The call for entries runs through Sept. 28.
The winner of The Bennett Prize will create her own solo exhibition of figurative realist paintings, which will first be shown at the Muskegon Museum of Art and then travel the country.
Endowed by art collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt at The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Bennett Prize aims to spotlight women artists who are, or seek to become, full-time painters, but have not yet reached full professional recognition.
"The Bennett Prize is seminal at this moment, when it’s harder than ever to pursue a career as a painter or artist of any kind," said renowned American painter Alyssa Monks. "Artists are being pushed to the fringes and art markets are making it more and more difficult for any artists to feel secure. A prize at this level of value and seriousness can propel an artist's career at a time when so many quit or lose faith or stamina.”
The prize is also designed to create opportunities for the public to learn more about the creative vision of talented women painters in the increasingly popular style of figurative realism.
“Women are creating important figurative realist paintings that should be seen by a wider audience,” Bennett said. “Figurative realist painters portray the diverse human form, and have much to say in a society struggling to understand human differences, including race, gender and social status.”
American painter Aleah Chapin echoed those thoughts.
"A prize such as this is a microphone for women’s thoughtful and unique voices,” she said. “We paint because we have something important to say. When the world listens, that is life-changing. The Bennett Prize amplifies that voice, telling the world that that what women have to say is valid."
Bennett and Schmidt, of San Antonio, Texas, have endowed a $3 million fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation to ensure the prize will be awarded every two years in perpetuity.
“The Pittsburgh Foundation has a history of funding artists whose work and unique perspectives might otherwise be overlooked,” said Maxwell King, foundation president and CEO. “The Bennett Prize establishes an ongoing mechanism for recognizing and elevating the work of women painters.”
A four-member jury, including renowned realist artists Maria Tomasula and Andrea Kowch, will select 10 painters from among the entrants. The 10 finalists will each receive $1,000 to participate in an exhibition opening May 2, 2019 at the Muskegon Museum of Art, where the winner will be announced.
“The Muskegon Museum of Art looks to showcase innovative programs, and we expect The Bennett Prize to be a tipping point for the artists’ careers,” said Kirk Hallman, executive director of the museum.
The winner will receive $25,000 annually for two years, so she can devote the time necessary to mount a solo exhibition, which will open in Muskegon in 2021 and then travel the country.
The Bennett Prize is not open to hobbyists, students or artists who have been paid or received an award of $25,000 or more for any single work of art.
Schmidt and Bennett are among the country’s top collectors of figurative realist art and are committed to seeing that talented women painters receive long-overdue recognition.
“We’re aiming to help ensure that there are as many paintings by women as men in museums, commanding the same prices and critical esteem,” Schmidt said.
Women artists appear ready for the challenge of making that happen.
"The Bennett Prize validates and encourages artists who are placing all their chips precariously on their dreams,” Chapin said. “A prize like this tells them that what they are doing is valuable and important – to go ahead and buy that big canvas and big tubes of paint and spend time making the thing you want to exist. It's worthwhile."