Wednesday, December 7, 2011

POST: Sonya Clark / Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sonya Clark. Photograph by Tom McInvaiille via

VCU artist wins $50,000 unrestricted grant
Published | December 6, 2011

First came the shock, Sonya Clark said, then an immense feeling of pride not just for herself but for her African-American ancestry.

Clark, chairwoman of the craft/material studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a recipient of a $50,000 unrestricted grant from United States Artists, a national grant and advocacy organization that invests in and shines a spotlight on the value of American artists and their work. Each year, the USA Fellows program awards 50 unrestricted grants of $50,000 to artists across the country.

USA awards the grants to individuals in the fields of dance, literature, music, theater, visual arts, crafts, architecture and design.

The winners were honored on December 5, 2011 in Los Angeles.

Aga Sablinska, a spokeswoman for USA, said there were 311 nominees this year, and that Clark was chosen for her "extraordinary talent and commitment to the field of crafts and traditional arts."

Born and raised in Washington, Clark, 44, earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Amherst College and a bachelor's of fine arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago. She earned a master's of fine arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.

Prior to coming to VCU six years ago, Clark spent 10 years as a Baldwin-Bosom Professor of Creative Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Getting the news of the award in the middle of a busy day was a little shocking, she said.

"Everything just went mute," Clark said. "I was really astounded by it."

The unrestricted grant means Clark is free to do whatever she wants with the money. As she's done with other financial awards, she wants to put some back into the local arts community as well as help the next generation of artists.

In the past, she used funds to support graduate students who work as her studio assistants.

"I'm hoping to do something like that again," Clark said. "They're the next generation. They help me, (and) we learn from one another."

But Clark also wants to use the money to further projects that bring otherwise unlikely sources together for art's sake, such as the local art and hairdressing communities.

"I have a deep and profound respect for the craftsmanship of hair braiders," she said. They "have this incredible technological skill that's valued in the community."

But more than that, a salon is "still one of those places where race and culture are negotiated and perhaps preserved as well."

Clark said she can't help but think about her ancestors who were equally as skilled in fields such as masonry, blacksmithing and pottery, yet their lives as slaves held little value.

"To know how I'm valued as a crafts artist now, compared to my ancestors," she said, then paused. "I'm proud for all of us."

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