Two years ago, jewelry collector Susan Beech took the bold step of creating an unprecedented $20,000 grant opportunity for a mid-career artist to pursue a dream project without the financial or time pressures that artists often feel. Out of her passion and desire to give back, the Susan Beech Mid-Career Grant was born. In its inaugural competition, in 2017, 98 thoughtful, exciting proposals were received, far exceeding expectations and proving that the art jewelry field is indeed a dynamic community of diverse, innovative, and creative thinking. We wanted to check in with Susan on her thoughts about the first competition and her hopes for the second.
Bonnie Levine: After years of collecting, you decided to fund a mid-career grant of $20,000 two years ago. What inspired you to give this grant for a jewelry project?
Susan Beech: The idea came out of watching my own children struggle with their financial lives, and I know artists do, too. We’re living in a time of what feels like great uncertainty. This is my way of giving back to artists and helping to take a bit of the struggle out. Some jewelry artists have shared their stories with me, and I know many artists work full time in unfulfilling jobs and they just don’t have the energy to even think about being creative. I hope this grant gives an artist a little breathing room to think, to be creative, and to not feel so much financial pressure.
Having an age restriction often generates a lot of questions and philosophical disagreements among makers. Why did you restrict the age limit to mid-life (35–55 years of age)?
Susan Beech: There’s a lot of support for young artists transitioning out of school, for “emerging artists” who are developing their early bodies of work, and there are lots of exhibition opportunities for these younger artists. This grant is meant to support artists in the next “phase” or those in the middle generation. I’ve heard feedback that 55 is an arbitrary age limit. When I was developing this grant, the age bracket was not arbitrary. The pressure of an artist’s middle years might cause them to stop working. I don’t want to see that. I hope this grant, as defined, infuses excitement and support to artists in that middle period. It could be up to the next person to create a grant for artists who are in their later years.
The first grant, in 2017, generated tremendous excitement in the jewelry community and resulted in 98 impressive proposals, many more than expected. What were your reactions to the proposals? Were your expectations met?
Susan Beech: I was thrilled that so many people applied with such great proposals. I could see the time, thoughtfulness, and care the artists put into them. There were many good ideas and we had robust conversations knowing that we could only choose one. That was very exciting! My expectations were definitely met. I was excited to fund all of the finalists but, again, we had to choose just one. If truth be told, that was the hardest part!
What are you hoping to see in this second grant competition?
Susan Beech: On the most basic level, I want to see proposals that make me want to see the project completed. What that specific project is, I don’t know. I’m always looking for work and projects that expand the field, that are not so self-referential, that help increase the understanding of art jewelry in general.
Thank you so much for your vision and what you’re doing to advance the field of art jewelry.
Read the interview with the inaugural recipient of the Susan Beech Mid-Career Grant, Cristina Filipe, who was awarded $20,000 to research the history of Portuguese art jewelry.