Visual Arts

What Would You Do With $10,000? The UAC’s Fellowship Awards

Jacqui Biggs Larsen, “Field Guide”

“You just won ten thousand dollars!”

Eighty-five artists hoped to receive that bit of good news this July as they anticipated the results of the Utah Arts Council’s Fellowship Competition.

And 2006 marks the year of the $10,000 Fellowship Award. Prior to recent board approval, the Fellowship Award was half that amount. The lucky 2006 recipients are Jacqui Biggs Larsen and George Mark England.

Although receiving the Fellowship award sounds glamorous, the process of getting there is not.

Larsen notes the drudgery of compiling documents and filling out forms correctly for any grant or award. “There’s also the challenge of getting the whole kit and caboodle into the mail,” she adds. “One time I was pushing that late-night postmark deadline and got pulled over by an officer on a dark back road near Kuhni’s, a rendering plant north of Springville, only a mile from the post office. The officer motioned for me to roll down my window. While he sniffed for alcohol on my breath (what artist pushing a deadline could afford to drink?), I caught a whiff of stench from Kuhni’s. ‘You were practically flying over that hill,’ he said. ‘Any reason for your hurry?’ I told him, ‘An art deadline,’ then mumbled to myself, ‘which is probably hexed now.’ It was. Not only did I not receive the award, I also had to go to traffic school.”

When it comes to handling rejection, Larsen adopts Samuel Beckett’s mantra: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Mark England, “Watershed”

“The first time I applied for something and got rejected, I collapsed on the floor,” Larsen remembers. “The force of my art bubble bursting was that great. But the next time, though I may have swayed a bit, I held my ground. Now I know that along with rejections come acceptances, awards and opportunities. It’s an ongoing mixed bag. The more you enter, the greater your chances. And more importantly, the more you enter, the better your work gets—it rises to the occasion.”

Getting shot down time and time again is something all artists have to deal with. Some deal with it better than others. Mark England, the other 2006 Fellowship recipient has had to learn to deal with rejection as well. “I agonize over whether I wasn’t good enough or whether everyone else is just plain better than me,” he admits. “Either way I am filled with self-doubt. I deal with it by just telling myself this takes time and I have no choice but to work harder at making my art better.”

Sometimes England will apply for several projects at the same time, and even though he gets turned down, he doesn’t let it get him down. Which goes to show that even the biggest winners are also losers. “I just got rejected from a public-art project that I desperately wanted and felt very qualified for. It is very discouraging. But it is only one of many that have come and will come. If you can’t handle this kind of discouragement then you are in the wrong profession. Make sure you have chosen this through thick and thin — like marriage. If not, then you shouldn’t be applying for grants or subjecting yourself to such torture.”

Jacqui Biggs Larsen, “Indigo Walk”

Maybe the regular rejection makes the occasional win even more triumphant. England describes his initial reaction upon learning of his Fellowship award as “pure, unadulterated pleasure and satisfaction.” Larsen, on the other hand, experienced brief denial asking, “Are you sure?” when Lila Abersold, visual arts manager and happy messenger, delivered the $10,000 phone call.

Fellowship recipients automatically receive an exhibition at the Rio Gallery, along with a catalog showcasing their artwork. The recognition and stamp of credibility that comes with being a recipient is invaluable, but the $10,000 is most likely at the top of the perk list. What artist wouldn’t love to go on the ultimate shopping spree at the art supply store or finally finish that studio they’ve been meaning to work on for the past several years?

Expect something big and amazing at the Rio Gallery come March 2007. With artists as talented as England and Larsen, we couldn’t expect anything less.

Final thoughts on receiving the 2006 Fellowship Award:

Mark England, “Watershed”

Larsen: “Though the art life we live daily should be reason enough to keep those brushes in hand, who can’t use an outside voice from time to time telling us to keep on? Receiving an award pushes the pause button on my self-critiques, and points out what’s right with my work – not only to myself, but also to dealers, collectors, curators, and even my neighbors.”

England: “WHOOOOHOOO!”

Categories: Visual Arts

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