Women to Watch Awards Finalists-Arts

Meet the 2022 finalists

Arts Category

Mahlaynee Cooper 2Mahlaynee Cooper

Founder & Director,

Speak Ya Peace NC LLC

Using her education, experience, and desire for the arts, Mahlaynee Cooper established the Speak Ya Peace organization to strengthen the African American community through artistic expression. With her philosophy, “Art is a discipline that can teach, heal, and connect,” Cooper has organized and brought people together by partnering with local groups such as the UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services, Sokoto House, DREAMS of Wilmington and local Juneteenth celebrations. In August, she directed the James Baldwin birthday commemoration at Cameron Art Museum, to highlight the writer’s work. She has held poetry workshops at Theatre For All and serves on the board of NHC Special Education PTA. A poet and activist, Cooper has hosted more than twenty Speak Ya Peace events in the past year and also is a mentor to young female artists who want to be local change agents and provides platforms for them to speak their peace.

Sayantani Dasgupta 2Sayantani Dasgupta

Assistant Professor,

UNCW Creative Writing Department

International author and speaker Sayantani Dasgupta has made quite a mark locally as well as afar. A recent invitation to speak at the Society of American Travel Writers in Bogota, Columbia, adds to her roster of writing, teaching, and speaking to inspired audiences. Dasgupta has published numerous books and essays and shows no sign of slowing. Her debut collection of essays, Fire Girl: Essays on India, America, & the In-Between, was a finalist in the Foreword INDIES awards. Dasgupta is interview editor for Assay: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction. As part of her graduate teaching, she created the “Write to Imagine” initiative, and working with the Cameron Art Museum helped create professional opportunities for teaching assistants. On campus, Dasgupta is involved with Randall Library, including serving on a hiring committee for its humanities librarian. Additionally, Dasgupta formed “Write Wilmington,” a weekly online writing workshop that draws participants from Wilmington, across the country, and internationally.

Angela Fernot 2Angela Fernot


Art of Angela

Not only is Angela Fernot an artist, but she is a teacher of the arts as well. Her passion pours into her classes to the benefit of students at the DREAMS of Wilmington, where she works in the afterschool and summer art camp programs. Fernot also helps other  artists with self-publishing, developing merchandise, and finding freelance work. Fernot’s work ranges from drawing portraits to illustrating comic books in print and digital art. Not one to stick to the basics, she is an “all-over” artist who loves to explore new projects, techniques, and tools. Fernot co-created the Tales of Cape Fear, a local comic anthology. “Since I created Tales of Cape Fear in 2020, I have been on a mission to cultivate connections between artists of all genres and to bring down the barriers between how people view ‘fine art’ versus ‘commercial pop art,’” Fernot says. “Comic books have been shaping lives, giving voice to storytellers, and inspiring pop culture for generations. I want comic artists and illustrators to be celebrated and appreciated for the incredible abilities they possess.”

Jeri Greenberg 2Jeri Greenberg


Jeri Greenberg Art

After working many years in New York City as a fashion illustrator, sportswear designer, and advertiser, Jeri Greenberg transformed herself into an esteemed pastel painter, educator, and philanthropist. She moved south and is making a mark on Wilmington after just three years. As a national and international award-winning artist, Greenberg has decided to take her talents and share them with the community, offering weekly classes at the Cameron Art Museum, presenting demonstrations and workshops, and jurying pastel exhibits. And feeling a strong connection to the community, she created the Restaurants + Arts ILM project to give back, celebrate, and support a variety of Wilmington’s restaurants and cafes. Her art portraying the local establishments is displayed around town. A portion of the painting proceeds goes to the nonprofit organization NourishNC. “Yes, I am a wife and mother, but artist is the title I give myself,” Greenberg says. “It was hard-earned. This second act has been a wonderful gift. I am totally grateful.

Donna Launey 1Donna Launey

Owner & Artist,

Gallery Citrine

The quartz crystal citrine, known as the sunshine stone for the soul, is precisely why Donna Launey chose to name her art gallery/working studio co-op Gallery Citrine. Opening in August of 2019, the gallery was a way for Launey to create a brighter future and show Wilmington that art can bring hope and joy to any situation. Launey, herself a painter, worked as a diagnostic radiologist before opening the gallery on South Second Street. By bringing this vision of hers to light, Launey has turned an empty space into a haven for artists to create and exhibit, while serving Wilmington through charity work. Using this idea, she has featured both renowned and emerging local artists, with proceeds going to other nonprofit organizations. Local beneficiaries have included Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Good Shepherd Center, and Cape Fear River Watch. A sunflower exhibit raised over $16,000 for Save the Children, a group that supports refugee children in areas of armed conflict.

To view the Women to Watch Awards Finalists main page, click here.

To view more of photographer Madeline Gray’s work, go to madelinegrayphoto.com.

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Categories: Women to Watch