The annual San Diego Art Prize has evolved and changed, both in how the award is presented and what it means when artists win the award.
Founded in 2006 by the San Diego Visual Arts Network, the awards were originally given to two established artists and two emerging artists. These artists would then be brought together to work on a joint exhibition.
In recent years, however, the San Diego Art Prize has only been awarded to regional artists whose “outstanding achievements in the field of visual arts deserve recognition.” Chi Essary, who became curator and administrator of the art award in 2019, says she sees the award as something that continues to “evolve,” and for this year’s nominees, she made a point of making it more of a service to artists simply win the prize.
“The whole idea was to find a way to bring more value and meaning to the artists and the art community as a whole,” says Essary. “How can we draw more attention to the region and share the talent we have here with the world? We all know and love these artists and how much talent we have here.”
Essary says she was brainstorming ideas on how to raise awareness of both the art award and the recipients when a colleague suggested she try a more novel approach to choosing the winners. She asked 17 local artists, art writers (full disclosure: I was asked to submit nominees), curators and art professionals to create a list of 18 nominees. This list was sent to the four national and international curators to select the winners.
Essary says this new method of selecting winners has already proven fruitful.
“There was a lot of interest and excitement, and that was really inspiring,” says Essary, adding that one of the curators has already approached one of the recipients for a blog post. “Even though they only selected four artists, all of the nominees are now in their mental rolodex. They know these artists and that is priceless.”
The four national and international curators are Jovanna Venegas (Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art); Marcela Guerrero (Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum, New York); Amy Galpin (Chief Curator, Frost Art Museum, Florida); and José Springer (an independent curator based in Mexico City and Vienna). Together they selected four recipients for this year’s awards.
The winners are painter Alida Cervantes, multidisciplinary artists Angélica Escoto and Carlos Castro Arias, and public art duo Cog•nate Collective (Misael Diaz and Amy Sanchez Arteaga).
“I’ve lived in San Diego for seven years, and it’s good to know that my work is recognized in this cultural environment,” said Arias, who is originally from Colombia and is an associate professor at San Diego State University. “I think an interesting element of this award is having a jury from different backgrounds.”
“We are very grateful to the four curators who acted as selection judges for the award,” agrees the Cog•nate Collective in a joint statement via email. “We hope that this kind of cross-city and cross-country engagement can facilitate opportunities for collaboration and help expand gestures of solidarity between our arts communities.”
What all winners have in common is that they are representative of the binational identity of the region. That said, all four art award winners live, work, and practice in both San Diego and Tijuana. In addition, her works deal with themes of this binational identity in different ways.
“It’s definitely great to see artists from both sides of the border being recognized, and in this case all Latin American artists,” says Cervantes, a Mexican artist whose work “explores the power relations between race, class, gender and even species “.
In addition to a cash prize, the works of the art prize winners will be exhibited in a joint exhibition that opens on September 17 in the art gallery of the Central Library. They will also be exhibited together at the annual Art San Diego art fair, also opening in September. All four artists confirm that they will produce new work for both exhibitions.
Ultimately, Essary says it was “encouraging” to see how the four curators reacted to the work and that she sees the art prize as a kind of “intermediary” to continue introducing local artists to national and international curators and organizations.
“It’s exciting to see what they’re excited about and what’s caught their attention,” says Essary. “Because they’re not here, it’s completely unbiased and based solely on what attracts them.”