Fellowship Program History

The Fellowship Program at VMFA has a robust history that spans 75 years. Click through the decades below to learn about significant milestones through the years.

1940: The Visual Arts Fellowship Program is founded by John Lee Pratt and the first three Fellowships are awarded. Amounts of awards are Student (ages 16-21): $500, Junior (ages 20-25): $1,200, Senior (ages 25-38): $720

1944: Program suspended due to World War II.

1946: Program resumes.

1949: Junior and Senior categories replaced by “Out-of-state” and “In-state.”; Benjamin Wigfall is first African American recipient.

1950: Stipends increase. Students: from $50 to $60 per month (for ten months), Out-of-state: from $120 to $150 per month (for twelve months), and In-state: from $60 to $100 per month (for twelve months). Age ranges change to 16-22 for Student, 21-27 for Out-of-state, and 25-38 for In-state applicants.

1953: Stipends increase to $750 for Students, $1,920 for Out-of-state, and $1,500 for In-state. Disciplines expand to include architecture, art history, crafts, design, graphics, painting, sculpture, photography, museum methods, and Theatre arts.

1956: A one-time Fellowship offered through the museum, funded by the Catherwood Foundation, and worth $2500, awarded to Robert Simmons Fuller of Lynchburg, to be used for travel in Europe and England.

1962: Stipends increase to $1,000 for Students, $2,400 for Out-of-state, and $1,800 for In-state.

1963: Resident Craftsman program initiated to award a ceramist and a weaver each with a $2,000 annual grant. Recipients also receive fully equipped studios and classrooms at the Robinson House to teach museum classes and give lecture/demonstrations at the Confederation communities throughout the state.

1965: Resident Craftsman grant increases to $2,500 annually.

1966: Fellowship categories change to Student, Graduate, and Professional, and the number of Fellowships increase to fifteen. Graduate stipend set at $3,000, and Professional recipients required to submit quarterly progress reports.

1967: Resident Craftsman grant increases to $3,500 annually.

1969: Theatre Apprentices become funded through the Fellowship program. Design and Theatre disciplines added.

1971: Resident Craftsman program to be phased out. The Resident Weaver grant not awarded.

1973: Resident Ceramist grant increases to $4,000.

1974: Resident Craftsman program discontinued.

1976: Stipends increase to $1,500 for Students, $3,600 for Graduates, and $2,400 for Professionals. Age limitations eliminated and filmmaking disciplines added.

1978: Virginia Museum Theatre (VMT) closes for the season. No Theatre Apprenticeships offered.

1979: $10,000 supplemental grant received from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation.

1980: Residency requirement changes, so that the applicant must “live in Virginia for five of the last ten years.” Stipends increase to $2,000 for Students, $4,000 for Graduates, and $2,500 for Professionals; Fellowship program celebrates its 40th anniversary with a retrospective exhibition including works from more than fifty Fellowship recipients.

1981: Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA) offers four Professional grants at $8,000 each (totaling $32,000) to be administered through the Museum Fellowship Program through 1986.

1982: Museum methods and graphics disciplines withdrawn; video discipline added.

1983: Interior design discipline withdrawn.

1984: Theatre Apprenticeships no longer part of the Fellowship program.

1985: VCA offers one Professional grant at $8,000. Policy of determining professional awards by an out-of-state juror established. Interview process eliminated for Professional applicants. Two resident interns funded at $8,000 each. Commercial design and theatre art disciplines withdrawn.

1986: VCA offers three Professional awards at $8,000 each. Two resident interns funded at $10,000 each.

1987: From 1986 to 1987, the number of applicants increases from 203 to 350, an 85 percent increase. VCA withdraws from the Fellowship Program. Professional awards increase to $4,000.

1989: To be more cost-effective, Fellowship Program revised to eliminate interviews with awards based solely on artistic merit. The architecture discipline is withdrawn. Professional award recipients required to wait two years before reapplying for a VMFA Fellowship.

1990: The Fellowship Program increases publicity efforts, including press releases, PSA radio announcements, participation in panel discussions regarding grant opportunities for artists, and mass mailings; From 1989 to 1990, the number of applicants increases by 83 percent. Stipends also increase to $4,000 for Undergraduate, $5,000 for Graduate, and $8,000 for Professional.

1994: Professional award recipients required to wait four years before reapplying for a VMFA Fellowship.

1995: Professional award recipients required to wait five years before reapplying for a VMFA Fellowship.

1998: Residency requirement changes: Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the US as well as current legal residents of Virginia. Professional artists are not eligible if they are seeking a degree.

1999: Professional artists must remain in the state during the grant period and submit 10 works that were completed within the past three years. Graduate award increases to $6,000.

2000: Celebrate 60th anniversary of Fellowship program. 783 Fellowships worth over $2.3 million awarded since 1940.This year, the most awards to date granted: 37 totaling $214,000.

2001: Application and guidelines made available on VMFA website.

2002: Award recipients listed on website along with one sample of their work.

2007: Professionals must be a resident 24 consecutive months and students 12 consecutive months prior to the application deadline. No artist may receive more than three fellowships in any category; Recipients participate in a photo shoot with their legislator at the General Assembly and attend a luncheon at the museum in their honor.

2008: Fellowship program becomes digital, with applicants submitting eight digital images. New requirements and selection process established.

2009: Fellowship exhibition program launches. Select recipients’ work exhibited at Richmond International Airport, and the Pauley Center and Amuse Restaurant at VMFA.

2010: In the year VMFA reopens after its expansion, 35 Fellowships awarded. Fellowship recipients attend “sneak preview” of new McGlothlin wing in February, have photographs taken with legislators, and are recognized by VMFA director, Alex Nyerges, and Gov. Bob McDonnell; Changes made to promotion of the Fellowship program. Contact database includes art teachers and guidance counselors of Virginia high schools; VMFA Statewide affiliates (educational and community partners); galleries, museums, and local arts centers throughout Virginia; art professors, department chairs, financial aid offices, and art history chairs and administrative assistants of Virginia colleges and universities; and art and art history departments of a select list of colleges and universities outside Virginia. All contacts receive a promo card in September as well as several “email blasts” throughout the fall. Cold calls made to “under-represented” districts in weeks before application deadline.

2011: Forty-three Fellowships awarded in celebration of VMFA’s 75th Anniversary. Recipients attend a recognition event at a Virginia Senate session followed by a luncheon at VMFA. Complimentary tickets to Picasso special exhibition included; Number of graduate/undergraduate jurors decrease from panel of three to one single arts professional, who is not from a university.

2011 – 12: Twenty seven Fellowships recipients recognized at a VMFA reception honoring Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia state and local officials, and VMFA trustees on February 15; Decision made to decrease number of jurors for student awards; One out-of-state juror invited to select Professional recipients, one in-state juror is invited to select Undergraduate and Graduate visual arts recipients, and one out-of-state juror invited to select Graduate art history recipient.

2012 – 13: Exceptional Undergraduate Fellowship recipients now considered for Fellowship exhibitions (previously only Graduate and Professional recipients were considered). Undergraduate recipients exhibited in the Pauley Center Galleries only; A new program for the exhibition of Fellowship recipients works at VMFA Statewide Partner sites planned. Projected launch date: Spring 2013; New payment plan instituted to divide each award into three payments made in August, January, and April of each year. Recipients must pick up each payment before the next payment is due or the previous amount is forfeited.

2013 – 14: Plans underway for Fellowship “microsite” in honor of 75th anniversary of program. Planned launch date: February 2015; Recipient recognition event, also attended by select VMFA staff and recipients’ hometown legislators, now held at VMFA.

2014-15: Recipients and their guests recognized at a reception at VMFA.

2015: VMFA Fellowship Anniversary microsite launches in February.