After the Sondheim Exhibit of Finalists and Semi-Finalists last summer, a Bmoreart discussion revealed that a growing sector of the arts community feels disconnected and disenfranchised by annual art prizes. Online complaints, like “It’s the same people every year” and “the Jurors are ageist” are not necessarily inaccurate, but a larger conversation revealed that a number of artists have stopped applying for these prizes because of a track record of ‘failure’ in the past.

By failure, I mean not being selected as a Semi-Finalist, despite repeated applications. If I am completely honest I will admit that I have never been selected as a Semi-Finalist either, and I can attest that it is discouraging. Looking back, I don’t think I have ever been selected for an Artscape satellite show, either! Applying can seem like an exercise in futility, especially when there’s an application fee. After multiple failures, it is perfectly understandable to think, ‘My work isn’t cool, or in right now, or what all the MFA’s are doing.’ If I’m never going to be picked, why bother?

I am here to tell you that it is NOT acceptable to NOT apply. I don’t care what kind of work you make, where you show, or what your track record is – if you consider yourself an active member of the art community in Baltimore – it is your DUTY to apply.

When you apply to the Sondheim, your work is not only seen by the three Sondheim Jurors, it is seen by dozens of local curators who put together a network of Artscape Satellite exhibits every year. Even if you aren’t selected for an Artscape exhibit, it is valuable for your work to be viewed by all these curators. You never know what they’ll see or when they might contact you for a future opportunity.


Think about it this way: Do you want The Sondheim Prize to continue to exist?? When you don’t apply, you’re sending a clear message that you believe this prize is irrelevant. Whether or not you think your work is Sondheim caliber, there’s no denying that the award is hugely significant for the arts community as a whole and it puts Baltimore art on the national arts map, which benefits everyone.

If you’re still feeling doubtful and uninspired, ask yourself what would change your mind, in terms of applying?? One of the complaints of the award is that BOPA chooses out of town jurors who select works that fit a ‘New York Style’ that excludes a majority of artists. Maybe in the future BOPA should take a lesson from The Trawick Prize and bring in a few local jurors as well, to create a sense of home town fairness?? Whatever your ideas are, this prize is for everyone, so send your suggestions to BOPA. They want the Sondheim Prize to be a vital and rich part of the arts culture in Baltimore or they wouldn’t bother to spend countless hours and funds investing in it.

Other suggestions to improve Sondheim participation would be for BOPA to announce jurors earlier. I just received word this week that the 2014 Sondheim Jurors are artist Sarah Oppenheimer, who created the BMA’s amazing site specific installations in the contemporary wing, Claire Gilman, curator at The Drawing Center NY, and Olivia Shao, a NY-based independent curator. Researching the jurors helps to motivate applicants and also, if you are doing this correctly, should affect the images you include. It’s reasonable to expect to have a month to research and apply after the jurors are announced. This did not happen this year.

Regardless, Sondheim 2014 applications are due Monday, January 6 !!  Click here for the application pdf. Just apply. Now.



If you still feel disillusioned by the Sondheim, Baltimore’s Baker Artist Awards is another amazing option – and the deadline is also fast approaching at January 15.  Both Baker and Sondheim Awards are $25,000, but the Baker is a completely FREE application. Baker includes a professional-looking online nomination, which serves as a website for lots of local artists. In addition to the three $25,000 Baker Awards and an exhibit at the BMA, they give out several smaller B-Grant Awards, this year at $5000 a piece. B-grants also come with an exhibition – this year it was at D Center and curated by MICA’s Curatorial Practice MFA. Even if you are not selected for an award, everyone wins on the Baker site because your work is highly visible to curators and other artists. You clearly have ZERO reasons not to apply. Just do it. Now. You don’t even have to resize your images.

Another bonus from the Baker = Favorites! Just this week I received several email notifications from the Baker site saying that different artists had “favorited” the work on my nomination! After a discouraging day, this affirmation and recognition felt like winning an award. I was immediately cheered up and felt visible, like my work mattered to someone. The “favorite” option at Baker is a great way to encourage browsing and careful observation. All the artists’ favorites are available for others to peruse along with their nomination. I am now a believer in the Baker “Favorite” option and have been reviewing nominations with a sharper eye to choose my own, both because they spread love around and also because it simulates the buzz of shopping!

According to Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Since there are several annual worthwhile options for participation here in Baltimore, we all need to do our part and just show up. You can’t win, and you certainly can’t participate, if you don’t apply. Baker Nominations close January 15! Get on it! Update your profile! Make new friends by choosing your favorite work on the site.

* Author Cara Ober is the Editor at Bmoreart. She swears she is applying to both The Sondheim and Baker Awards this year and forever.