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Teacher wins annual Artscape Prize

The Baltimore Sun

Amid warm applause in a packed auditorium, a Baltimore County teacher and multimedia artist accepted the $25,000 Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize yesterday at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Geoff Grace's winning work, "it's the linger, not the long," showcased three giant giraffes painted with clay slip on museum walls, with photographs and collages scattered about.

"It's a strange feeling," said Grace, 33, an art and photography teacher at Overlea High School. "To be singled out in the local art community is a little out of the norm."

He described his motivations for the work as personal without an overarching theme that he intended for audiences to see. He said he hopes that each person finds his or her own personal connection.

Grace said he isn't sure what he'll do with the prize money. "I have some loose ideas and nothing's concrete yet," he said. "Maybe it'll just sit around until I'm 96."

His work and that of the other finalists will be on display at the museum through Aug. 3.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts started the competition in 2006 to honor civic leader Sondheim, who died last year, and his late wife, Janet, both of whom supported the arts. The competition, open to applicants from Maryland, Washington and parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia, seeks to help regional visual artists enhance their careers.

The prize is part of Artscape, the nation's largest free public arts festival, which will take place from Friday to July 20 along North Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue.

The other finalists, chosen from an initial pool of 324 applicants, each received a $1,500 award. They were Becky Alprin, Melissa Dickenson, Dawn Gavin, Molly Springfield and Maren Hassinger.

The panel of judges included Laura Hoptman, senior curator at the New Museum in New York; Darby English, writer and art historian at the University of Chicago; and Mickalene Thomas, a New York-based artist.

"He works well in many different mediums and he has a real inquisitiveness that will lead him to a very fruitful path in the future," Hoptman said of Grace.

The Abell Foundation donated $125,000 to keep the award going for five years. Other donations, used toward operating costs and the endowment for the future events, came from the Greater Baltimore Committee, the William G. Baker Fund, Amy and Charles Newhall, Ellie Dankert, the Alex. Brown Charitable Foundation, the Charlesmead Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation, Legg Mason, Rosemore Inc., and the Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation.

Now in its third year, the city hopes to continue the annual award with financial support from local organizations and businesses. The initial award came from Artscape's budget.

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