Virtual Showcase

Artists vying for Baker awards bask in exposure the Web has given them

March 24, 2009|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,

Winners of the prestigious Baker Artist Awards program in Baltimore won't be announced until Wednesday night, but mosaic artist Rick Shelley figures he's already benefited from the competition.

After he posted his entry on the Baker awards Web site in January, Shelley says, a couple commissioned him to design a mosaic tile floor insert - bearing the image of a purple octopus - for a home they're building in Pennsylvania.

Shelley said entering the contest forced him to put slides of his work into a digital format that anyone can view.

"I didn't have a Web site, so it really gave me an opportunity to have a presence online," he said. "It was a way of organizing my artistic life, digitally."

Shelley is one of many local artists who say they've profited from the Internet savvy of the Baker awards program, whether they win money or not.

Printmaker Kathy Beachler said she has received more visits to her Web site - - and has received three new commissions. Installation artist Soledad Salame was contacted by a television producer who expressed interest in featuring her work in a pilot that is being filmed in Baltimore. Multimedia artist Loring Cornish said prospective patrons came to his gallery after seeing his entry.

"It was a great experience, and I'm glad I was a part of it," Cornish said. "It makes me feel good that opportunities such as this exist right here in Baltimore."

Established last year by the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund and administered by the nonprofit Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, the awards program was created to honor artists who live and work in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties, and to encourage more artists to move to the area.

Under the program, artists can be from any discipline or more than one, including music, theater, video, filmmaking, writing, painting, sculpture, photography, textiles, jewelry, animation and architecture.

Ten artists will receive a total of $82,000 in prize money. Three artists selected through a privately juried process will get prizes of $25,000 each, named for philanthropist Mary Sawyers Baker. Another seven artists selected by public voting will each receive "Baltimore's Choice" prizes of $1,000. All winners also will get a "Silver B" statuette, designed by Baltimore jeweler Betty Cooke. The scope of the program and the amount of money available make the initiative one of the largest and broadest art awards programs in Central Maryland.

Winners will be announced Wednesday on MPT ArtWorks, which airs at 7:30 p.m. on Maryland Public Television (Channels 22 and 67). Announcements also will be posted on several Web sites, including and The Baltimore Museum of Art is planning an exhibit of the winners' work from April 29 to June 28.

Besides the money offered, one of the most distinctive features of the awards program is that it is Internet-based. Artists nominated themselves by uploading their portfolios and biographies on the Baker Web site. Viewers or listeners were encouraged to vote for the artists they want to win the Baltimore's Choice prizes.

The Baker Web site, created by Fastspot Interactive Design Agency of Baltimore, combines social-networking features with a gallery format. The site even has a "curated exhibition" section in which prominent figures in the local arts community selected works for online "gallery presentations."

"We've been told that this is like Facebook for artists, and that's what we want it to become," said Tracey Halvorsen, a principal and creative director at Fastspot. "It's a community that artists have right now that Baker opened the doors to. And it's addictive. You can spend a lot of time on it. It's a testament to the creativity and the quality of artists in Baltimore."

According to Halvorsen and others:

* 656 artists nominated themselves and uploaded examples of their work and biographical information. Nominees ranged from people in their 20s to people in their 80s.

* 10,372 people visited the site, created accounts and registered to vote. Visitors came from all 50 states and more than 70 countries and territories.

* 8,531 votes were cast, including multiple votes from people who found ways to "unlock" extra votes by browsing and becoming more active in the site.

That response surpassed the expectations of the program's organizers for the first year of the program.

"The overwhelming response indicates that Baltimore is a thriving cultural center that both inspires artists and engages the community," said Nancy Haragan, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. "The Baker Artist Awards are intended to showcase Baltimore artists and art, and it has certainly done that."

Mary Sawyers Baker established the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund in 1964 to honor her husband, a founding partner in the old Baker Watts investment banking firm. In 2007, the fund narrowed its philanthropic mission to focus on arts and culture.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.