MICA alum-turned-teacher James Williams II is the winner of the 2022 Janet & Walter Sondheim Art Prize. Photo courtesy of Walters Art Museum.

Multimedia artist James Williams II is the winner of the 17th annual Janet & Walter Sondheim Art Prize, awarded Thursday night at the Walters Art Museum.

Finalist Megan Koeppel came in second and Maren Henson finished third.

The artists were selected over more than 300 others who applied for the prize, one of the most prestigious in the country. Their work is on view at the Walters Art Museum until Sept. 18.

Williams, who won for a series of pieces that focus on topics of social and cultural identity, will receive $30,000, increased from $25,000 in past years. He wasn’t at the ceremony, explaining in a statement read to the audience that he and other members of his family got “hit with COVID” and couldn’t attend.

“Despite being sick, we are in good spirits,” he said, adding that he is “humbled and grateful” to be selected and honored to be showing work alongside Koeppel and Henson.

A curator and interdisciplinary artist whose work includes painting, sculpture and photography, Williams, 40, is originally from upstate New York. He received his master’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he currently teaches. He was a Sondheim semi-finalist last year.

Artwork by James Williams II, winner of the 2022 Janet & Walter Sondheim Art Prize. Art by James Williams II.

“Winning this award is the opportunity of a lifetime for me,” he said in his statement. “Thank you for trusting me.”

Koeppel, a fiber artist, won a six-week residency at Civitella Ranieri, an American artist’s community in the Umbria region of Italy. Henson will receive a six-month residency at the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) presents the annual award in partnership with the museum, M&T Bank and the Maryland State Arts Council.

Named after two civic leaders who were strong supporters of the arts and Baltimore, the prize is given “to assist in furthering the career of a visual artist or visual artist collaborators living and working in the Greater Baltimore region.” Members of the Sondheim family were present at the ceremony last night.

The award was previously named the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize, and it traditionally has been presented during the same week in July as the city’s annual Artscape festival.

The festival hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizers say the next one won’t take place in July. They say the name was changed to make a distinction between the Sondheim competition and the festival and underscore that they’re separate events.

Jurors for the 2022 competition were curator Catherine Morris and artists Kambui Olujimi and Jean Shin. Lou Joseph is BOPA’s Prize and Competition Manager.

The total value of Sondheim prizes this year is the highest it’s ever been — $55,000 in fellowships and awards. In addition to their other awards, the three finalists each receive $2,500 prizes funded by M&T Bank. The other 10 semi-finalists will receive $500 each and will have an opportunity to exhibit their work at the School 33 Art Center, located at 1427 Light Street, from Sept. 1 to Oct. 30.

Hours for the Walters Art Museum, located at 600 N. Charles St., are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and from 1 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is free.

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.