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Pews announced; visual art takes a beating


We are sorry to be the bringers of bad tidings. The Pew Fellowships in the Arts were announced this week, and boy oh boy, this was not good news for people in Philadelphia in the cutting edge visual arts scene. Rather, the new selection process rewarded people working in other disciplines like architecture and jazz or in traditional art areas like clay and jewelry –all are disciplines that have a strong financial model and that need this support less than non-traditional visual art.

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From left to right: Germaine Ingram, photo by James Wasserman; still from Kara Crombie’s Aloof Hills, courtesy of the artist; James Sugg, courtesy of Pig Iron Theatre Company.

Here’s who won:
Max Apple (fiction writer)
Melanie Bilenker (jewelry maker)
John Blake, Jr. (jazz violinist/composer/arranger)
Kara Crombie (video artist)
William Daley (clay artist)
Orrin Evans (jazz pianist/composer/arranger)
Germaine Ingram (tap performer/choreographer)
Hanna Khoury (violinist/classical Arab musician)
Tina Morton (documentary filmmaker)
Jenny Sabin (architect/designer)
James Sugg (solo theater artist/sound designer/composer)
Charles “Chuck” Treece (multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter)

We don’t know the majority of these artists and we assume they are deserving and we congratulate them all.

But at a time when the visual arts scene in Philadelphia is so exciting, we are reading this movement by Pew away from cutting edge visual arts as a bellweather of future actions by Pew.  In other words, Pew’s shift in focus is a loss for individual visual artists not working in traditional areas. We don’t want to question the nominating process, the secret first entry level of names for this award — that’s a whole other discussion. We do take this as an institutional shift in direction.

It’s our belief that one reason artists have been moving to Philadelphia and staying here is the Pew (of course cheap rents, proximity to New York and the massive amount of energy in the Philly art scene right now are other big reasons). But to have this shift in focus at Pew at the same time that the PA Council on the Arts has put their fellowships in abeyance, well it’s a low blow for the burgeoning art scene.

On the bright side, it does look Pew has moved beyond the usual suspects. Meanwhile we’ll have to lick our wounds and move on to thinking about the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge.