It seems as if Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is maybe, maybe making changes in response to a rant published in the Phoenix back in October about the museum's failure to award its $5000 annual Maud Morgan Purchase Prize and exhibit for unsung local women artists since 2006.
The Museum announced Monday that it would reinstate the prize in 2011. Of course, the MFA told me last year that they'd reinstitute the award in 2010, only to postpone it again. Let's hope they keep their word this time.
The move comes in response to a column I published here on October 6, which prompted Roslindale portrait painter Laura Chasman, who won the prize in 2001, to e-mail MFA director Malcolm Rogers about how much she missed the prize program. "His response was immediate, and it was simply 'I appreciate your thoughtful e-mail,' and it was CC'd to the curators," Chasman says.
Then on November 20, a local artist and donor to the prize fund (who asked to remain anonymous here for fear of offending certain powers-that-be) e-mailed 50 women urging them to contact Rogers: "There is so little support and recognition for artists in Boston that we should make sure the MFA doesn't let this slip away." Then more folks complained. As of last week, the MFA said, it had received 10 notes.
Edward Saywell, chairman of the MFA's contemporary-art department, responded to those notes:"We have not awarded the prize in recent years because unfortunately the fund is modest enough that the prize is not able to be of a meaningful size if awarded on an annual basis. We have decided that giving the prize a bit more sparingly, but with greater funds, will be a better way of meeting the original intentions of the award. Please rest assured that we have plans in the works to reinstitute the prize shortly on a regular basis and in a manner which will ensure that we better meet Maud Morgan's vision for the prize."
It's worth remembering that the lack of a prize for four years means that four local artists didn't get an MFA show — not to mention the $20,000 the MFA is sitting on. But the announcement on Monday seems to indicate that the MFA is committed to restoring the prize. So let's call Saywell's pledge to restore the prize progress.
Hearing the news, Cashman says, "I'm delighted and excited for the next recipient. . . . After people are criticized, it's an important opportunity to learn. And I hope that will happen here. &ldots; I hope that the MFA will not forget how important it is in Boston and offer local artists — such as the Maud Morgan winners — more opportunities to show in their museum."