January 16, 2012

Past recipients reflect as 2012 deadline draws near.

Submission deadlines are approaching for the 2012 Claire Rosen & Samuel Edes Foundation Prize for Emerging Artists. Based on his or her existing portfolio, and a proposal for a future project, one artist who graduated from the University of Chicago between June 2007 and June 2011 will receive a $30,000 grant.

Several years ago, Nik Edes, president of the Foundation, conceived the prize in order to help talented artists establish, refine, and expand their practice. For an artist who has yet to find a niche or a scene, let alone a market, balancing making a living and making art can be daunting—can in fact be a promising artist’s primary motivation for scaling back on art-making, or even giving it up entirely.

To address this problem, Edes chose four institutions, the University of Chicago among them, to which he made grants intended to be issued annually as a large awards to individual artists chosen by each institution. “I think the feeling among all of our institutions is that it’s a really powerful way to advance the careers of young artists,” says Associate Provost Mary J. Harvey, chair of UChicago’s Arts Council, “and no one else is doing anything like it.”

Further, explains Harvey, the selection process engenders “really interesting conversations about what’s significant in the arts, what matters.” Because work in all media and disciplines is welcome, the jury must consider quality within and among myriad practices, consider “the significance of the projects that the artists are proposing as well as the portfolios of work that they present.”

Balancing those elements can be demanding, according to Professor Robert Bird, who served on last year’s Edes Prize jury, and who will be serving once again this year. He describes the process as one of looking at creative people and trying to guess “what they’re going to do, what they’re going to be capable of doing. I think there’s nothing more difficult than that,” he says.

“There’s just a tremendous sense of responsibility,” Bird says. “We feel that we can do a lot of good in a very unusual way when we grant the [Edes] Prize.”

The gift of time

“When I started at [UChicago], my practice was more confined to sculpture in a kind of strict sense,” says Leigh-Ann Pahapill, the multimedia sculptor who won the inaugural Edes Prize in 2010. “And then as I was there, I took classes in video and I started to use the camera, which is now a big part of what I do.”

After graduation, having to rent video cameras quickly became a financial burden, and it was “really prohibitive, creatively, not to have that equipment on-hand as I was developing my work.” But that problem was handily solved when Pahapill won the Edes Prize. “Just recently,” she reflects, “I was putting together a portfolio, and I saw that easily fifty percent of what I’m doing right now is done with digital media, thanks to my camera.”

For Jacob Hurwitz Goodman, documentarian and recipient of the 2011 grant, what changed was not so much the work itself, but his ability to dedicate himself to perfecting it. “The projects that I’m working on are fairly low-budget, and the budget hasn’t changed that much since I’ve gotten the Edes award. But the gift that it’s given me is time, and that’s priceless,” he says. “Beyond any question of buying fancy cameras or fancy equipment, it’s how I’m able to sort of relax and use my time that makes a difference in the end.”

To a documentary filmmaker working on fairly risky or esoteric topics, nothing could be more valuable. Goodman’s current projects include a documentary about an urban paramilitary group called Detroit Threat Management, and another about the state of spirituality in Ghana—about the place of animisim and ancestor worship in a world now equally defined by mass media and mass production. That, and a music video in 3D.

Goodman and Pahapill are both resolutely modest about the importance of their work, but unequivocal about the positive effect of the Edes Prize on that work. “It changed my life,” Pahapill concludes. “I just finished a design invitation for a museum exhibition I have in Florida in January. And while I’m not required to put the Edes Foundation logo on there, I feel compelled, because it just keeps giving.”

By Drew Messinger-Michaels, AM’10

Alumni who graduated from the undergraduate College or any of the graduate programs of the University of Chicago between June 2007 and June 2011 may apply for the Claire Rosen & Samuel Edes Prize for Emerging Artists. Artistic practices might include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following disciplines: cinema and media; creative writing; curation; music; theater and performance; and/or visual arts. Recipients may not be employed full-time or enrolled in full-time graduate or postgraduate study during the award year. Read application requirements and guidelines.