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When Patricia Frischer arrived in San Diego from the United Kingdom, she noticed a hole in the local arts scene: There wasn’t a recognition of artists similar to England’s Turner Prize, a highly esteemed award given to British artists to celebrate developments in contemporary art.

So Frischer, the coordinator of the San Diego Visual Arts Network, teamed up with another local art leader, Ann Berchtold, and launched the Art Prize in 2006.

Each year, the prize goes to two established artists, who then select an emerging or less-known artist to work with for a series of shows over the next year. The established artists receive $2,000 each, and the emerging artists get $500.

This year’s established artists — sculptor Jay S. Johnson and Ruben Ortiz-Torres, who also teaches art at UCSD — were announced last month. The emerging artists will be named next month.

There’s usually quite a buzz about the prize, but I wanted to find out whether that buzz turned into anything for past years’ chosen artists. For the ones I talked to, the benefit seems to be in getting their name out there, and getting to work closely with other artists.

And there’s a bit of a motivating factor, too.

“The annual recognition has made the community better because its artists create better work as they strive to be recognized,” said Raul Guerrero, who won in 2006.

David Adey, who won the San Diego Art Prize for emerging artist of 2010, said the $500 helped him create a piece for the 2010 California Biennial, an exhibition the OC Art Blog called a “survey of California’s rock-star contemporary artists.” But Adey, who lives in Imperial Beach, said the best part was working with the established painter Gail Roberts, who’s now his friend, he said.

Frischer said most of the established award winners have been grateful for the attention the prize has brought to their work. “But it is the emerging artists who have really gotten a leg up,” she said.

The emerging artist for 2006, for example, was May-ling Martinez. She had her work displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego after the exposure she got from working with the established artist who picked her, Earnest Silva, Frischer said.

“The best part for me was the opportunity to meet the other artists, work with them and sense that support,” Martinez said.

Martinez had a recent show at East Village’s Space 4 Art that closed on Sunday that included the piece below:

Brian Dick said both being nominated for the emerging artist prize in 2008, and then winning in 2009, had a “big impact” on his professional life. He met the gallery owner who now represents him, and the prize was one factor that prompted him to move to Los Angeles.

“I suppose winning the Art Prize was one of those things that helped give me the confidence to make the move,” Dick said. “I think just being nominated was a catalyst for a lot of subsequent opportunities.”

But like the other emerging artists who have won the award, he said it was the chance to work with an established artist that was among the most gratifying outcomes.

“Getting to show with Kim MacConnel, who nominated me the second time, was a huge honor — I think he is a genius,” Dick said.

(Dick’s work is pictured at the top of this post.)

Guerrero won the first established artist prize in 2006. He said the prize brings a small measure of recognition in the larger art world to San Diego creativity.

The prize also brings local artists to the attention of people in the community who may never have noticed them.

The prize highlights the diversity of the local scene. Guerrero thinks that may be due in part to the city’s closeness to the border, sparking a sense of creativity that “you may not find in a more homogeneous area,” he said.

“This clash of cultures catalyzes creativity,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to do work related to border issues, but the idea that you encounter things that are so different … it evokes imagination.”

Here’s some of Guerrero’s work, a 2008 painting called “Mexican and American Cuisine.” He said it represents “the ubiquitous fast food culture that exists in southern California, and how we are what we eat.” The painting is composed of two canvases that are shown together.

You can reach Dani Dodge at, see her work at or become a fan at: Oh, and she tweets, too.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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