Fellowships: Free money for Virginia’s artists and art historians

Amy Harris, Untitled

Untitled (detail), 2010, Amy Harris (2012-13 Undergraduate Fellowship recipient), oil on blacklight film, 36” x 48”

When did you last come across a chance to win free money, and be recognized for your talented work at the same time? Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right?  Well, it’s a reality with the VMFA Visual Arts Fellowship program!  For the past 72 years, the Fellowship has given away thousands of dollars each year to the talented professional artists, art students, and art historians of Virginia, and you, too, can have the chance to be a part of this program.

The Fellowship program was established in 1940 through an endowment by the late John Lee Pratt of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Today Fellowships are offered through VMFA’s Art & Education Division, and are funded largely by the Pratt endowment and supplemented by annual funds from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation and the J. Warwick McClintic, Jr. Scholarship Fund. Pratt’s vision was to support and foster the artistic talent of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in the past 72 years, it’s pretty clear that vision has been a success – since 1940, over $4.6 million has been awarded to over 1,100 Virginians.

John Lee Pratt wanted the Fellowship program to support Virginia’s artists.  Recipients of a Fellowship are not asked to use the money they are awarded for any specific purpose – they can do anything they want with it, whether that means renting studio space, buying art supplies, or paying tuition.  Many students and professional artists ask if there is an application fee for the Fellowship, and the answer is no: the application is a free PDF available on our website, and there is no fee for applying.  So really, it’s a chance to receive free money!

The Fellowship office receives hundreds of applications each year, but VMFA only awards roughly 30 Fellowships per cycle – so winning an award is an exceptional accomplishment.  One of the most unique aspects of the Fellowship program is that artists are selected for awards anonymously, solely based on artistic merit.  Distinguished outside jurors are invited to VMFA to judge applicants’ work samples, and from those images or films the jurors make their selections.

With an over-70-year-old program, you can bet that more than a few notable individuals have passed through the ranks of the Fellowship…and the halls of VMFA!  If you’ve had the chance to visit the special exhibition Gesture: Judith Godwin and Abstract Expressionism, you may have seen a painting by Benjamin Wigfall.  Wigfall won two awards in the early years of the program, 1949 and 1951, and was one of the first African-American artists to receive a Fellowship. Another notable artist, Cy Twombly, received two awards in the 1950s, and Fellowship records state he used these funds to study in Europe; Twombly would later move to Rome and live much of his life there.  It’s hard to deny the Fellowship had an impact on the artist’s early life!  You can see Twombly’s painting Synopsis of a Battle in the VMFA Lewis Contemporary Galleries.

More recent Fellowship recipients are also found throughout the museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  Heide Trepanier’s painting Wave and Jon-Phillip Sheridan’s chromogenic print Direct Object 14 can be seen in VMFA’s 21st Century Gallery; Trepanier won three Fellowships between 1999 and 2009, and Sheridan won a Fellowship in 2010.  VMFA showcases the works of current and recent Fellowship recipients in three separate quarterly exhibitions in Amuse Restaurant, the VMFA Pauley Center, and the RIC Airport.  You can see selections from those exhibitions on our website: www.VMFA.museum/exhibitions/fellowship.

VMFA currently offers Fellowships to Professional artists, Graduate students in the visual arts or art history, and Undergraduate students in the visual arts.  Awards range from $4000 to $8000, and the application deadline is Friday, November 9, 2012.  You can find an application and all other information on how to apply at www.VMFA.museum/fellowships…what are you waiting for? Apply today!

Have questions about the Fellowship program?  Contact Elizabeth Cruickshanks, VMFA Fellowship Program Coordinator, at elizabeth.cruickshanks@vmfa.museum.