The Baltimore region has always nurtured, attracted, and given rise to a diverse array of creative individuals—from writers H.L. Mencken and Madison Smartt Bell to internationally renowned painters Morris Louis and Grace Hartigan, performers Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway, and filmmakers John Waters and Barry Levinson.
In 2006, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts took a major step to recognize the quality of the area’s current crop of working artists when it initiated one of the nation’s largest arts prizes, named in honor of the late civic leader Walter Sondheim and his late wife Janet. The $25,000 Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize would be offered in conjunction with the city’s Artscape festival to recognize an artist who has contributed to the vibrancy of the city’s artistic community—and the finalists’ work would be shown at The Baltimore Museum of Art. The Sondheim Finalists exhibition at the BMA is a major event on the region’s annual cultural calendar. Many of the artists express awe at seeing their own work in galleries they have visited since childhood. (Click on “The Artists Speak” in the mosaic above to hear three Sondheim winners on this subject.)
In 2009, the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund established a second major artist’s competition based in Baltimore. The Baker Artist Awards, administered by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance under the direction of the Baker Fund, recognize both emerging and well-established individual artists in Baltimore and its five surrounding counties. This competition is open not only to visual artists, but also to performers and writers. Three $25,000 winners of the Mary Sawyers Baker Prize are chosen by nationally renowned jurors. In addition, the first-of-its-kind online voting process—at BakerArtistAwards.org—selects winners of the $1,000 Baltimore’s Choice Prize. All winners are featured in an exhibition and performances at the BMA, organized with an eye to offering a fresh perspective on familiar artists.
The winners of the 2009 Sondheim and Baker awards offer a diverse cross-section of artistic expression among artists in this Baltimore/Washington area. These substantial awards have drawn national attention to our dynamic artistic community, and the BMA plays an important role by providing an exceptional venue to showcase the work of artists who make this region their home.