When Monica Escamilla, a junior in the Photography and Film Department at Virginia Commonwealth University, applied for the Virginia Museum of Fine Art's 2016-2017 Fellowship as part of a class requirement, she had no idea that she'd be chosen as a recipient of the prestigious prize. Escamilla was one of just 11 undergraduate students across the state to receive the award.
The Fellowship program was established in 1940 by a Fredericksburg art patron, the late John Lee Pratt. Since that time, the program has awarded $5.5 million in fellowship grants to Virginia artists. "The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Fellowship Program is committed to nurturing artists throughout the commonwealth,” says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges in a news release. Escamilla and nine other undergraduate students will receive $4,000; one undergraduate student will receive $2,000.
"The juror for the undergraduate and graduate awards was Amy Moorefield," reads the VMFA website, "museum deputy director of exhibitions at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke."
Jenny Harding, Fellowship Program coordinator at the VMFA, explains this year's competitive application and submission process: "We had a pool of about 180 applicants for the undergraduate fellowship; about 20 percent of those were for photography. Photography is a very popular category."
Though Escamilla's work won her a fellowship this year, she also applied last year, something that's not uncommon, says Harding.
"Many applicants apply for several years before they get the award," she says.
This photo by Monica Escamilla won her a 2016-2017 VMFA Fellowship. (Photo by Monica Escamilla/courtesy VMFA)
Jeffrey Allison, the VMFA's manager of statewide programs and exhibitions, adds, "A blind jury selects the fellowship recipients ... they know nothing about the applicant. They don’t know the age, the gender; all they can see is the applicant’s work. It's completely based on artistic merit."
The submission deadline for the 2017-2018 fellowship program is Nov. 4; find details here.
As a prize winner, Escamilla is in good company. Allison and Harding go on to name some well-known past fellowship recipients, including photographer Sally Mann and "Breaking Bad" writer Vince Gilligan.
Escamilla, a self-described "highly nostalgic" artist, talked with us about the award, her work and her future creative pursuits.
Richmond magazine: How long have you been creating art? Why did you choose photography as your medium?
Escamilla: This is a difficult question to answer because art is not so easily defined. But I think I have always known that I was an artist and was very imaginative as a kid. My first camera was a Polaroid Captiva. I did not really become serious about photography, however, until about five years ago. The main reason why I am drawn to photography over any other art form is that I am a highly nostalgic person. I remember taking photos as a kid so that I wouldn't forget what was happening in my life. I wanted to remember everything. My work is heavily driven by nostalgia and the moments we seem to forget when we get caught up with our daily routine. Photography is challenging in many ways because it invites vulnerability. Not only does photography put you out there, but it also challenges you to think, to be patient and to wait.
RM: Where are you from? How long have you been a resident of RVA?
Escamilla: I am originally from Northern Virginia. I grew up in the Springfield area and attended high school in Alexandria. Prior to moving to Richmond in 2012, I lived in Costa Rica.
RM: What do you hope to accomplish in the future as an artist? Professional aspirations? What inspires you, artistically?
Escamilla: I hope to create work that challenges our human perception of the world around us. I am inspired by humanism and how we as individuals interact with our environment. Professionally, I want to keep challenging myself to think and work in new and innovative ways. It is very important for me to live in a creative environment. Richmond has been great in this regard because of the abundant artistic community in the area. Interning with Richmond magazine has allowed me to be able to connect with the community while pursuing my photographic goals.
See the full list of 2016-2017 VMFA Fellowship recipients here and keep an eye out for Escamilla's work in upcoming issues of Richmond magazine.