Meet the Donor Putting Austin on the International Visual Arts Map

Most of us would agree that Austin, Texas gets all kinds of love. But according to a deep-pocketed native arts patron, it's the wrong kind of love.

So she did something about it.

The Contemporary Austin announced Thursday that it will be host to the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize, a $100,000 unrestricted biennial award given to an artist of any age, any nationality and working in any medium. The Booth Prize will also finance a solo exhibit for the winning artist that will be accompanied by a major publication.

Let's jump right in by first going to the source, Texan Suzanne Deal Booth, shall we?

A philanthropist, arts collector, and collector, Booth has a passion for visual arts and cultural heritage. She's the founder of the Friends of Heritage Preservation, a charitable organization that has contributed to 60 preservation and conservation projects around the world. In 2001, she and her family established the Booth Family Rome Prize Fellowship for Historic Preservation and Conservation at the American Academy in Rome. 

She's also the better half of David Booth—recently profiled here—the co-founder and co-CEO of Dimensional Fund Advisors. In 2008 the Booths and their family gave $300 million to David's alma mater, University of Chicago. At the time it was one of the largest endowments to an American university in history.

OK, so up until this point, all the philanthropic ducks are in a row. We have a Texas native with a passion for the arts. She and her husband have a long history of record-breaking philanthropy. And her most recent gift will elevate the city—and we're quoting the Austin-American Statesman here—to a "new status in the global art world."

But why Austin? Why not...Dallas? Or Lubbock?

To hear Booth tell it, she chose Austin because while it's known for being the "Live Music Capital of the World" and mind-bending barbecue, its art scene still doesn't get a fair shake in global circles. "It’s a nice jolt, a breath of fresh air—a way to bring new attention to the city," she said. "Austin needed some fresh spotlighting. And I like highlighting things that people don't always expect of a place."

So why the Contemporary?

For starters, Booth serves on its board. But more tellingly, Booth said that the museum's artist-focused philosophy—its practice of inviting artists to create site-specific work at its site—had much to do with her decision to create the prize. "By putting an emphasis on the artist it creates something very stimulating, very fresh that people can connect with," said Booth.

And lastly, what about the prize itself?

Selected by a panel of experts, the first winner of the Booth Prize will be announced in late fall with the exhibition mounted in early 2018. An independent committee of art historians and curators from across the country will select a winner. The committee will change biennially with each iteration of the award.

We're particularly intrigued by prize's wide net. As previously noted, "artist of any age, any nationality, and working in any medium" can apply. And it's precisely the prize's unrestricted nature that distinguishes it from the other prizes out there.

"Not only is the actual monetary prize as high as it gets," said Stephanie Barron, senior curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and one of the Booth Prize jury members, "but with an additional gift of a solo show and a publication, it really solidifies its uniqueness. And with no restrictions on who can receive the award, there’s an enormous openness to the whole endeavor.”

That's what we call the right kind of love.

Cue the Bobby Bare!