The Baltimore Promotion of the Arts  2014 Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize Awards Ceremony and Celebration was held on Saturday July 12 at the Walters Art Museum where the current exhibition of the finalists is on view.  The event is akin to Baltimore’s Academy Awards. People actually get dressed up for this event—a rare thing is our city—and they do so to honor those chosen, those giving the awards, those who have made it possible, and the institutions and people working there that support this important endeavor.

This year there were seven finalists, but only one went home with the $25,000 prize. The artists are each interviewed by the curators earlier in the day, who then have just a few hours to come to their final decision. They go down to the wire. This creates a dramatic atmosphere for the audience and, truth is, a rather difficult one emotionally for the artists as each is clearly deserving. Though none should feel slighted if they do not win  the big prize, and each had a group rooting for them. The non-prizewinners, this year Lauren Adams, Kyle Bauer, Shannon Collis, Marley Dawson, Kyle Tata, and Stewart Watson, get $2,500 each and have already been awarded the professional recognition and the amazing exhibition opportunity to present their work working with professional curators in the high quality setting of the Walters Art Museum. Still one feels for them as they sit on the stage in front of a large audience awaiting the announcement, which this year went to Neil Feather.
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Each year this event brings the community out in solidarity. It is a joyous event as the audience first mills about in the galleries, then into the auditorium to hear the laudatory speeches and the exciting award announcement. This is followed by the always moving acceptance by the winner. Next all head to the big spirited reception with food and libations. The place is packed. Yes, the people all come to see who wins the big prize but it is much more than that— it is a celebration of all the artists, the excellent show, and that very fact that this occurs on an annual basis in Baltimore.

Does any other city’s two major arts institutions present the best work of the region in conjunction with the city’s local philanthropists in a serious manner? This exhibit it not a provincial up and coming showcase, but a well curated exhibit of full fledged, well deserving, and high quality contemporary artists.

The community as a whole never seems so gleeful then at this event—except for the equally compelling Baker Artist Awards, held at the Baltimore Museum of Art annually— because it is an affirmation of what we all know to be true. The creative impulse occurs everywhere, and with support and nourishment on all levels, it flourishes and the possibilities grow more promising for all with each passing year.

Check out BmoreArt’s images and review of all seven finalists work here.

* Jack Livingston is a writer, editor, and artist living in Baltimore.