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Ten St. Louis-area Artists Awarded $20,000 RAC Fellowships

The Regional Arts Commission (RAC) today handed local artists Kathryn Bentley, Arny Nadler and eight others $20,000 each to make their dreams a reality.

Bentley, a theater artist, and Nadler, a sculptor, are among the first group of 10 visual, performing and literary artists to become RAC Artist Fellows. Their names (see full list below) were announced in a morning news conference at RAC's offices. (Note: An earlier version of the article said the offices were in University City. They are in St. Louis.)

Bentley's artistic mission includes letting women know their bodies don’t have to be flawless. Staging a one-woman show focused on body image in a culture of photoshopped female perfection has been a goal for several months. The award makes the project possible and allows for collaboration with colleagues and others in and away from St. Louis to give it greater depth and meaning.

That kind of funded opportunity is rare in the artistic world, Bentley said.

"Scientists often get fellowships," she said. "But to say to an artist, 'We hold your work in high esteem,' that is really cool." (Below: Kathryn Bentley, professor of theater and dance at SIUE, welcomes guests to a live performance of "Forbidden Love: Na Mini Du.")

Humor Tempers A Hard Topic

Bentley, 46, is an actor, playwright and associate professor of theater at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville whose resume includes a role on “All My Children” as well as work with theater companies in Harlem and the South American country of Suriname. She's planning more travel as she researches her solo show, which has a particular emphasis on women of the African diaspora.

photo of Kathryn Bentley
Credit Provided by RAC
Kathryn Bentley

Her itinerary’s still up in the air as she takes in the unexpected honor of being chosen from among 265 Artist Fellows applicants. But some of her research will also take place at home -- literally.

“I have a teenage daughter who’s bombarded with hyper-sexual images on TV, more so than when I was younger,” Bentley said. “I wonder, what does that do as far as how you look at yourself as a woman?”

While the content of Bentley’s show will emerge over a year or so of personal interactions and classes she plans to take, she’s already certain of several components: It will explore women of all ages, compare U.S. women to those in other countries and include multiple characters, all played by Bentley. And there will definitely be humor.

"It's a heavy topic but I need to get the point across on different levels," Bentley said. "So I've got to do something funny, maybe about always trying to lose those 10 pounds -- what are you trying to look like? And why?"

Building On Momentum

Sculptor Arny Nadler, 44, is also among the 10 chosen artists. The Washington University associate professor of art said the money buys him a critical commodity: freedom. Specifically, the freedom to tackle pursuits he couldn't otherwise afford.

photo of Arny Nadler
Credit Provided by RAC
Arny Nadler

Nadler may use the funding to delve further into a new passion for small-scale ceramics. Or he could expand his ongoing creation of large, on-site pieces, such as the steel rebar sculpture installed in 2012 at UMSL called “Whelm.”

“The money could help support a project like this in other states,” Nadler said. “It could help finance travel, hotel stays, things like that.”

Money was revealed to be a chief concern of local artists in an Artists Count survey released by RAC last March. The Artist Fellowship program aims to alleviate funding issues.

The fellowship money, $200,000 in all, comes from an existing St. Louis  and St. Louis County hotel tax. Winners, selected through a committee headed by attorney and art collector Frieda Wheaton and philanthropist Nancy Kranzberg, do not have to complete a project during the fellowship year, but they are required to file quarterly reports of their expenditures.

While the Artist Fellows program is designed to retain local artists and attract new ones to the area, its impact may be even broader, according to Nadler, who predicts it will accelerate recent expansion of the local arts community.

“It has a transformative potential to continue to make St. Louis a vibrant, creative place for artists to thrive,” Nadler said. “And the artists who receive this fellowship can hopefully build on the momentum it delivers.”

2013 Artist Fellows Of The Regional Arts Commission

  • Alice Bloch (Dance)
  • Arny Nadler (Visual Art)
  • Deanna Jent (Theater Arts)
  • Juan William Chavez (Visual Arts)
  • Kathryn Bentley (Theater Arts)
  • Peter Martin (Music)
  • Philip Boehm (Literature)
  • Richard Newman (Literature)
  • Stan Chisholm (Visual Art)
  • Van McElwee (Media Arts)
Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.