Britt Lorraine performs Arts Foundation grantee Kristy Perez's Giving to Get at the Guadalupe Culture Arts Center in 2013. Credit: Courtesy / Kristy Perez

After standing in line since dawn of a cold New York morning in 2015, artist Christie Blizard positioned herself in view of the cameras focused on the anchors of NBC’s Today Show. She held a sign that read, “Without you I have no mirror,” a message intended for the audience of “stay-at-home moms” and others who might not regularly be exposed to contemporary art, Blizard said.

The message might as well have been directed at the jurors who had awarded Blizard a $5,000 grant from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio in 2014, which enabled her to travel to New York for her extended performance to display her handmade signs in the background of nationally televised live broadcast morning shows.

The grant made the difference between one brief, self-funded trip, and being “able to purse the project in a lot more depth,” entailing a six-week stay and a total of 30 performances, she said.

This year, the Artist Foundation returns after a one-year hiatus to restructure the organization for a streamlined 11th granting cycle, to award one of Texas’ largest individual artist grants. The awards of $15,000 each cover four categories – Visual, Performing, and Literary Arts, plus a new People’s Choice award.

“For that award, we need as many people as possible living in Bexar County to vote,” said Susan Heard, board chair of the foundation since 2016. The award is a retooled version of the annual Tobin Endowment-sponsored award, now called the Tobin Prize for Artistic Excellence-People’s Choice.

Also for the first time this year, the foundation will arrange an exhibition, event, or performance for each of the grant winners, to take place later in 2018.

A jury of arts professionals will determine finalists and name winners in each of the three main categories. The people’s choice award winner, chosen from among the finalists, will be determined by an online vote open to all Bexar County residents come early 2018. The application and vote are free.

The jury will be comprised of arts professionals mostly from outside of San Antonio, from institutions such as the New Museum in New York City and the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, in part because it’s important for artists to receive validation from someone outside of their immediate circle, Heard said.

Kristy Perez first won a foundation grant in 2007, which “essentially spearheaded my professional career,” she wrote in a statement. A second grant in 2010 “fueled the momentum for me to make the major commitment in my life of becoming a full-time professional artist,” she wrote, and that support from the foundation “opened this city up for me.”

Also for the first time this year, Bexar County Commissioners voted to contribute $50,000 in operating funds to the foundation, which will be used to shore up and expand the organization’s website in support of grantees, and to create a new executive director position.

“The [Artist Foundation has] a proven track record of identifying artists” who go on to receive national and international recognition, County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said.

San Antonio and Bexar County benefit from homegrown arts and culture, Calvert said, which “elevates the image and experience of visitors, and the quality of life of people who live here.”

The County funding will help give the Artist Foundation “a sustainable future,” Heard said. Her stated goal is “to have a high-functioning foundation with an executive director, and to have an exceptional reputation in the community.”

Artists are eligible to apply if they’ve lived in Bexar County for at least one year and have not previously won an Artist Foundation grant. “There’s a great artist community here,” Heard said. She would like to see applications from all over the county, so as to expand the applicant pool.

Heard especially encourages artists who have applied before, but not won, to try again. Applicants must propose a future project for consideration, and are expected to follow through, should they receive a grant. Deadline for submissions is Dec. 22, and guidelines are available here.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...