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What are the Baker Artist Awards for?

May 8, 2013

latiano-1The three winners of the $25,000  Mary Sawyers Baker Prize were announced last week, raising questions about the nature and the purpose of the prize. “As a self-taught artist without affiliations and few resources, Baker has provided me with exposure and encouragement that I would have been hard pressed to find elsewhere,” Lynn Parks, one of the winners, said in a statement.

On the other hand, Dariusz Skoraczewski (in the bottom photo) is the principle cellist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Sources tell City Paper that a position in the symphony that is equivalent of Skoraczewski’s earns upwards of $60,000 a year.

0This raises the question: should the Baker awards work like the MacArthur Genius Grants, which clearly go to people who have already achieved great success and remuneration for their artistic work, or should they go to help those, like Parks, who have displayed a high level of talent and accomplishment, but with very little institutional support?

This year’s jury seems clearly divided on the question, and to be fair, they don’t really have to make a choice. The third winner, Jonathan Latiano, a large-scale sculptor and installation artist (the top photo is his work) with an MFA from MICA is somewhere between the two.

But let me make the case that the prize should not go to people like Skoraczewski, who are able to practice their art without the financial support of the Baker. First, there’s the matter of need. The city is full of talented artists and musicians who could desperately use the money in order to survive and create. If the award goes to someone like that, it not only rewards past work, but makes future work possible. Future work that may not have otherwise existed. Certainly, the award will help someone as talented as Skoraczewski create something impressive, but he has access to numerous other sources of support–so the payoff, for the Baker, is not as great. While Parks and Latiano express their gratitude in statements on the site (Latiano is especially graceful in his acknowledgment of the other artists in town),  Skoraczewski didn’t comment at all on the prize.

My purpose here is not to single out Skoraczewski. If there were a similar writing prize in town, I would equally argue that someone like me, who earns a salary for writing, is not as worthy a recipient as someone who receives no such support (for full disclosure: I did recently apply for a national Creative Capital grant for a book project and I have collaborated with Ruby Fulton who won one of the b grants). Baltimore-based grants like the Baker awards, in my opinion, should try to maximize their impact on the artistic community. As it is, we have no idea what the jury’s criteria is, since “The Mary Sawyers Baker selection process will be conducted by a private jury of national and international multidisciplinary experts who will consider all website nominations in selecting the Mary Sawyers Baker winners. Their process will remain private.”

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  • Danielle

    Though I understand the sentiment here, I disagree. Perhaps Skoraczewski will be able to experiment and create in a way that he wouldn’t have otherwise and it seems to me that this is the point of the award. I’m just grateful for the existence of the Baker Awards.

  • yeahyuh

    I get it too, but I hardly pay attention to the Baker awards anymore. They’re just weird, and not because hipsters don’t win awards-I like that part. I like the Sondheim for that reason, too. The Baltimore “tastemakers” can get a new perspective through these programs at least.