Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists

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The Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists ("The Bennett Prize") is a $50,000 biennial art prize established in 2016 by American art collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt.[1][2]

Bennett and Schmidt are married and have an extensive collection of works by women figurative realist painters.[3] Their collection contains several hundred works and is composed exclusively of works depicting women by women painters. In establishing The Bennett Prize, Bennett and Schmidt expressed a desire to support the type of work they collect.[4] Since establishing the prize, Bennett and Schmidt have announced a $12 Million gift to the Muskegon Museum of Art,[5] the host museum for the Bennett Prize competition, which gift includes art from their Collection as well as cash.[6]

Endowment and description[edit]

The Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists is an art prize endowed by San Antonio-based art collectors and philanthropists Steven Alan Bennett and his wife Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt in 2016. Established with a $3 million fund established at The Pittsburgh Foundation,[7] it is the largest art award ever offered solely to women painters. With the stated goal of seeking to propel the careers of women figurative realist painters, the winner of The Bennett Prize receives $25,000 annually for each of two years to allow her to devote the time necessary to mount a solo exhibition of figurative realist paintings, which are exhibited at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, Michigan and then travel the country.[8] In addition to the sum paid to the winner, The Bennett Prize also offers cash awards of $1000 to each of up to eight (8) finalists selected from among the entrants. Commencing with the third iteration of the prize, a cash award of $10,000 will be presented to a first runner-up selected by the jury.[9] This award is to be called The Elaine Melotti Schmidt Prize for Promise in Figurative Realism.

The prize is awarded once every two years to a woman painter whose principal focus is figurative painting done in a realistic style. Among the rules are requirements that contestants reside in the United States at least part of the year and that submitted work be present in the United States and not have to cross an international border in order to be displayed.[10] Despite the Bennetts’ limitation of their personal collection to paintings of women by women artists, the Bennett Prize is not similarly restricted. Depictions of all genders are permissible, although the submitting artist must identify as a woman, regardless of their assigned gender at birth. This includes trans and cis women and nonbinary people.[11]

The Collection[edit]

The Bennetts’ personal collection has come together over many years. The Bennett Collection comprises several historic works including pieces by Mary Cassatt, Artemisia Gentileschi,[12] Elaine de Kooning, Sarah Miriam Peale, Agnes Martin, and Suzanne Valadon. Among the living artists represented in the collection are major works by Julie Bell, Margaret Bowland, Andrea Kowch, Alyssa Monks, Zoey Frank, Xenia Hausner, SuSu, Katie O’Hagan, Harmonia Rosales, and Kathrin Longhurst,[13] among numerous others.[14]


The aim of the prize is to fund an artist for two years year to enable them to focus solely on creating art. In a comment to American Art Collector Schmidt said: "In our discussions with women artists, we could sense the genuine struggle presented by making a living, raising a family and trying to paint, all at the same time. Our worry was that all this juggling when combined with working in obscurity, might invite some women to quit too soon."[15]

In addition to fighting gender discrimination, Bennett and Schmidt also aim to promote figurative realism, a genre they believe has been disadvantaged by the attitudes of arts professionals and institutional art organizations. Thus, the stated mission of The Bennett Prize is to counteract gender discrimination against women fine art painters and encourage and also enable their pursuit of figurative realism.[7]


Bennett and Schmidt co-created The Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists with the Center for Philanthropy at The Pittsburgh Foundation, which was selected for its experience in working with donors to establish specifically tailored philanthropic initiatives.[16] In addition, Bennett and Schmidt selected The Pittsburgh Foundation because of its experience with programs that support local artists and artists of color through its "Investing in Professional Arts and Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh" grant-making programs which The Pittsburgh Foundation oversees in collaboration with The Heinz Endowments.[17] The Pittsburgh Foundation, working in consultation with Bennett and Schmidt, sponsors The Bennett Prize, but the selection of finalists and the winner is delegated to a jury of four individuals, at least two of whom must be women and, preferably working artists who, but for their experience and success, would meet the eligibility requirements for the prize.

The initial call for entries for The Bennett Prize opened in April and closed in September 2018. The jury deliberated and on November 15, 2018, announced the first group of finalists. On May 2, 2019, the inaugural winner was announced at The Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon. The second call for entries opened in April 2020 and closed in September 2020. The finalists for the second Bennett Prize were announced on November 30, 2020. The second winner was announced on May 27, 2021. The third call for entries opened on April 18, 2022 and closed on October 7, 2022. The round three prize winner and runner-up will be announced at the opening exhibition in Muskegon on May 18, 2023.

2019 Prize Winners[edit]

Aneka Ingold from Tampa, Florida was the first winner of the prize. Her works explore women's experiences across time, culture and history.[18] Ingold will received $25,000 annually for two years, a total of $50,000, which allowed her to devote the time necessary to create new work for her solo exhibition, which opened at the Muskegon Museum of Art in 2021 and then traveled the country.

2019 Finalists[edit]

The women painters named as finalists for the 2019 Bennett Prize were:[19]

  • Dorielle Caimi, Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Jennifer Campbell, Washington D.C.
  • Kira Nam Greene, Brooklyn, New York
  • Mary Henderson, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Aneka Ingold, Tampa, Florida
  • Stefanie Jackson, Athens, Georgia
  • Daniela Kovacic, Evanston, Illinois
  • Rebecca Leveille, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Jenny Morgan, Brooklyn, New York
  • Carrie Pearce, Peoria, Illinois

2019 Honorable Mentions[edit]

In addition to the finalists, the jury, impressed with the quality of the work submitted for the first Prize, elected to call out several contestants with honorable mentions. The artists receiving honorable mentions were:

  • Bryony Bensly, Lunenburg, Massachusetts
  • Shiqing Deng, Brooklyn, New York
  • Michelle Doll, Hoboken, New Jersey
  • Jessica Gordon, Davidson, North Carolina
  • Sasha Gordon, Somers, New York
  • Sylvia Maier, Brooklyn, New York
  • Nora Martin-Hall, Los Angeles, California
  • Felicita Norris, San Jose, California
  • Rebecca Orcutt, Brooklyn, New York
  • Natasha Young, Kealia, Hawaii

2021 Prize Winners[edit]

Ayana Ross from McDonough, Georgia was the second winner of the prize on May 27, 2021. Her works feature family themes and, in her words, “explore intersecting issues of race, gender, identity and economics” as seen in daily life. Ross’ solo exhibition will open at the Muskegon Museum of Art on May 18, 2023, at which time the exhibition of the third prize finalists and winner will also be announced in Muskegon.[20]

2021 Finalists[edit]

The women painters named as finalists for the 2021 Bennett Prize were:[21]

  • Sophia_Yemisi Adeyano-Ross, Providence, Rhode Island
  • Tanmaya Bingham, Portland, Oregon
  • Chloe Chiasson, Brooklyn, New York
  • June Glasson, Millbrook, New York
  • Holly Keogh, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Lavely Miller, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Rebecca Orcutt, North Bend, Washington
  • Ayana Ross, McDonough, Georgia
  • Su Su, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Amy Werntz, Dallas, Texas


The first Finalists’ Exhibition, called "Rising Voices", ran through September 8, 2019 at the Muskegon Museum. It then traveled to different venues in 2020 and 2021 and closed at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 937 Gallery on August 8, 2021. The exhibition for the second iteration of the prize, “Rising Voices 2”,[22] was exhibited at the Customs House Museum in Clarksville, Tennessee, the Arnot Museum in Elmira, New York, the Bo Bartlett Center in Columbus, Georgia, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Groundbreaking Event Planned for Muskegon Museum Expansion" US News & World Report. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  2. ^ "Meet Elaine Schmidt of The Bennett Prize in Downtown Chicago," 14 August 2018., Voyage Media, retrieved 10 December 2019.
  3. ^ "Supporter Spotlight: Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt" Frye Museum Blog. Retrieved 2022-09-06.
  4. ^ Gotthardt, Alexxa (2018-04-11). "This New $50k Prize Is Just for Emerging Female Figurative Painters". Artsy. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  5. ^ "Muskegon Museum of Art to break ground on $11.2M expansion with spotlight on art by women" MiBiz. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  6. ^ "Muskegon Museum of Art breaks ground on new expansion, celebrates $12 Million donation" WZZM. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  7. ^ a b "First-of-its-kind prize aims to propel careers of women artists". Pittsburgh Foundation. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  8. ^ "A $50,000 Biennial Prize Recognizing Women Figurative Realist Painters" Fine Art Connoisseur. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  9. ^ "The $50,000 Bennett Prize is Back for Its Third Edition" ARTNews. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  10. ^ "Call for Entries: The Bennett Prize". BOOOOOOOM!. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  11. ^ "Complete Rules The Bennett Prize. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  12. ^ "Art Herstory Adds Five New Note Card Designs for Spring 2021" Art Herstory. Retrieved 2022-09-06.
  13. ^ "Major new work by Kathrin Longhurst purchased by The Bennett Art Collection" Retrieved 2022-09-06.
  14. ^ "The Collection" The Bennett Collection. Retrieved 2022-09-07.
  15. ^ "The Bennett Prize: Top 10" (PDF). American Art Collector. January 2019. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  16. ^ Martin, Deborah. "San Antonio couple endows $50,000 award for female painters". SF Gate. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  17. ^ "10 finalists announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize". Muskegon Art Museum. 16 November 2018. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  18. ^ "10 winner announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize". Muskegon Art Museum. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  19. ^ "10 finalists announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize". Muskegon Art Museum. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  20. ^ "Call for entries opens:- Third iteration $50,000 Bennett Prize for women figurative painters" The Pittsburgh Foundation. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  21. ^ "Round 2 Winners & Finalists" The Bennett Prize. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  22. ^ "Rising Voices 2: The Bennett Prize (2021)" Muskegon Art Museum. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  23. ^ "Studio Incamminati exhibition showcases Bennett Prize finalists" South Philly Review. Retrieved 2022-09-15.

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