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Phoenix Art Museum Features 8 Arizona Artists in May Exhibitions

Phoenix artist Bill Dambrova recalls doing a short stint as a Phoenix Art Museum guard during the early '90s. The maroon blazer he was expected to wear at the time was a far cry from the shorts and T-shirt we found him sporting during First Friday in May. The orange polish we spotted on his nails, similar to the bright shades used in his work, might not have made the cut back then either.

Dambrova delighted in sharing the tale of his journey from guard to grant recipient when we popped in to see his work exhibited at Treeo on Roosevelt Row. We found him reclining on the front porch in an Adirondack chair, where he explained that the guard gig only lasted a few months.

See also: Phoenix Artist Bill Dambrova on Painting, Star Wars, and Spirituality

Dambrova says he wasn't all that keen on wearing the stern expression the job required, and left to try his hand at designing exhibitions — a craft he still practices in addition to making contemporary art featuring abstractions of human anatomical forms. He shares the story not to punctuate his own importance, but to let up-and-coming artists know the journey can lead to some pretty unexpected places.

Today one of Dambrova's works is featured in an exhibition titled "2014 Contemporary Forum Artists Grant Winners," as are works by Kerstin Jones Dale, Karen Hymer, Hyunji Lee, Lauren Strohacker & Kendra Sollars, Larry Valencia Madigral, and Ben Willis.

Around this time last year, these artists learned they'd been selected as 2014 grant recipients — becoming part of a group of 168 emerging Arizona artists awarded a total of nearly a quarter million dollars since 1986. Winners' works are exhibited the following year at the Phoenix Art Museum.

The 2014 winners were among those who responded to an open call last March. Every Arizona artist is welcome to apply, according to Gabriela Munoz, the museum's curatorial assistant of Latin American art, who acts as administrator for Contemporary Forum grant and award programs. "Generally we receive 100 to 150 applications," she says. Last year about 120 artists applied — each submitting an artist statement, curriculum vitae, and three images of their work.

A panel of three jurors selects grant recipients, according to Munoz. Last year's panel included then-Phoenix Art Museum director Jim Ballinger, Phoenix artist Randy Slack, and Patty Haberman, curator for Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. The jury rotates each year, explains Munoz, and always includes one museum professional and someone working in another capacity within the arts.

"The jury wants to see artists pushing boundaries, experimenting with new things, and posing questions about the place where we live," says Munoz. Specific criteria are noted on the museum's website. For artists Strohacker and Sollars, she says, that question is how the city's growth is diminishing wildlife populations. Their "Animal Lands" projection is part of this year's exhibition of works by 2014 grant winners.

The 2015 winners, whose work will be exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum next spring, have already been selected by a jury that included Vanessa Davidson, the museum's curator of Latin American art, Emily Stamey, curator of contemporary art at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and Cassandra Hernandez, artist programs and career services coordinator for Arizona Commission on the Arts.

They'll be announced to the public during a May 13 event called the Contemporary Forum Lecture Series/Awards Presentation & Art Exhibition. The 7 p.m. event is free (as is museum admission each Wednesday night).

The event also features a presentation by Phoenix artist Rachel Bess, recipient of the 2014 Arlene and Morton Scult Contemporary Forum Artist Award. Bess creates small, detailed oil paintings using traditional techniques, focusing on "the turmoil that is so often part of the mortal experience." She's represented by Lisa Sette Gallery.

Her solo exhibition "Rachel Bess: 2014 Arlene and Morton Scult Contemporary Forum Artist Award Recipient" is on view in the museum's Rineberg Gallery through May 31. Its namesakes endow the award, and one serves each year on the jury that selects the artist award recipient. Munoz notes that the jury also includes the museum's director and the president of the Contemporary Forum board of directors.

Each year the award goes to one Arizona mid-career artist who meets several criteria — including sustained excellence and commitment to contemporary art, as well as significant growth during the course of their artistic career. Artists, who are nominated by Contemporary Forum members, must have been working for at least 7 consecutive years as a professional artist in Arizona — and they have to be making and showing new work.

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Munoz says she hopes these grants and awards help local artists feel supported and appreciated. "There is so much talent and thoughtfulness out there," Munoz says of the Arizona art community. "We feel super lucky to work with these recipients," she adds. "And we hope it pushes them a little bit."

Find more information on the Phoenix Art Museum website.

See also: "Pattern Play" Presents Post-War Fashion Whimsy at Phoenix Art Museum

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