Illustration by Terrence Sullivan
Art finds you out, like love, sometimes when you least expect it and when you’re not looking. This group of honorees for the 17th Annual Theresa Pollak Prizes for Excellence in the Arts includes those who started out in another direction — history, math and psychology, chemistry and biology. But the compulsion to make art, in whatever medium, needed a slight push or an opportunity to go into full bloom. And in all these cases, their practice is continuing full tilt.
Theresa Pollak (1899-2002), a native Richmonder, is the only known Virginia artist to have lived in three centuries. Her art career covered more than half of the 20th. She was no more assured of a long life than anyone else, but she packed enough in it to satisfy a few lifetimes. Her greatest contributions to the region are founding the art schools at both Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond. Among her generations of students at VCU, a number of them became artists and educators who’ve gone on to influence countless others.
Without Pollak’s efforts on behalf of art and art education, it’s doubtful that Central Virginia would be the hub of culture it’s become, or that there’d be a bustle of spectators and socializers on downtown Broad Street on the first Friday of the month, or that an Institute for Contemporary Art would be rising in a former parking lot at Belvidere and Broad streets. And that’s just for starters.
When you pause to think of the tremendous value added to living and working in this community, and not just by calculable dollars and assets, you understand that this woman had a great impact. She nudged our city’s history toward the pursuit of the artistic, and over time, that endeavor has become one of the Richmond region’s major components. Those profiled in the following pages are part of Pollak’s profound legacy.
The 2014 selectors: Gigi Amateau, writer (Pollak, 2012); Debra Clinton, actor/director (Pollak, 2013); Emily Smith, director, 1708 Gallery (Pollak, 2013); Samson Trinh, musician, composer (Pollak, 2011).
Click to read the profile on each prize winner:
Art Innovator: Morgan Yacoe
Visual Arts: Sonya Clark
Theater: Melissa Johnston Price
Music: Brian Jones
Words: Valley Haggard