Society 1858 Impacts Careers of Contemporary Southern Artists

Applications for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art are streaming in and we are excited to see what the 2016 group of submissions will look like! This will be the eighth year the Prize has been awarded and the third year since we began receiving and archiving the submissions online at An invaluable tool for our panel of judges and applicants by streamlining the application and review process, the website doubles as a searchable online archive and an amazing repository of contemporary southern art. Anyone from curators and collectors, to academics and the general public, can access the work of over 500 artists from eleven states. And this will continue to grow and grow as a new group of Prize applicants is added to the archive each year. The potential for this one-of-a-kind archive to become a significant resource and tool is an added bonus and exciting component of the Prize.

First and foremost, this significant annual award of $10,000 is made possible by the collaborative efforts of many people. The Prize is funded by Society 1858, a member auxiliary group of the Museum; and is judged and awarded by a panel of visual arts professionals, museum representatives, and Gibbes staff members. In the last seven years, the Prize has recognized some of the most compelling and thought-provoking work coming out of the South, reframing the way people think about contemporary southern art. From Deborah Luster’s powerful and evocative portraits of prisoners in Louisiana (2015 Winner, Louisiana) to Patrick Dougherty’s whimsical site-specific sculptures made entirely of twigs and branches (2011 Winner, North Carolina), the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art recognizes artists who are making an impact that will be recognized for generations to come.

Patrick Dougherty

I have been thrilled to be a part of the process—working with my co-chair Liza Cleveland, our board chair Jamieson Clair, and the amazing Gibbes staff—to coordinate the events surrounding the 2016 award. After the success of last year’s dinner program with winner Deborah Luster, we realized that the opportunity to hear directly from the artists about their process—and the impact that the award will have on their lives and work—was an element that was lacking in the current format. This year, the Prize will be all the more anticipated with the reopening of the Gibbes giving us an opportunity to add several new components to the program. I am particularly excited that this year’s winner will be announced in advance of the award event—allowing for the opportunity to promote the artist and raise awareness about their work prior to the award ceremony. We plan to include an artist talk as well as a panel discussion around the award celebration, which will be held in our beautiful new museum. Also, on view at that time will be The Things We Carry (May 28–October 9), an exhibition featuring the work of eleven Prize finalists and winners in response to the Emanuel AME tragedy last June. Society 1858 is pleased to be a sponsor of this exhibition!

Deborah Luster

Deborah Luster was awarded the 1858 Prize in 2015.

I encourage everyone to visit the website at where you can browse through all 528 applicants from the past two years. The search options are endless—you can see the work of the five artists who submitted work from Kentucky; or discover that there has been only one submission by a sculptor from Arkansas but nineteen from Georgia. The deadline for this year’s applications is May 31st, and the short list of finalists will be announced over the summer. I hope everyone will spread the word to potential applicants and will stay tuned for the announcement of the 2016 winner.

Anja Kelley, 1858 Prize Co-chair and guest blogger

Published April 8, 2016

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