John Bell Honored with NEFA Rebecca Blunk Fund Award

Trudi Cohen and John Bell, photo by Greg Cook

The New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) is pleased to present John Bell, Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut, and Trudi Cohen of Cambridge, MA as awardees of the 2017 Rebecca Blunk Fund.  Recipients receive awards of $2,500 in unrestricted support to support the creation of new work and for professional development.

“We are honored to continue Rebecca’s legacy through these awards, which were established to recognize New England artists for their creative excellence and professional accomplishment,” said NEFA executive director Cathy Edwards. “Our donors have contributed almost $63,000 to the Fund since it began; with their continued support, we have been able to provide this unrestricted creative support to New England artists.”

John Bell and Trudi Cohen are theater makers, puppeteers, festival organizers, musicians, and founding members of Great Small Works, a visual theater collective created in 1995 in New York City, whose six members share roots in Bread and Puppet Theater. Though its members are now dispersed, with outposts in Brooklyn, Montreal, and Cambridge, MA, Bell and Cohen anchor the New England base in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

With Great Small Works, they draw on folk, puppet, avant-garde and popular theater traditions to address contemporary issues. “We value the beauty and potency of puppet theater, the urgency of speaking out about the news of the day, the power of creating theater with diverse groups of citizens and of bringing art to public spaces.”  They have helped introduce Toy Theater to audiences and artists around the country, believing that everyone has a story to tell. They are founders of the HONK! Festival of activist street bands, which has taken place annually in Somerville, MA, since 2006, and which has spread to communities around the world. They both play in the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band.

John Bell is Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut, the only school in the U.S. to offer a Master’s degree in puppetry.  Trudi Cohen serves as Secretary of the Board of UNIMA-USA (Union Internationale de la Marionette).

Upcoming events include a Toy Theater workshop at the bi-annual Puppeteers of America festival in St. Paul, MN, July 18-22; the annual HONK! Festival in Somerville and Cambridge, MA, October 6-8, and touring of a new Great Small Works production, Muntergang and Other Cheerful Downfalls, a bi-lingual Yiddish-English puppet show based on the lives and work of 1920’s puppeteer/satirists Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler, in the coming year.

Learn more about their projects on their CreativeGround profile and their website.

About the Rebecca Blunk Fund
The Rebecca Blunk Fund at the New England Foundation for the Arts was established in memory of Rebecca Blunk (1953-2014), celebrating her 29 years of service to NEFA and her abiding passion for the arts. Honoring Rebecca’s desire that the fund support artistic creation, connection, and curation, the Fund awards two annual grants of $2,500 each to New England artists whose work demonstrates creative excellence and professional accomplishment. Awards are in the form of unrestricted funds intended to support artists’ professional development and creation of new work. NEFA welcomes donations to the fund on an ongoing basis; as with all donations to NEFA, donations to the Rebecca Blunk Fund are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Acknowledging Rebecca Blunk’s long service and expertise as part of the NEFA staff, artist nomination is made by NEFA program staff with comments by external advisors.

About Rebecca Blunk
Rebecca came to NEFA from the Nebraska Arts Council in 1985 as the director of performing arts and then served as deputy director for ten years before being named executive director in 2004. Under her leadership, the organization brought important resources to New England, strengthening its capacity to connect artists and communities through regional, national, and international programs.

A tireless champion of the arts – from public art, the visual arts, music, dance, theater, and puppetry – Rebecca’s unwavering presence was felt across the arts and culture landscape, through her work in performing arts creation and touring, the creative economy, Native American arts, and cultural exchange on an international scale. Throughout her career, she derived deep personal reward from the artists and administrators with whom she worked.

About New England Foundation for the Arts
The New England Foundation for the Arts invests in the arts to enrich communities in New England and beyond. NEFA accomplishes this by granting funds to artists and cultural organizations; connecting them to each other and their audiences; and analyzing their economic contributions. NEFA serves as a regional partner for the National Endowment for the Arts, New England’s state arts agencies, and private foundations. Visit for more information.