Matthew Armstead wants to “stay grassroots in the work” he’s doing as a performance artist. He said receiving the Jonathan Lax Scholarship for Gay Men helps him focus on that goal.
Armstead just started his master’s degree in devised performance at the University of the Arts. Devised performance arises from the collective work of a group, not a single author. It often takes place in public spaces.
“I’m really interested in helping people who do social-change work and social-justice work move out of reaction mode and into proactive mode,” Armstead said. “Part of that is giving us opportunities to [envision] what are we trying to create and what we are trying to do.
“That’s part of what I’m hoping to study: How can I help communities that I’m a part of and people who I work with care about and think about what is the world we’re trying to create and give opportunities to live in those environments and experience them.”
Armstead has worked with people in Ferguson, Missouri, and talked about friends doing similar work around fracking in West Virginia.
Tiffany Thompson, a member of the Jonathan Lax Scholarship Committee who helped interview applicants, said Armstead stands out because he participates throughout the community.
“His energy, his commitment to the community is unbelievable,” Thompson said, “and something that you can’t replicate.”
Armstead was one of five winners of the Jonathan Lax Scholarship. The rest of the recipients included Ian Jeong, an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania studying nursing; Michael Kokozos, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania studying education, culture and society; Nicholas Palazzolo, a graduate student at Temple University studying education; and Felipe Vazquez, an undergraduate at Drexel University studying nursing.
They were all honored at an Oct. 7 ceremony at the William Way LGBT Community Center.
The Bread and Roses Community Fund has administered the scholarship fund for 21 years. In that time, it has awarded more than $750,000 in 171 scholarships to 161 scholars. People can earn a scholarship more than once.
Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way and another member of the scholarship committee, said this year’s winners continue to exemplify the spirit of Jonathan Lax, a founding member of ACT UP Philadelphia who died suddenly in 1996. Bartlett said Lax wanted to support young gay men as they shape the future.
“At that time, he believed that there was a desperate need to invest in a new generation of leaders,” Bartlett said, “and he wanted to put his money where his mouth was.”
Vazquez said the scholarship reinforced the idea of having a strong support system in the LGBT community.
“It’s nice to see that and then have that in the back of my mind and pay it forward later and have that as my inspiration as I go through nursing school,” he said.
Vazquez will graduate in September 2017. He plans to work with LGBT homeless youth, getting them into stable housing and health care.
Applications for the 2017-18 Jonathan Lax Scholarship for Gay Men are due Nov. 1. For more information, visit www.breadrosesfund.org.