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Phoenix Artist Nathaniel Lewis Wins $5,000 in ArtPrize Competition

Phoenix Pitch Night winner Nathaniel Lewis showed Playland Security at Phoenix Art Museum in 2016.
Phoenix Pitch Night winner Nathaniel Lewis showed Playland Security at Phoenix Art Museum in 2016.
Lynn Trimble

Phoenix artist Nathaniel Lewis won the ArtPrize Phoenix Pitch Night competition at Found:RE Phoenix on May 22. Lewis will receive $5,000 to be used toward creating an installation at Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan during this year's ArtPrize event.

ArtPrize is an annual art festival and competition founded in 2009 by Rick DeVos, son of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. This year's ArtPrize runs from Wednesday, September 19, to Sunday, October 7. It's happening at more than 100 Grand Rapids venues.

Lewis plans to show a 13-foot aluminum and fiberglass sculpture inspired by a cap gun he had as a child. "Gun violence is something that's relevant to our everyday lives," Lewis said, while making his pitch. He's hoping the sculpture will elicit strong emotions from viewers, then prompt them to reflect on why the object makes them feel that way.

The installation is consistent with his larger body of work, which includes a series called Little Terrors. The series includes objects that provoke adult anxieties transformed into children's toys. His Playland Security installation from that series, which references airport security screenings, was shown at Phoenix Art Museum in 2016, as part of the "2015 Contemporary Forum Artists Grant Winners" exhibition.

Phoenix was one of five cities chosen for pitch night events this year. Others include Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. About 100 people attended Phoenix Pitch Night, where competitors also included Saskia Jorda, Ronna Nemitz, Craig Randich, and Bobby Zokaites.

Every pitch night features five artists competing for a $5,000 prize and exhibition opportunity. Artists have five minutes to talk about what they want to show at ArtPrize, using just five slides. The five presenters are selected from artists who respond to an open call for art. Pitch night winners are chosen by a panel of judges.

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Phoenix Pitch Night judges included Sara Cochran, former director and chief curator at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; Patty Haberman, chief curator for Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum; Julio Cesar Morales, curator for ASU Art Museum; Rebecca Rothman, director of public art for the city of Tempe; and Jennifer Wcisel, curatorial assistant with the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

They deliberated privately before returning with a white envelope containing the winner's name, but artists and audience members didn't learn the winner right away. First, Phoenix attorney Dan Packard announced his plans to organize an ArtPrize-inspired event called ArtWins, scheduled to happen in Phoenix in November 2019.

Then came the big announcement, following by brief remarks by Lewis. "I don't really have anything to say, except I will not disappoint you," he told the audience.

"I feel great," Lewis told Phoenix New Times. "This is super exciting."

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