Creating a Baltimore frame of mind

New, big-bucks prizes to honor area artists combine social networking with a gallery format

November 23, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,ed.gunts@baltsun.com

Eight local artists representing a variety of disciplines will be selected to receive a total of $80,000 in prize money next year as part of a new initiative called the Baker Artist Awards.

An unusual twist to the program is that it is Internet-based, with artists required to nominate themselves by uploading their portfolios and biographies on a dedicated Web site - bakerartistawards.org - and viewers or listeners encouraged to vote for the artists they want to win.

Established by the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund and administered by the nonprofit Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, the program was created to honor artists living in and around Baltimore, support them by showcasing their work on the Web, and encourage more artists to move to the area.

The Baker awards' Web site, created by Fastspot Interactive Design Agency of Baltimore, combines social networking features with a gallery format to mimic the artist-community relationship found in a museum or performance space. Starting next month, the Web site will feature a "Curated Exhibition" section in which local arts leaders will select works for online "gallery presentations."

The deadline for nominations and voting in the awards program is Feb. 1, and winners will be announced in March. Voting began this fall, and more than 400 artists have nominated themselves for consideration.

"The number of artists who have nominated themselves is an illustration of Baltimore's thriving arts community," said Nancy Haragan, executive director of the cultural alliance. "The overwhelming interest among artists demonstrates the importance of art to our city and our region."

The Baker awards will be given annually in two categories. Trustees intend to give three Mary Sawyers Baker awards of $25,000 each and five Baltimore's Choice awards of $1,000 each to artists who have lived in Baltimore or one of the five surrounding counties since Sept. 10, 2007. The $1,000 awards will be selected by a public voting process over the Internet, and the $25,000 awards will be selected by a private jury.

Artists can be from any discipline or more than one, including music, theater, video, filmmaking, writing, architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, textiles, jewelry and animation. Complete details are on the Web site.

The scope of the program and the amount of money available make the initiative one of the largest and broadest arts awards programs in central Maryland. The annual Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize, administered by Baltimore's Office of Promotion and the Arts, awards a top prize of $25,000 but is limited to visual artists. The Maryland State Arts Council awards money to individuals, but the amount to one person is typically $6,000 or less.

Named after a founding partner of the old Baker and Watts investment firm, the Baker fund was established in 1964. Since 2007, it has focused on supporting the arts and cultural activities as a way to improve the quality of life in central Maryland. Mary Sawyers Baker was William Baker's wife.

By basing the awards program on the Internet, Haragan said, the Baker trustees and the cultural alliance are making a statement to people inside and outside the region that Baltimore is a good place for artists of all types to live and work.

The cultural alliance and the Baker trustees "want creative individuals from all over the world to consider living in Baltimore because of opportunities like the Baker and an increasingly supportive environment for individual artists," she said.

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