Akea Brionne Brown ’18 wins 2019 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize

This is the fifth year in a row a MICA alum was chosen as the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize winner.

It was when Akea Brionne Brown ’18 (BFA Photography + Humanistic Studies, Sustainability and Social Practice) was a freshman at MICA, that the Baltimore Uprising occurred. It was spring, during her finals week. 

And it was an event that to this day, impacts her artistic practice.

“It honestly sort of shaped the way that I’ve used my role as an artist,” Brown said. 

Brown, a Baltimore-based photographer, was named this year’s Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize winner. Through her work, Brown investigates the implications of historical racial and social structures in relation to the development of contemporary black life and identity within America. 

Her practice is what won her the $25,000 fellowship to assist in furthering the career of a visual artist or visual artist collaborators living and working in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. She was chosen at an award ceremony and reception that took place July 13.

This is the fifth year in a row an artist who is a MICA alum won the award, and the tenth time in its 14 years that the winner was a graduate of MICA.

During the Uprising, Brown said she was watching coverage of the events unfolding, and didn’t feel like that coverage was reflective of what was actually happening. That was the first time, she added, that she felt a responsibility to do the extra work and research, to look into her own community and other communities and to look at the injustices that were taking place.

Brown spent the rest of her time at MICA, and after graduation, doing just that. 

Her experiences at MICA -— especially her thesis advisor, Colette Veasey-Cullors, and a studio lighting course with Jay Gould — helped shape her work along the way. The lighting course in particular, Brown said, shifted the way she captures portraits. 

“That was an incredible benefit to the project because it helped me approaching the lighting, orientation and composition in a completely different way,” Brown added.

Brown, who was chosen from a group of seven finalists, said she was surprised when she was chosen as this year’s winner.

“I was also so impressed and really inspired by the other artists, and a lot of them are a lot further along in their careers and I was the youngest one,” she said, adding that being chosen is a great honor.

Brown said the prize money will allow her to get more equipment to continue the work she’s doing, but, she said, it will also help her facilitate more change in the Baltimore arts community. She wants to give back to the community and bring other artists along with her, she added.

Each finalist not selected for the fellowship is presented with an M&T Bank Finalist Award of $2,500. In addition to Brown, this year’s finalists were Negar Ahkami, Cheeny Celebrado-Royer, Schroeder Cherry, Phylicia Ghee, Jackie Milad and Stephanie Williams. Four of the remaining six candidates also had MICA ties. They include:

  • Celebrado-Royer ’10 (MFA Mount Royal School of Art), a multidisciplinary artist who uses detritus from art packaging materials, recycled and found objects, as well as studio trash to create intricate wall installations, sculptures, paintings and drawings. She is currently the artist-in-residence for the post-baccalaureate program at MICA.

  • Ghee ’10 (BFA Photography), an interdisciplinary visual artist, photographer and curator. Her artwork documents transition, explores healing, ritual, ceremony and personal rites of passage.

  • Milad creates textured works on paper and canvas. Her artwork has been featured in group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally. She is faculty in the Curatorial Practice MFA program at MICA.

  • Williams is a tinkerer and doodler whose work navigates hierarchies of taste. She  currently teaches stop motion for the Animation Department.

Finalists will exhibit at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. through Sunday, August 11. The exhibition is free open to the public.