable independent animation collective in Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area.

That collective not only trains and mentors aspiring media artists enabled by new technologies, but also focuses on the telling of alternative stories that enhance understanding of racial diversity and border politics with a historical context.  

Leaños noted that the fellowship will also support his teaching and his efforts to build a “Documentary Animation” curriculum in UCSC’s Film and Digital Media Department and Social Documentation M.A. program.

“Documentary Animation is an established but re-emerging genre proliferating with access to new technologies, coupled with the desire to tell critical stories not represented in media.”

“This year I taught the first Documentary Animation critical studies and production courses at UCSC,” Leaños added.

“With the help of the Guggenheim Fellowship, I hope to build on these courses to train a new generation of informed, conscious and skilled documentary animators from UCSC.”

Leaños' animated films have been shown internationally at festivals including the Sundance Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival, and Cannes Short Corner 07.

His installation work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Whitney Biennial, Art in General in New York City, the Oakland Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Leaños' multimedia Mariachi opera, Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta / A Dead Opera in Four Acts has also been staged at venues including the Museo del Barrio in New York; and The Luckman Fine Arts Center in Los Angeles.