Last week three Denver artists were each surprised to be gifted with a yellow packet of fresh twenty-dollar bills — $500 in all — that were delivered with a handful of candy and a big message. Their tardy Santa Claus is the anonymous Yes Ma’am Projects, which each year awards the micro-grant to a local artist selected by a national artist or curator. This year’s juror, Houston’s Toby Kamps, who curates that city’s Menil Collection, was so impressed with the nominees that he split the award among three of them: multimedia artist Christina Battle, painter/sculptor Dmitri Obergfell and collage artist Mario Zoots.
"Selecting the Yes Ma’am Colorado Artist Grant winners was a blast and a challenge,” Kamps says in a statement. “So much great art, so little money! But seriously, every state needs to support its artists and I wholeheartedly support this wonderful, grass-roots effort — started by artists for artists to do something smart and generous — and I'm sure the winners will put it to good use.” And though $500 doesn’t go far for an artist in this economy, all three acknowledge that the recognition is meaningful — and who can’t use an extra $500 from heaven?
The awardees agree: "It feels great to receive recognition from Yes Ma’am,” notes Obergfell. “For me, the most gratifying quality is the nomination process and knowing that someone in the community values what we do enough to put us in the conversation for something like this. Community support is one of the strong suits of the Denver visual arts community and Yes Ma'am is a testament to that.”
Says Battle: “It’s hard to explain how amazing it feels to be handed an envelope filled with cash – just for doing what you would do and with no expectations attached. I'm still a little stunned to be honest. I'm really blown away by Yes Ma'am Projects having the insight and dedication to start such a grant in the first place, it's so important in our community – one that has so many artists and little to no funding support. It's great that Yes Ma'am is addressing this issue in a proactive way. I'm excited to be part of it.”
Zoots echoes the others: “I feel honored to have made it through the nomination process and to share the prize with two artists I highly admire and respect.”
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And how will they be using using their awards? Zoots says his will go toward researching new printing techniques, and Battle says her grant offers some “breathing room” and will help finance both a solo exhibition in September in Ontario and Nothing To See Here, her local collaborative media arts project with artist Adán De La Garza. Obergfell’s windfall will help finance Go Home Bacchus, You’re Drunk, a sculptural project he hopes to complete this year for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
Learn more about the Yes Ma’am Project online and on Facebook. Check out Kamps’s curatorial style in online overviews of his past shows, The Old, Weird America at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston and Silence at the Menil Collection.