Former Pittsburgher vanessa german has won a $250,000 award for her contribution to the visual arts. She is one of two artists selected nationally for the 2022 Heinz Awards.
german says she creates art not just to be admired, but also to effect change.
“I believe in the power of art. This is love for me,” she says. “Creativity saved my life, so, I know deeply, intimately, that creativity is a sure force of power, and everything that I make inhabits this power ... I want people to feel the work, for the work to enter into their living places, for it to awaken their own spaces of power, creativity and hope.”
german is a self-described “citizen artist” who specializes in sculpture, painting, poetry, photography, and performance art. Until recently based in Homewood, german has been providing spaces for art and creative expression in her neighborhood for over 10 years. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports she has recently relocated to North Carolina.
german is self-taught and her work often confronts racism, violence, homophobia, and hate, with the goal of expressing hope for healing, according to a press release announcing the award. She often refers to her sculptures as “power figures” and builds them from everyday objects found around her, like mirrors, vintage figurines, toy weapons, African beads, or cowrie shells. Her work acknowledges the collective suffering of Black Americans while offering affirmation, protection, and optimism. A strong focus on the female form guides a lot of her art.
Established in 1993, the Heinz Award celebrates individuals making extraordinary achievements in the areas of art, the environment, and the economy — themes of deep importance to its namesake the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz.
“The Heinz Awards recognize the artists and creators who help us better understand the challenges of our culture," said Teresa Heinz, chair of the Heinz Family Foundation. "Vanessa’s bold, thought-provoking sculptures, together with her community-based programs, clearly reflect that spirit, demonstrating not only a commitment to artistic excellence, but also to work that enfolds viewers into an experience that is both confronting and healing.”ARTS
- Cauleen Smith — an interdisciplinary artist and educator whose experimental films, installations, and multimedia works reflect on history and imagine futures of possibility.
- Hilary Abell and Alison Lingane — co-founders of Project Equity, a nonprofit leading the movement to create better jobs and a fairer economy by advancing the employee ownership business model.
- Chrystel Cornelius — president and CEO of Oweesta Corporation, a community development financial institution working to return wealth and financial independence to Native lands and people.
- Anne Evens — Energy equity leader transforming energy efficiency improvements in affordable housing and CEO of Elevate, a nonprofit working to ensure that everyone has equal access to clean and affordable heat, power, and water in their homes and communities.
- Rhett Ayers Butler — founder and CEO of the global nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform Mongabay, which produces meticulously researched, evidence-based news and investigative pieces.