954 artists think Baker Award jurors are idiots—but no one knows for sure
Three artists are extremely happy with the anonymous jurors of the 2014 Mary Sawyer Baker and b grants. Those three, Todd Marcus, Brent Crothers, and Chris Bathgate, each won a $25,000 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize. In the estimation of these artists, surely, the judges have the best taste in town. Three other artists disagree, but only slightly. Jowita Wyszomirska, David Paul Bacharach, and Ed Gross each received $5,000 b grants (not to be confused with b the site, despite the cute and quirky use of the lower case letter). These three artists, it is fair to say, think that the jurors are not altogether stupid, but could use a bit of aesthetic or political instruction. But the 954 who applied for and did not receive Baker grant money, think that the prize’s anonymous jurors are cretins and fucking idiots.
Such is the sense one gets every year at this time (and as the Sondheim finalists are announced) as disgruntled artists vent their spleen at the various ways in which the system is rigged—almost all of which boils down to “they didn’t pick enough people like—exactly like, I mean identical with—me!”
Such sour grapes distract from any real critique of the prize system—and real questions there are. On Facebook, people complained that there were no women who were given Baker money. This is not true, since Jowita Wyszomirska is a woman, but it is nevertheless striking that 5 of the 6 award winners are white males.
Perhaps the judges didn’t know. Perhaps the didn’t care. Perhaps they are all Klansmen and intentionally chose white men (those hoods would be great for helping keep their identities hidden and preserving that coveted Baker Secrecy (TM)).
Last year, executive director Melissa Warlow told City Paper other artist awards, such as the MacArthur Grants, are decided in secret. “The Board of Governors of the Baker Fund holds the process to the highest objective and professional standards and annually recruits a panel of nationally respected jurors from outside Maryland who use the website to make their independent selections.”
Since they use the website to make their decision, the gender and race of applicants is probably pretty apparent. But, without other criteria, what are artists supposed to think? And it comes at a particularly bad time, when Open Walls Baltimore has been attacked as a “sausage party” for including only a single woman artist (full disclosure: CP’s editorial staff, as mostly male, could also be characterized as a sausage party).
It’s also worth noting that Todd Marcus, the band leader and bass clarinetist who received one of the Baker Awards, also won City Paper‘s “Best Do Gooder” in 2013.