CULTURE: There’s Only One Visual Artist on the NEA’s Board. Here’s What She Thinks of the Imperiled Organization’s Future

August 17, 2017

The National Council on the Arts is a 14-person advisory committee that reports to the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. All its members are appointed by the President of the United States, and appointees are selected for their knowledge and expertise of the arts, and their distinguished record of service in their respective fields.
 

Barbara Ernst Prey is the only visual artist on the committee—she was appointed by then-President George W. Bush. Working primarily in the unforgiving medium of watercolor, Prey built a career by selling her delicately composed works of landscapes, seascapes, and various scenes of American life to the US government. Her works hang in over 100 US embassies around the world. She is one of only two living female artists who has work in the White House permanent collection, and has been commissioned by NASA on numerous occasions.
 

Recently Prey was commissioned by MASS MoCA to create a monumental watercolor—said to be the world’s largest—for the museum’s newly inaugurated Building 6. The completed work hangs at the museum alongside works by Louise Bourgeois and Robert Rauschenberg.

Prey’s career trajectory illustrates an alternate path to success outside of the traditional gallery system, benefit predominately from the Art in Embassies program—a global initiative sought to exhibit artworks from many disciplines in embassies and consulates around the world.

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