Two years ago, Bird Ross [MFA ’92] and Brenda Baker [MFA ’90] came up with the idea for an art prize to support Dane County’s professional female artists.
Gender disparities in the art world are stark. Only 30% of artists represented in commercial galleries in the United States are women. Some 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
“We wanted to showcase people who were artists, who keep their practice as their predominant work,” Ross said. “We wanted people to know who those people are.”
“We looked at models of grant programs that give away money,” Baker added.
In 2017, the pair founded the Women Artists Forward Fund (WAFF). They courted donors and gathered funds — their goal is now $540,000 for an endowment and sustainable operating costs, which they’re closing in on.
The Madison Community Foundation and Overture Center for the Arts signed on as partners. In summer 2019, WAFF put out a call for artists to apply for the prize. Seventy women did.
On Friday night at the Chazen Museum of Art, Baker and Ross announced the first two winners of the Forward Art Prize. Each received a grant of $10,000, funded for the first three cycles by philanthropist and art collector Simona Chazen.
An anonymous jury chose Jennifer Angus, who makes intricate installations using real (dead) insects, and Diné (Navajo) artist Dakota Mace, who works in photography and indigenous textiles. Five additional women were named finalists: Hannah Bennet [Art Certificate ’19], Angelica Contreras, Martha Glowacki [MFA ’78], Emily Leach [BFA ’19] and [Professor of Glass] Helen Lee.