For the first time in its history, three artists will share the Eben Demarest Fund prize.

Established in 1939, the fund has honored artists and archaeologists ranging from Jackson Pollock to Tameka Cage Conley. 

The prize money of up to $20,000 is typically awarded every other year, but the 2020 selection committee was unable to meet because of the pandemic, so the funds were carried over. 

The three awardees are Pittsburgh-based visual artist Gavin Benjamin, Evanston, Illinois-based figurative realist painter Daniela Kovačić, and Brooklyn-based sculptor Kennedy Yanko. Each will receive $18,000. 

The fund was established by Elizabeth B. Demarest, who taught at what is now Carnegie Mellon University. She named the fund after her father as an expression of their shared interest in the arts and world cultures. A pool of experts chooses nominees who have produced significant work in their chosen fields and “demonstrate special promise for future achievement.” 

The Pittsburgh Foundation has overseen the Demarest awards since 2010.

Gavin Benjamin. Image by Benjamin Brady.

Gavin Benjamin combines analog photography and appropriated images with collage, paint and varnish to create his artwork. He was born in Guyana and raised in Brooklyn.

Benjamin plans to use his prize money to expand on his residency at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art. He will produce a new body of work for a fall 2022 solo exhibition that will feature photographs shot in the museum’s galleries of African American and immigrant community members in Westmoreland County. 

This fall Benjamin is presenting new work for “Food Justice,” an exhibition at Contemporary Craft in collaboration with Jason Forck from the Pittsburgh Glass Center, and for “Home,” an exhibition at the Mattress Factory of work by African American artists based in Pittsburgh. Both exhibitions open in September.

Daniela Kovačić. Image courtesy of the artist.

Daniela Kovačić is using her own experiences with pregnancy and motherhood to create a project consisting of approximately 10 large oil paintings depicting different mothers and children, with a focus on the experiences of children with disabilities. 

She plans to use funds from the Demarest award to send her son to preschool, allowing her to have the time to work consistently and to build relationships with families who can participate in the project.

Kennedy Yanko. Photo by Mike Vitelli courtesy of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Kennedy Yanko creates sculptural works using found objects, salvaged metal, bronze and heavy acrylic poured “paint skins.” She describes herself as “making art like an archaeologist,” excavating scrap metal from junkyards. 

Yanko plans to use funding from the Demarest award to fund the incorporation of marble into her artwork. It is rare, Yanko says, for women artists, who are notoriously underpaid for their work as compared to men, to be able to create large, three-dimensional outdoor sculpture, particularly in a material as expensive as marble. 

“It’s really wonderful when funders give us what we need rather than what they think we need,” says Yanko, about the Demarest Fund process.