When Peabody Institute professor Manuel Barrueco received an email alerting him that he had been nominated for a prestigious fellowship carrying a five-figure cash prize, he assumed it was spam, perhaps a variation of the Nigerian lottery scam, and deleted it.
When Barrueco received several follow-up emails in the ensuing weeks, he also sent them unread to his computer's trash bin. It took a phone call and the blunt question, "What are you doing?" to convince the internationally acclaimed classical guitarist that he was indeed a finalist for the United States Artist Awards for Artistic Excellence, and that he was on the verge of throwing away $50,000.
The Los Angeles-based arts advocacy group announced Monday that Barrueco and Baltimore choreographer Liz Lerman were among the 50 winners nationwide of the unrestricted annual fellowships.
"I've never won anything before in my life," says Barrueco, 58, of Lutherville.
The Grammy-nominated artist studied the guitar at Peabody as a child, and later grew up to teach at the music school. He plans to use the money to commission composers of American and Latin-American heritage to compose pieces for classical guitar.
"The guitar is an instrument that doesn't have as much great music as the piano or the violin," Barrueco says. "Guitarists have to struggle to create a repertoire for ourselves. It gives me lots of pleasure to make a contribution to the instrument I love."
Lerman, 63, is a MacArthur Award-winning choreographer known for devising dances on such abstract topics as the Human Genome Project and for incorporating such nontraditional performers as nursing home residents into her compositions.
Last July, she left Dance Exchange, the Takoma Park troupe she founded in 1976, to forge an independent career as a freelance choreographer. Lerman and her husband, storyteller and writer Jon Spellman, relocated to Fells Point.
Currently, Lerman is putting together a piece based on interviews she conducted with people on treadmills. A collaboration with the African-American dance troupe, Urban Bush Women, will receive a workshop production at Center Stage in April.
"The timing of this award couldn't have been better," says Lerman, who recently found herself without a guaranteed salary for the first time in 35 years.
"It's wonderful in terms of the financial support, but also because it shows that the artistic community is anticipating more interesting work from me."