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Three alumni from the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Department of Art are the recipients of the 2017 Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC). Stewart Watson ’10 MFA, Christian Benefiel ’08 MFA and Benjamin Piwowar ’02 art, were selected by MSAC for creating works of exceptional quality in a variety of visual arts mediums.

The Maryland State Arts Council is committed to supporting local artists who contribute to Maryland’s unique creative scene. Their annual Individual Artist Award recognizes the important contribution artists and their works make to the cultural landscape of Maryland. This year, MSAC received submissions from 348 applicants and awarded $245,000 to 88 Maryland artists through the 2017 awards.

Stewart Watson is both a founder and the Executive Director of AREA 405, Baltimore’s best gallery in 2014. She is also a founder and owner of Oliver Street Studios, a 66,000sf artist community for over 14 years. She is a prestigious Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize Finalist, 2014, exhibiting recently at The Walters Art Museum, The Contemporary Museum Baltimore, Randall Scott Projects, McDaniel College, and Marianne Boesky Gallery, NY.  She is the winner of the 2010 Sadat Art for Peace Prize, and the recipient of two special honors for her work in The Station North Arts and Entertainment District. She is a Trawick Prize finalist and a Trawick Prize semifinalist numerous times as well as a Sondheim Prize semifinalist in 2013 and 2015. This is Watson’s fourth individual artist grant from MSAC.

Christian Benefiel is a Maryland-based artist focusing on sculpture and installation. His work has been featured in many solo and group exhibitions both nationally and in Europe. Recent shows include Structural Tissue at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD, Sea of Tranquility, Ocean of Doubt at VisArts in Rockville, MD, Indirect Effect at AREA 405 in Baltimore, MD, and the Foggy Bottom Sculpture Biennial in Washington, DC. His sculptures can be found in public parks and schools in Kentucky, Minnesota, Maryland, DC, and Finland. Internationally, Benefiel’s work has been included in exhibitions in Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and England. He is the recipient of the Hamiltonian Fellowship and a US Fulbright Grant to Helsinki, Finland. He teaches sculpture at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. This is his second MSAC Individual Artist Grant.

Benjamin Piwowar is a painter and installation artist whose works use abstraction to reflect on fragility, adaptation, and regeneration. His artistic practice is a hybrid of drawing, object manipulation, and site-responsive construction.  He works primarily with salvaged materials that are marked or shaped by prior use - contractors’ trash, detritus found on walks, leavings of other people’s projects. These components are lightly modified in the studio and then introduced to the exhibition space, where relationships between fragments develop on-site through intuitive arrangement and re-orientation. A two-time semifinalist for the Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize, Piwowar lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

“We are thrilled to recognize these outstanding artists for their contributions to the cultural fabric of our state,” said Julie Madden, MSAC Interim Executive Director. “As one of the state arts councils with the longest-running programs in the country to honor accomplishments of individual artists, we feel it is important to recognize their significant contributions to Maryland’s overall vitality.”

Awardees will be honored during a late June ceremony at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and will receive individual grants of $1,000, $3,000 or $6,000 in recognition of their outstanding achievement and in support of their continued artistic growth.

Image, left to right:

1. Stewart Watson, via Baltimore Arts.

2. Christian Benefiel, via Shepherd University.

3. Ben Piwowar via Bmore Art.