The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA) announced local photographer Akea Brionne Brown as the winner of this year’s Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize. The non-profit organization, which operates public arts festivals like this weekend’s Artscape, awarded Brown during a special ceremony and reception at the Walters Art Museum on July 13.
The Sondheim Artscape Prize, now in its 14th year, is one of the most prestigious awards granted in connection with Artscape. According to a press release, the prize recognizes local visual artists and artist collectives, who are evaluated by an independent jury of creative professionals. For winning, Brown received a $25,000 fellowship to support ongoing projects and career development. She also won a chance to exhibit her work at the Walters, which partners with BOPA to administer the prize. The museum already features some of her work in an exhibition of Sondheim Artscape Prize finalists that will be on display until August 11.
According to the release, Brown’s photography explores the “implications of historical racial and social structures” on black identity, with particular focus on the black middle class. Her art earned previous awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
Brown’s website notes that she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2018. MICA said in an emailed press release that she is the fifth Sondheim Artscape Prize awardee in a row with a connection to the art school.
“To be able to be chosen as the winner of such an important award is an incredible honor,” Brown said in a statement. “I’m so grateful for my community, my support system and for everyone who helped me keep the momentum when it felt like I was speaking to an audience that was composed of only myself. I’m full of excitement and extremely eager to continue this work.”
Brown added, in a follow-up phone call, that she is “still a bit in shock" about the award. She said that she hopes to use some of the prize money to expand on “Black Picket Fences,” her growing project that captures everyday life for African Americans living under racism. She took photographs in Maryland, Washington, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia for that project, and plans to subsidize future travel and material expenses with the prize money.
“I definitely have plans to get some equipment to further the project, but also some other portrait work that I don’t want to share just yet," she said. “A lot of the work I plan on doing is really based on place, my relationship to place and black history that has developed in relation to different geographic locations.”