2017 Cleveland Arts Prize Winners Announced, Including Russell Atkins, Christi Birchfield, and Jeannette Sorrell

click to enlarge Christi Birchfield’s work at MOCA Cleveland as part of How to Remain Human in 2015
Christi Birchfield’s work at MOCA Cleveland as part of How to Remain Human in 2015

For the first time in the organization’s 57-year history, the eight recipients of the 2017 Cleveland Arts Prize were formally announced live Wednesday evening at MOCA Cleveland. It was a big night for the Cleveland Institute of Art, as three recipients have deep ties to the school. The winners include two visual artists, a poet and musician, a conductor, a writer, a dancer and choreographer, as well as the president and CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art and the longtime executive director of the Intermuseum Conservation Association.

“Yesterday's event was really about celebrating the hundreds of people involved each year in the awards selection process,” says Cleveland Arts Prize executive director Alenka Banco. “This is a publicly driven process. In many ways, the nominator is just as important as the juror. Without the nomination, an artist cannot be considered for an arts prize. This city is exploding with talent and the Cleveland Arts Prize has been in the forefront of recognizing and in-turn preserving Cleveland's rich artistic legacy. Welcome, class of 2017. You are in the best company.”

The Cleveland Arts Prize is the oldest award of its kind in the United States. For nearly six decades, the organization has recognized local individual artists and arts advocates with special awards. Each year, artists must be nominated by a member of the community to be eligible for the Cleveland Arts Prize, but anyone is eligible to nominate a local artist or arts advocate. Annually, the Cleveland Arts Prize awards $10,000 to two Emerging Artists, two Mid-Career Artists and one Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as special awards that don’t include cash prizes.

The 2017 Emerging Artist Award winners are Christi Birchfield, a visual artist specializing in printmaking and manager of Zygote Press’ Ink House in Waterloo, and writer Kevin Keating, whose work includes two novels and many essays and short stories. Birchfield studied printmaking at the Cleveland Institute of Art before earning her MFA in printmaking from Columbia University School of the Arts in New York. Currently teaching at Baldwin Wallace University, Keating studied at Cleveland State University and Columbia College in Chicago, and is currently working on another degree from Southern New Hampshire University.

This year’s Mid-Career Artist Award winners are Sarah Kabot, associate professor and Chair of the Drawing department at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Jeannette Sorrell, musician, conductor and founder of Apollo’s Fire, Cleveland’s 25-year-old baroque orchestra.

The Cleveland Arts Prize 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award winner is local poet, playwright, composer and editor Russell Atkins. Born in Cleveland in 1926, Atkins was raised by his mother, grandmother and aunt on the city’s east side. Perhaps best known for his work at Karamu House, considered the oldest African American theater in the United States, Atkins studied at Cleveland College, Cleveland Music School Settlement, Cleveland School of Arts and the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1950, Atkins co-founded Free Lance: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose with friend Adelaide Simon. The first issue contained an introduction by Langston Hughes, and Free Lance continued under Atkins’ leadership for more than two decades.

This year’s Robert Bergman Prize goes to Grafton Nunes, president and CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art for the past seven years, and the Martha Joseph Prize was awarded to Albert Albano, executive director of the Intermuseum Conservatory Association, one of the country’s most respected organizations dedicated to the preservation and repair of historically important works of art.

Additionally, the Cleveland Arts Prize selected past winner Kathryn Karipides as this year’s “Special Honoree.” Spending her career performing and teaching at Western Reserve University as a dancer and choreographer, Karipides continues to advocate for modern dance since her retirement 19 years ago.
Although the winners were announced Wednesday at MOCA Cleveland, a formal award ceremony will be held at the Cleveland Museum of Art at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 29. Hosted by 2016 Robert P. Bergman Prize recipient Dee Perry, the event will feature remarks and performances by this year’s winners. Tickets range from $75 to $250, and go on sale May 15. For more information on the winners and to purchase tickets, visit clevelandartsprize.org.
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