When the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) announced that it is seeking outside suggestions for the next Nexus Award, we were curious what our readers had to say. But, as we began collecting the results of our survey last week, several new questions emerged. Which criteria matter the most? What is the fairest way to select the winners? How do you account for the influence of money, racial diversity, age and experience, and different types of expertise? These were the concerns that informed our interview with Saskia Benjamin, director of institutional advancement at ACAC, excerpted below.
BURNAWAY: Is the award going to more than one person this year, as it was last year?
Atlanta Contemporary Art Center: That has not been decided yet. The decision to award two people last year came out of much discussion by the Executive Committee of ACAC’s Board of Directors. It was decided that, in the first year of the award, we liked the two-person plan, especially since Andrea Barnwell Brownlee and Jerry Cullum represented such distinct contributions.
Why choose to call it the Nexus Award? To what degree is the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center a different institution than the Nexus Contemporary Art Center?
Changing the name from Nexus Contemporary Art Center to the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center was done to assert our pride of place in the Southeast (our location is now clear) and acknowledge a peer relationship to arts venues in other cities (such as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art).
Under both names, the institution has been committed to the same mission of presenting excellent art from significant artists from the local to the international, often before they are well known. In some cases, they are well known elsewhere but have not shown in the context of Atlanta or the South. This is the case with many of the artists that have been exhibited during Stuart Horodner’s tenure — Daniel Bozhkov, Harrell Fletcher, Jack Whitten, Dana Schutz, etc.
By calling the award the Nexus Award we both are honoring the 37-year history of this organization as well as referencing the many connotations of “nexus” – “center,” “connection,” “link.”
Would the award ever consider anyone “younger than Jesus” (under 30)?
Age is not an issue; if someone under 30 is making important contributions to the scene, we will consider them.
Does the award have a commitment to racial diversity? Was this important to the selection process last year? Will it be important this year?
While we consider diversity in all we do, there is not a special filter for selection with regard to diversity. We are looking for the individual or individuals who best fit the criteria of the Nexus Award.
The award was not given to artists last year. Is this a conscious decision to focus on curators and critics, since there are already awards for artists?
The range of people who can be nominated include artists, curators, dealers, critics, collectors, administrators, educators, patrons, and anyone else who exemplifies the award criteria.
Why open nominations to the public? Will the ACAC Board be able to submit their own nominations, separate from this process?
We want to learn about people we might not know about and take the temperature of the art-informed public. Who are they aware of? We want people to think about the criteria and who they think is most deserving of praise. The nomination form includes a space for why the person is deserving.
The nomination has weight in that all individuals nominated will be reviewed for how well they exemplify the award criteria. The nominees will also be weighed against one another. A short list will be created. Those individuals will be reviewed by the Executive Committee of the Board, and a final decision will be made. Board members can make nominations, as can ACAC members and any member of the general public. All nominees are given equal consideration as to how well they exemplify the criteria.
Why does the award not include a monetary component? Would it not be reasonable to share fund-raising proceeds with the guests of honor, since they are the reason people might pay for an awards ceremony ticket?
The spirit of the Nexus Award is about recognition, not money. The award is intended to honor individuals who have worked tirelessly to make a difference in the visual arts community as well as to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. The Nexus Award is given in the spirit of many other honorific awards (local and national) rather than as a prize.
Is the Nexus Award just a fund-raising scheme to grab cash for ACAC? How would you respond to this perception?
Awards ceremonies and galas are standard ways that nonprofit institutions promote themselves, raise funds, and raise awareness about their mission and programs. The question is: Are they done well and in a generous spirit while raising necessary funds? And do these events make sense for the institutions that do them? We think that the answer is “yes” as it pertains to the Nexus Award and ACAC.
There’s still some confusion about what the award is trying to do. We’ve heard explanations of what the award IS, but what would you say the award IS NOT?
The Nexus Award isn’t a popularity contest. By opening the nomination process up to the public, the intention was not to have people vote on the winner, nor was it to see who gets the most votes. We opened the process up to the public because we recognize that we probably don’t know all the worthy individuals out there, and we would hate to overlook a potential award recipient.
As stated above, the Nexus Award is also not a prize. Its intention is honorific. We saw that there isn’t currently a named award recognizing individuals doing amazing work in and for the local contemporary visual arts community. The Nexus Award is intended to fill this void now and for years to come.
Is it a “lifetime achievement” award? There is a strong desire among our readers to recognize people who have been working in Atlanta for decades. Is the award limited to these individuals?
Obviously, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee winning last year dispels this one. I think the only time we use the word “history” or imply a sense of duration of time is in the last criteria “demonstrates a history of commitment and excellence to the visual arts in Atlanta.” However, “history” can be a relative term. It certainly doesn’t have to mean a lifetime, but we aren’t interested in someone who just started making a difference last month. We can honor that individual in a couple of years.
Is this is a “man/woman of the year” award? People want to recognize the urgency of the moment; they want to capture lightning in a bottle. Does the award consider new happenings that developed in 2010? Is it more about the past or about the future?
The Nexus Award is potentially about both the past and the future. We aren’t interested in honoring an individual who was once important to the community but no longer plays a role. The recipient could be someone who has made a significant contribution over time, but that person also continues to make a significant contribution now. The award could also go to someone who is shaping the future in a very dynamic way right now. What we want to be wary of is jumping on a bandwagon.
Click here for Nexus Award nomination form is available online. The deadline is December 31, 2010.