Cooperative Takes Sondheim Prize Worth $25,000

July 12, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

The Baltimore Development Cooperative, a four-year-old organization that blends art and urban activism, received the $25,000 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Saturday night in a ceremony at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"I think the jurors were attracted to the socially engaged nature of our work," said Scott Berzofsky, who, along with fellow Maryland Institute College of Art graduates Dane Nester and Nicholas Wisniewski, co-founded the cooperative in 2005.

The cooperative is best known for Participation Park, a community garden created out of a vacant lot in East Baltimore. The park typifies the group's interest in urban, ecological and economic issues, and finding ways for people to develop their own environments.

In the exhibit of Sondheim Prize finalists at the BMA, the cooperative's entries include a structure with a geodesic dome made from recycled materials and located on the terrace of the museum; and a large sculptural version of a menacing construction crane made of recycled cardboard and packed with familiar images from Baltimore's cityscape.

The Sondheim prize, part of Artscape, is awarded annually to artists in the region.

"It was a very difficult decision, but a unanimous one," said Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and one of three jurors.

"The Baltimore Development Cooperative's engagement of the community and its social activism in art is something that came through very strong. What they are doing is part of a pulse that's happening around the country, an activism that's reminiscent of the '60s and '70s."

The remaining judges on the panel were New York-based artist Ellen Harvey and Elisabeth Sussman, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

This year's Sondheim finalists also included five artists with distinctive, often provocative styles: Leslie Furlong, Ryan Hackett, Jessie Lehson, Molly Springfield and Karen Yasinsky. The work of all the finalists will remain on exhibit at the BMA through Aug. 16.

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