Joyce J. Scott is the winner of the new 50k Baker Artist Award by Cara Ober

I’m saying it: I told you so. The Baker Awards announced their 2016 selections on Thursday night, naming several women top prize winners, including Joyce J. Scott for the newly established $50,000 Mary Sawyers Imboden Prize. With this change to their program, the Baker Awards is now giving out one of the largest individual art awards in the country.

In addition to Scott, a sculptor, jewelry-maker and lifelong Baltimorean, the Baker awards recognized Jennifer Grow, author of “My Life as a Mermaid,” a collection of short stories about contemporary American lives and longings with the $20,000 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize. Since it was established in 2009 by the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund, the award has encouraged writers and literary artists to apply but very few have received top awards, with visual art taking the majority of prizes and musicians in second place.

I discussed the Baker Award’s significant changes from 2016 here, and wondered if we would see any impact in the diversity of their award winners, specifically to reflect the number of female artists and ethnic minorities who are achieving an ambitious level of success in the arts in Baltimore. With the 2016 awards, we see an interesting broadening in media as well as some equity between sex and race.

Until 2016, three $25,000 prizes were awarded, along with three $5,000 grants. This year the awards were changed to a top 50k prize, a second level 20k prize, with the three 5k grants. The 2016 B Grant winners are Bill Schmidt, an abstract painter and maker of drawings, filmmaker Matt Porterfield, and dancer, choreographer, director and designer Naoko Maesheba.

I will admit to being personally thrilled that Scott was awarded the first 50k prize for her bead and glass sculpture, which deals with race, gender, and violence through achingly gorgeous glass surfaces. The artist is 67, and opening a new exhibit at Goya Contemporary on May 18. In addition, I am happy to see literary arts, film, and experimental performance recognized in additional to visual arts. All those selected this year have made huge, longterm contributions to the regional cultural landscape and are highly deserving of this award.

As in past years, the Baker Artist Award Winner will be exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art, with this year’s  show scheduled for August 14 to September 16. Going forward, it’s hard to predict whether this year’s Baker Award Winners’ balance and diversity is a one off or a welcome trend, but it feels good to celebrate this year’s selection, especially in conjunction with past years.

The Baker Artist Awards is administered by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

Author Cara Ober is founding editor at BmoreArt.