When artists Brenda Baker [MFA ’90] and Bird Ross [MFA ’92] stumbled upon the history of Jean Pond Miner, the 27-year-old sculptor who created the iconic “Forward” statue housed in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society (and replicated in front of the state Capitol), they hatched an ambitious plan to support women artists in Dane County.
After two years of community outreach and tons of sweat equity, Baker and Ross launched the Women Artists Forward Fund, an endowment held at Madison Community Foundation, currently worth $350,000. The fund will award $10,000 Forward Art Prizes to two women artists at a ceremony at the Chazen Museum in November. The artists see this endowment as an extension of Miner’s work, and one they hope will continue into perpetuity.
Baker and Ross, who are both working artists, say Wisconsin does a dismal job of supporting the arts. They know a number of artists who have left the state for better opportunities elsewhere. Baker points to the most recent study by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies that reports Wisconsin is tied with Georgia for having the lowest per capita spending for the arts. That adds up to 14 cents per capita as compared to Minnesota, which contributes $7.26 per capita.
“If we really believe art and culture is what fuels our souls and community, and brings people to our community, we should be investing more money in it. Not just in organizations, but the individuals that are making the art,” says Baker.