Vic Selbach | TRAILBLAZERS AND MAVERICKS | Season 1, Episode 4
TRAILBLAZERS AND MAVERICKS
a series of conversations with art-world instigators
by Victoria Selbach
Season 1 Episode 4
Touching the pulse of collector, Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt
I reached out to a dedicated collector to see how a thoughtful approach can inform acquisitions and patronage. Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt is an avid supporter of women artists. Elaine and her husband, Steven Allen Bennett, are amassing a significant collection of work by female realist painters. Elaine exemplifies the connected collector. Her art historical foundation, fierce intellect, and an unquenchable curiosity create a base for her emotional connection to her selections.
Elaine confides, “Certainly, the work impacts me profoundly. Two words sum up my emotional response: strength, and voice. As I view the current work done by women my inner-dialogue goes something like, ‘Yes, we have to be strong and principled. This is important, not just for ourselves, but also for society and our children. Elaine, you must be strong!’ How is one strong? Have a voice that strategically speaks to what matters.”
As Patrons of the arts, Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt and Steven Allen Bennett have taken their advocacy one step further and established The Bennett Prize which is now taking submissions for its first year. Their $3 million endowment at The Pittsburgh Foundation ensures that the $50,000 prize will be awarded to an emerging female artist every two years in perpetuity. Elaine and Steven have long enjoyed the connections they have built with communities of artists, and have found that they also have an ability to further strengthen those communities. Elaine sees, “The Bennett Prize is surfacing a real hunger in the art community for mentoring and connection among women artists. I cannot wait to see the partnerships and friendships that emerge organically from this effort.”
While discussing the profound importance of hearing the artistic voices of women from diverse backgrounds and to ensure opportunities are accessible to all, Elaine explains, “One of the reasons we chose to partner with The Pittsburgh Foundation on The Bennett Prize is the Foundation’s experience with art prizes, including efforts focused specifically on awards to artists of color. These networks are instrumental in helping make sure that news of The Bennett Prize reaches artists from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds. Since 2010, the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program, run in collaboration with The Heinz Endowments, has awarded nearly $5 million to artists of color and arts organizations to further the careers of individual artists, while also addressing racial disparities in the art world generally. The Foundation also runs the Investing in Professional Artists program with The Heinz Endowments. This program makes grants of up to $10,000 to individual artists and also funds artist residencies, many of which are based in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. So far, nearly $2 million has been awarded since the program’s inception in 2011. Along with The Bennett Prize, these programs are concrete examples to museums, collectors, and foundations of how we can use our networks and our financial resources to do more than wish the art world were different and more diverse.”
“Artists and curators who actively extend the reach of their communities can create welcoming platforms for inclusive dialogue. Projects must be approached with an open heart, a genuine desire to learn and with sensitivity to cultural authenticity and preferences.”
There is a building need to hear distinct voices and to present art that speaks to our diverse experiences. We need to look beyond gender to intersectional inclusion and visibility. To respect, appreciate, and learn from diverse perspectives is the preeminent mandate of our time. Artists and curators who actively extend the reach of their communities can create welcoming platforms for inclusive dialogue. Projects must be approached with an open heart, a genuine desire to learn and with sensitivity to cultural authenticity and preferences. Janice Sands at Pen + Brush suggests, “It cannot be policy-driven. It has to be organic. We must stay aware of unconscious bias. Find curators with a history of broad reach that are known to be not just looking at one segment of the community and get them involved. Once you open that door with the right intention and word gets out to the press, to artists, to professors and their students; it's like the floodgates open. Working this way we had a fabulous show of work by artists we had never seen before; artists who would have absolutely believed they were not welcome until then. It has to always be about moving art by women forward. If you are clear that's what you're doing; it's honest, it's not a contrivance. Get out of your box and respect what your colleagues are doing. Get out there and make mistakes. It sensitizes you.”
Natasha Schlesinger says, “The way to change anything culturally is to not give up. You can't say, I did this one little thing and let's see what happens. We constantly have to push.”
Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt believes, “What the world looks like for the next generation depends upon what this generation, ours, does with its talents, skills, and resources. I believe we have to act with intention to move beyond the focus on extreme ideologies (religious and political) and shift to core, shared understandings that allow for differences; develop the mindset that we are each responsible for lifelong learning and care for our minds, hearts, souls, bodies, and relationships; live into a full understanding that it is life-giving to share with others. And, finally, we each need to find our passion and then act on it in such a way as to promote justice and love. These actions will sow the seeds for a world that we want our children to inhabit. Then, it will be their turn to keep things going.”
Take a page from this playbook or innovate a new approach. Stand up and act.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victoria Selbach is an American painter best known for her compelling, larger than life, depictions of women. Selbach paints nudes to champion the power and presence of contemporary women.