Americans for the Arts today announced that New York-based artist Vinnie Bagwell has been awarded the inaugural Jorge and Darlene Pérez Prize in Public Art & Civic Design, a first-of-its-kind national program established by the Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation. The award will include a cash stipend of $30,000, as well as additional support for Bagwell to participate in learning opportunities and discussion about her work with national leaders in the arts and other allied fields. These programs include a virtual panel about art and civic design in celebration of the Public Art Network’s 20th anniversary, held on December 3 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Bagwell has been a longstanding champion for utilizing the arts to drive social, educational, and economic growth in her community. She is the co-founder, vice president, and executive director of the Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization whose mission is to honor, dignify, and restore the humanity of enslaved Africans in America by transforming them from objects to subjects through art in a public garden in Yonkers, New York. Bagwell is leading the creation of this urban-heritage public art project, which marks the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought to America and commemorates the first enslaved Africans to be freed by law in the United States.
An untutored artist, Bagwell began sculpting in 1993. Her first public artwork, “The First Lady of Jazz Ella Fitzgerald,” located at the Yonkers Metro-North/Amtrak train station, was commissioned by the City of Yonkers in 1996. The life-sized work in bronze is the first sculpture of a contemporary African American woman to be commissioned by a municipality in the United States. In 2012, Bagwell created a 24-inch bronze statue, “Liberté,” for the inaugural exhibition at the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and the piano for the Signature Theater in New York City’s presentation of August Wilson’s award-winning play, “The Piano Lesson.” In 2018, the DC Department of General Services commissioned Bagwell to create a life-sized sculpture of music icon Marvin Gaye for a new recreation center in Washington, DC, and the State of Connecticut commissioned a 7-foot bronze statue of Hartford educator, Walter “Doc” Hurley. The statue of Hurley is the first public artwork of a contemporary African American in Connecticut. A 7-foot bronze statue of Sojourner Truth created by Bagwell for the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York, is the first of several public artworks to celebrate diversity in New York State Parks. In 2020, Bagwell won the $1 million “Victory Beyond Sims” public art commission to replace the controversial J. Marion Sims statue in New York City’s Central Park. From “Frederick Douglass Circle” to “Legacies,” honoring African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans, Bagwell’s work gives voice to their stories and meaning to their legacies.
Bagwell commented, “My deepest gratitude to Americans for the Arts and the Jorge M. Peréz Family Foundation for the inaugural Jorge and Darlene Peréz Prize! My work is conceived to provoke critical thinking, spark the imagination, and facilitate the unlearning of hate by giving humanity to the stories of marginalized people. This generous support will enable me to further my efforts, reminding viewers that artistry is a powerful and useful tool of social transformation; one capable of condensing our thoughts, distilling our minds, and renewing our hopes and aspirations. Thank you.”
“Vinnie Bagwell has made significant positive impact in transforming spaces across the United States in ways that add deep meaning and dimension to our human experience of the built environment. I congratulate her for this well-deserved recognition and look forward to seeing her work throughout this next year and well into the future,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts.
“As a family, we believe that art has the unique ability to change spaces, and the people within them, for the better,” said Jorge Pérez. “As such, it’s always been important for us to support the talented individuals who’ve dedicated their lives to enhancing the communities around them through creative expression. Vinnie Bagwell is a perfect example of this, and we congratulate her on this tremendous achievement.”
The generous gift of $250,000 from The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation established this Pérez Prize in Public Art & Civic Design program, which bears the names of internationally recognized philanthropists, Jorge M. Pérez and his wife, Darlene Boytell-Pérez. The program was designed to empower all stakeholders in the public art process and to create a platform to develop greater national visibility and appreciation of the unique role that the arts play in shaping our experience of the built environment. It also seeks to celebrate and highlight the work and contributions of artists, public art administrators, and representatives from the civic design field who support, develop, and manage the incorporation of art into the design of places and spaces across the United States. More information is available in the June press release announcing the Pérez Prize in Public Art & Civic Design.
Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of 60 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.
The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation at The Miami Foundation fulfills the philanthropic vision of Jorge M. Pérez, chairman and CEO of The Related Group, and his family to develop South Florida as an exemplary world-class urban center. The family foundation promotes sustainable, inclusive and just communities by supporting programs and organizations focused on arts and culture, health and well-being, education, environment and economic development – with a particular preference for programs and organizations that could serve as models for other urban centers. For more information, please visit www.jmperezfamilyfoundation.org.