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Braddock Visual Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier Wins MacArthur Genius Award

LaToya Ruby Frazier
Grandma Ruby and Me 2005

Braddock native LaToya Ruby Frazier didn’t believe the person on the other end of the line when she was told she had been chosen as a MacArthur fellow.

“I kinda thought they were playing a prank on me,” said Frazier whose work as a photographer focuses on the African American community in Braddock. 

Frazier very surprised when she learned she had won the award, which is better know as a genius grant, so early on in her career.

The MacArthur Foundation grants reward “creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.” Frazier joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer just days after winning the fellowship, which includes a prize of $650,000 over a five-year period.

Frazier said that even at a young age she noticed inequalities suffered by African Americans. The economic hardships her family went through were one of the things that inspired her to photograph her community.

“Growing up there as a youth with my grandmother on Washington Street, there were a lot of questions I had as a youth and as a teenager and those answers weren’t being provided,” Frazier said.

Despite the difficult times her family suffered, Frazier’s grandmother made sure that her grand daughter was able to express herself. Frazier said she found her grandmother enrolling her in as many arts programs as she could.

While her grandmother first put her on the artistic path, Frazier’s family at large plays a big role in her work. Frazier said that a large reason why she and other African Americans face troubling times today is due to being “dismantled” as they moved across the country.

“I really don’t know a large part of my family,” Frazier said. “Sometimes I meet people I didn’t even know I was related to.”

Looking to the future, Frazier plans to use the money from the MacArthur fellowship to finish a project she initially had to put off due to lack of funds. She wants to produce portraits to be hung in the Braddock Carnegie Library.

“The MacArthur will allow me to continue to produce these portraits in the library, which I think is a really important project for the Braddock community and for the Braddock library,” Frazier said. “I’m really excited about being able to continue that project.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.