Aamc prize Committee Report

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AAMC Prize Committee Report

Submitted May 15, 2011

Addendum: June 2, 2011

(Addendum notes added in blue)
Emily Ballew Neff, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Chair

Susan Goodman, The Jewish Museum

Randall Griffey, Mead Art Museum

William Rudolph, Worcester Art Museum

Marisa Sanchez, Seattle Art Museum

Timothy Standring, Denver Art Museum

Cindi Strauss, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Georgiana Uhlyarik, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Sally Block, Executive Director, AAMC
Emily Neff rotates off as chair and recommends Georgiana Uhlyarik as the new Chair. The new chair may want to consider appointing a Co-chair, who would help Sally Block with the juried committees.

The outgoing chair suggests that Susan Goodman, Marisa Sanchez, Cindi Strauss, and Timothy Standring rotate off the Prize Committee for a variety of reasons, mostly concerning time commitment. Timothy, however, did attend the AAMC annual conference Prize session at the Museo del Barrio (May 17) and was an active participant in the discussion. The outgoing chair would recommend contacting Timothy to see if he would rather serve on a jury for 2011-2012 (as he thought he had signed up for jury duty, not the prize committee) or serve on the committee (he had enthusiastic ideas and I think could be encouraged to continue his involvement in a variety of ways).

Those who attended the May 17th meeting and expressed interest in serving are:

Georgiana Uhlyarik, Georgiana_Uhlyarik@ago.net

Mary Morton, m-morton@nga.gov

Marisa J. Pascucci (independent), marisapascucci@me.com

Timothy Strandring, tstandring@denverartmuseum.org

Gail Davidson, Davidsong@si.edu

Randall Griffey, rgriffey@amherst.edu

Jennifer Olivarez, jolivare@artsmia.org

Sue Canterbury (independent), pscanterb@yahoo.com
William Rudolph could not attend the meeting but said he is still interested in serving.

Summary of Activities

The major activity of the Prize Committee in 2010-2011 was the implementation of the Prize Committee restructuring proposal approved by the AAMC Board of Trustees in May 2010. The restructuring of the Outstanding Exhibition/Installation award consisted of dividing the award into five areas: Outstanding Monographic or Retrospective Exhibition; Outstanding Thematic Exhibition; Outstanding Exhibition in a University Museum; Outstanding Permanent Collection New Installation (or Re-installation); and Outstanding Small Exhibition (based on square footage: no more than 2,000 square feet).

In fall 2010, a FAQ sheet explaining the reasons for the change and the description of the new process was added to the AAMC website for members to consult. Prize Committee members canvassed AAMC members in their field and/or in their geographic region in two email blasts prior and during the Call for Nominations sent to AAMC members. Prize Committee members, with the help of Sally Block and Hannah Howe, followed up with the elimination of unqualified nominations, and began to form an initial slate. In most categories, the number of nominations far exceeded the five stipulated for the final slate and thus necessitated a Prize Committee preliminary vote to reduce the number to five. In the category of university museum exhibition, however, much more research and reaching out was required to secure nominations. Qualified AAMC nominations from the membership were added to the preliminary slate, and Prize Committee members reviewed the full slate, researched the exhibitions based on materials sent (and in most instances needed to do additional research), and sent their vote to directly to the AAMC office. Hannah Howe and Sally Block tabulated the votes and a final slate was submitted to the AAMC membership for the popular vote.
The jury system for determining the awards for Outstanding Exhibition Catalogue; Outstanding Permanent Collection Catalogue; and Outstanding Article, Essay or Extended Catalogue Entry; remained in place. Jury members were recruited and the process of determining winners was conducted through reports/reviews and discussions monitored by Sally Block.
Areas of Improvement (for Awards that are determined by the Prize Committee and AAMC Membership)

In general, the Prize Committee slate was well-rounded and diverse in terms of field specialty and geography. For the first time, for example, nominations from Canadian institutions appeared on the initial and in the final slate. Several issues that need attention or improvement are:

  • Solicit nominations from Mexico and cultivate the momentum gained for securing nominations for Canadian exhibitions. This system worked well for Canada. Timothy Standring said that he could help with Mexico because of Denver’s long institutional experience in this area (there are others, too, of course). Timothy said that he would reach out to Clara Bargellini in Mexico and Donna Pierce, who is the curator of Spanish Colonial Art at DAM and of the Jan and Franz Mayer Collection. Again, since membership is part of this process (nominated candidates must be AAMC members), Prize and Membership committees should coordinate their efforts.

  • Colleague response to email blasts in some cases was low. This was a disappointment for some but could be resolved in time as the membership in general becomes better acquainted with this new system.

  • Nominators did not send adequate materials (especially visuals and in particular installation shots) and committee members and, presumably, AAMC members needed to conduct independent research in order to make an informed decision. The discrepancy between those exhibitions seen in person and those judged through on-line images and written descriptions should be narrowed. The most important change that needs to be made is to tighten up the nomination process. It is proposed that the nominator contact the nominee and let him/her know that they have been nominated. The nominator should write the beginning sentence that reads, “I nominate this project because . . .” and state the reasons why it qualifies as “outstanding” (if self-nominated, the same applies, although the particulars of this need further discussion). The nominee should be the person in charge of the dossier and is responsible for gathering the material required for the nomination and sending it to the Prize Chair or AAMC (to be determined). Nominating materials need to be more consistent—this includes the number of images, installation shots, reviews (tbd), descriptions, etc. All of this should come in the form of a pdf that may be uploaded to the site, and the Prize Committee should coordinate with the Website committee on these needs. To that end, a number of website issues were brought up and Hannah Howe mentioned that the website was a high priority issue for discussion/research this summer.

  • Nominations from the membership should not appear on the AAMC website until a final slate is determined. The main reason for this is that if a nominated project is already listed on the AAMC website, someone else might not nominate it because he/she sees that the nomination has already been made. The Prize Committee depends in part on the number of nominations submitted by the membership to determine the slate (any nomination made by more than two individuals is automatically added to the slate).

  • There are currently 1100 AAMC members and roughly 130 of them voted. Why the low voter turnout? We don’t know but we are all shocked! Some of this can be attributed to a new, still unfamiliar system. Some complained about server issues. This still doesn’t account for the low response. The committee discussed several ways of making the ballot more visually attractive and mounting a campaign to get-out-the-vote. A suggestion was made that a solution to the low voter-turnout for annual prizes might indicate that the Outstanding Exhibition/Installation award should be determined by jury (like the other prizes) and not by popular vote. The consensus of those attending the meeting on May 17th was that the new system should be given a chance to work before making a major structural change. This might take several years.

  • Parity is the most frequently mentioned concern among members of the Prize Committee and jury members. Understandably, well-funded projects from larger institutions (and especially those in New York, where the majority of curators make frequent visits) have an edge. Some of this could be explained by such statistics as: 45% of AAMC members work in cities larger than 2,000,000 (thus larger cities have an advantage); the largest percentage (27%) of AAMC members work in the area of Modern and Contemporary Art (thus the higher number of nominations and winners in this area). The primary role of the Prize Committee is to attend to matters of diversity in geography and discipline, and level the playing field by identifying worthy projects from smaller institutions and from institutions of more limited budgets without ignoring great projects that do not fit that description. This mandate needs to be stressed to the future Chair and Prize Committee members in order for the slate to be well-rounded and well-presented. This was discussed at length at the May 17th meeting and also came up as a topic of conversation for some at the conference. A frequently-mentioned suggestion now and in the past has been to make a separate category for institutions with smaller budgets. One concern is that the smaller-budget projects still set up an “us-them” relationship. (I did note, since AAM was in Houston, that a prize category is set aside for the smaller budget museum—and the cap is $750,000 annually). It is also believed that a balanced ballot that includes projects from Mexico and Canada, in time, may resolve the concern about “New York domination of the awards”—AAMC will become less “provincial” and New York less of a “go-to” place for every award (this is not to pick on New York but to offer a balanced expression of what I/we hear from other AAMC members, including those from New York who feel that they have an unfair edge). Also, it was voiced by several that AAMC members feel guilty if they vote for a project they haven’t seen in person. This may be an issue where the Prize Committee can continue the education effort on this front and offer more analogies (i.e. the democratic process of doing the research, thinking, discussing, etc., regardless of whether you’ve met the presidential, mayoral (whatever) candidate in person). This is an imperfect analogy but it is a start. There is information available on the FAQ sheet on the website but different ways of getting out the information still needs to be determined.

Areas of Improvement (for Awards that are determined by the Jury System)
This aspect of the Prize Committee generally works well and runs smoothly in largest part because of the organization and leadership of Sally Block and Hannah Howe. Jury Chairs, too, take strong leadership positions and the response to the jury system has been positive. Some areas that need attention or improvement are:

  • Exhibition catalogues and permanent collection catalogues continue to be sent to the wrong jury member or are not sent at all. Again, the nominating process can be tightened up here.

  • Many of the submissions continue to be “apples and oranges.” Jurors have commented on the difficulty of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of projects with different mandates: for example popular publications, scholarly publications, and gallery guides that are judged in the same pool of nominations. One jury member suggested that the “rules for nominating could be tightened up, limiting nominations to scholarly articles and essays only and not accepting nominations for more ephemeral kinds of text [in the category of Outstanding Article, Essay or Extended Catalogue Entry].” On this subject, the question was raised about: “what is the definition of outstanding? Have the directions to the jury been systematized?” There are/were several takes on this. One is: each jury each year determines its own way of resolving the question. This is how it has been done in the past. The second is: parse what we mean by “outstanding” and make it a part of directions to the juries. Alternately, it could be that when the nomination process is tightened (see above: beginning sentence should be something to the effect of: “I consider this project outstanding because . . . .”), the argument for “what is outstanding” is argued by the nominator, and then decided upon by the jury or the AAMC membership on the other awards, for that matter.

  • The future Chair of the Prize Committee may wish to consider designating a Co-Chair responsible for assisting the awards determined by juries so that the Chair may focus on the newer process of focusing on the slate for awards determined by popular vote. (see above)

  • Parity continues to be an issue (see above). Well-funded institutions with larger budgets and staff for publications will likely be better than those of a smaller institution with a smaller staff and limited budget. If, however, this category is divided by budget or endowment (i.e. placing a monetary figure on a museum’s overall budget or endowment), we run into the problem of rich museum/poor museum or first place and also-rans. This is an issue that has not gone away since the inception of the AAMC awards program. (see above)


The current Chair will rotate off the Prize Committee and a new Chair will need to be recruited. Four members will need to be recruited for the Prize Committee to replace those who are rotating off (Susan Goodman, Timothy Standring (? see above), Marisa Sanchez, and Cindi Strauss).

End of report

End of addendum notes

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