Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists

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Bennett Prize for Women Figurative Realists ("The Bennett Prize") is a $50,000 biennial art prize established in 2018 by American art collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt.[1]

Bennett and Schmidt are married and have an extensive collection of works by women figurative realist painters. 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.[2]

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. 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.[3] In addition to the sum paid to the winner, The Bennett Prize also offers cash awards of $1000 to each of up to ten (10) finalists selected from among the entrants.[4]

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 not have to cross an international border.[5] 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 artist must be a woman.[6]

The Bennetts have proven their dedication to female artists through the creation of the Bennett Prize and their perseverance to achieve this goal. Once they determined their focus, the Bennetts commenced the road to actualization of the prize. They researched institutions and types of awards to create one that would actually make a difference in the artists’ lives. They were met along the way with disregard and dismissal, yet they did not waiver in their efforts and the result is that the first award was given in 2018 and the second iteration of the prize is to occur in 2021. The Bennetts’ personal collection has come together over many years. Included in the Bennett Collection are works by both living and deceased painters including Margaret Bowland, Andrea Kowch, Alyssa Monks, Katie O’Hagen and Artemisia Gentilischi, Elaine de Kooning and Elizabeth Sirani, among many others. The Bennetts collect from two very different positions: Dr. Schmidt favors a narrative style, while Mr. Bennett prefers paintings with an edge. These two styles have created a powerful collection and initiated the Bennetts’ philanthropic interests. They encourage other philanthropists to offer aid to artists through business education along with offering logistical advice for artists such as using social media for their advancement and having quality photographs taken of their work. Mr. Bennett eloquently sums up the critical advice with "Never Give Up."


Bennett and Schmidt, whose collection has been featured in American Art Collector and Fine Art Connoisseur magazines among others, have an extensive collection of works by women figurative realist painters. They have explicitly stated that they believe women have suffered from gender discrimination that has impaired their acceptance as artists. According to the Bennetts, this lack of acceptance is demonstrated in a variety of ways — the number of museum exhibitions and solo shows granted to women, the smaller presence of women on visual fine arts faculties, as well as the lower prices paid to women artists for their work.[7] As these actions have impaired the recognition of these painters, they tended to discourage them at the earliest and most critical moments of their artistic careers. 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."[8]

In addition to gender discrimination, Bennett and Schmidt have also expressed a desire 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.[9]


In order to keep its focus on women figurative realist painters, The Bennett Prize is governed by a series of rules designed to limit the competition to living women fine art painters working in a figurative realist style who are pursuing or seek to pursue careers as full-time working artists. Contestants must either be working as, or wish and intend to pursue careers as, full-time professional painters and, during the two-year residency, cannot be students. Eligible artists must also reside in the United States at least part of the year and their submitted work must be in the United States at the time of submission.[10]

The final eligibility requirement is that contestants must be painters who have not achieved full professional recognition. The Bennett Prize defines "full professional recognition" as having sold a work of art at retail for more than $25,000 or having received an art prize or award in an amount in excess of $25,000.[11]


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.[12] 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.[13] The Pittsburgh Foundation, working in consultation with Bennett and Schmidt, governs 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 artists who, but for their experience and success, would meet the eligibility requirements for the prize.

Selection process[edit]

Selection of the Bennett Prize winner occurs in a juried competition following a call for entries. The first jury was Prize founder Steven Alan Bennett, the painters Andrea Kowch and Maria Tomasula and Art Martin, Director of Exhibitions at the Muskegon Museum of Art (the host museum for the competition).The second jury was Steven Alan Bennett, painters Katie O'Hagan and Alyssa Monks, and Patrick Moore,the Director of the Andy Warhol Museum.[14] These groups made all the decisions respecting the selection of both the finalists and the winner.


The Bennett Prize seeks to use both the jury selection process as well as the winner's the completion of the residency as opportunities to showcase the work of women figurative realist painters. In this respect, the prize contemplates the two exhibitions are contemplated. First, following the completion of the initial selection process, there is the Finalists Exhibition a display of exemplary works of each of the ten selected artists. The winner is announced at this exhibition. Thereafter, following the winner's completion of her two-year Residency, there is a one-woman exhibition of the work created by the winner during the Residency. It is contemplated that the Finalist's Exhibition and that of the work of the most recent winner will occur simultaneously.


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 Septimber 2020. The finalists for the second Bennett Prize happened on November 30. The second winner will be announced May 27, 2021.

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.[15] Ingold will receive $25,000 annually for two years, a total of $50,000, allowing her to devote the time necessary to create new work for a solo exhibition, which will open at the Muskegon Museum of Art in 2021 and then travel the country. The second winner will be announced May 27, 2021.


The women painters named as finalists for the 2019 Bennett Prize are:[16]

  • 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

The winner, Aneka Ingold, was announced at the opening event of the Finalists Exhibition at the Muskegon Museum of Art on May 2, 2019.

Hononorable Mentions 2019[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 are:

  • 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

While the jury elected to identify honorable mentions as part of the first competition, it is not clear if they will do so in the future. It appears that this will be at the discretion of any future jury after having had the opportunity to review all of the submitted work.

The second group of finalists are as follows:

  • 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 Finalists’ Exhibition, called "Rising Voices," ran through September 8, 2019, at the Muskegon Museum. It traveled to different venues in 2020 and 2021, subject to the Pandemic. The schedule for Rising Voices 2 is being determined, again with the Pandemic being considered.

Exhibition and the Solo Show of the first winner, Aneka Ingold, are tentatively scheduled to open on May 27, 2021 at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, Michigan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Meet Elaine Schmidt of The Bennett Prize in Downtown Chicago," 14 August 2018., Voyage Media, retrieved 10 December 2019.
  2. ^ Gotthardt, Alexxa (2018-04-11). "This New $50k Prize Is Just for Emerging Female Figurative Painters". Artsy. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  3. ^ Fine Art Today, "A $50,000 Biennial Prize Recognizing Women Figurative Realist Painters," 12 March 2018. Fine Art Connoisseur, Streamline Publishing Inc., retrieved 30 October 2018.
  4. ^ Today, Fine Art (2018-03-12). "A $50,000 Biennial Prize Recognizing Women Figurative Realist Painters". Fine Art Connoisseur. Retrieved 2019-03-08
  5. ^ "Call for Entries: The Bennett Prize". BOOOOOOOM! (in American English). Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  6. ^ Today, Fine Art (2018-03-12). "A $50,000 Biennial Prize Recognizing Women Figurative Realist Painters". Fine Art Connoisseur (in American English). Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  7. ^ "Researchers Explore Gender Disparities In The Art World".
  8. ^ "The Bennett Prize: Top 10" (PDF). American Art Collector. January 2019. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  9. ^ "First-of-its-kind prize aims to propel careers of women artists". Pittsburgh Foundation. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  10. ^ "The Complete Rules for Entry - The Bennett Prize".
  11. ^ Gotthardt, Alexxa (11 April 2018). "This New $50k Prize Is Just for Emerging Female Figurative Painters". Artsy. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  12. ^ Martin, Deborah. "San Antonio couple endows $50,000 award for female painters". SF Gate. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  13. ^ "10 finalists announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize". Muskegon Art Museum. 16 November 2018. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  14. ^ "Members of the Jury - The Bennett Prize".
  15. ^ "10 winner announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize". Muskegon Art Museum. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  16. ^ "10 finalists announced for $50,000 Bennett Prize". Muskegon Art Museum. Retrieved 13 April 2019.

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