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2019 Neddy at Cornish Award Finalists Announced

Local Jurors Juan Alonso-Rodríguez, Michelle Bufano, and S Surface Select the 2019 Finalists

Seattle, WA — The eight finalists for this year’s Neddy at Cornish Artist Award have been selected. The Neddy Award was begun in 1996 as a tribute to the life and work of Ned Behnke and is administered by Cornish College of the Arts. It is a free and open call application to artists living and working in the greater Puget Sound region. Of the eight 2019 finalists, two winners (to be announced next month) will each receive $25,000 in unrestricted funds, and six runners-up will each receive $2,000. All finalists will be featured in a much-anticipated exhibition at the Cornish Playhouse this fall. 

The 2019 finalists—four in painting and four open media—were selected by three local jurors: Juan Alonso-Rodríguez, Michelle Bufano, and S. Surface,

“The finalists demonstrate care, dedication, and experimentation with their materials,” said Neddy Exhibition Curator Juan Franco. “Some of the artists present the figure as a collage of intentional materials, vibrant colors, and geometric patterning, offering a sense of relentless celebration. Others consider our interactions with materials, imagined objects, or the built environment as gestures of self-reflection and community building.” 

Ultimately, the eight finalists offer an insightful view of contemporary art practices in the Pacific Northwest.  

The Finalists in the Open Medium category are: 

Jite Agbro is a Nigerian-American artist who grew up in the United States. A native of Seattle’s Central District, her work is an account of appearance, identity, and belonging in a constantly shifting socio-economic landscape.  Jite studied Fine Art at Cornish College of the Arts and California College of the Arts before completing a B.A. in Environmental Design at Evergreen State College and an M.S. in Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.  Seattle-area organizations where Jite has received support and project funding from include 4Culture, Artist Trust, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Shunpike, and The James & Janie Washington Jr. Foundation.

Romson Regarde Bustillo, is a Pacific Northwest Artist with a rich layered background. Born in the Philippines on the large multi-ethnic/multi-faith island of  Mindanao; his family immigrated to the United States in 1978. After high school, he moved into the 619 Building in Pioneer Square and began making work. The late painter Drake Deknatel and mixed media artist Marita Dingus were important influences and mentors during this time. The experiences that Romson draws from are concurrently cosmopolitan and hyperlocal. Raised in South Seattle with modest resources, in a household struggling to start anew; he was able to attend art openings; performances; and culture events through youth programs, surreptitious luck, and a bit of  reinvention. At an early age, he recognized social constructs as often unjust. In response, he began to travel abroad to explore other norms. First returning to the Philippines to research Filipino Indigenous, colonial era, and contemporary cultures; followed by travels to Europe, Latin America, SE Asia, and Africa to further his artistic and cultural growth. “My family morphed from our mother tongue Bisaya to Tagalog(Filipino) and eventually to English as our primary language. At some point my work merged with relationships and I started to spend more time in Spain, Mexico, and Central America. Spanish and Catalan started to be present as well. This narrative of  migration and transition; of place and identity; and, at times, of rejection, are subjects that shaped the direction of my work.

Julia Freeman grew up in a suburb outside of Kansas City, Missouri. Freeman graduated from the University of Washington in 2007 with her MFA in Fibers and has lived in Seattle the past 15 years as an artist, curator and teacher. Four years ago she co-founded The Alice, a curatorial collective which prioritizes supporting underrepresented artists. Her artistic practice has critically examined civility and etiquette, the military industrial complex, drug culture and social media. These projects use a variety of materials and processes which take the form of installations, performances, sculptures, book arts and new media works. She is always considering ways to engage the audience in the artistic experience while archiving and examining these systems of power.

Inye Wokoma is a visual artist, journalism and filmmaker. His family has lived in the Central District since the 1940s. His work explores themes of identity, community, history, land, politics and power through the lens of personal and visual narratives. A commitment to social practice prioritizes the utility of his art to the collective welfare of his community. Four of his most recent projects, ‘A Central Vision’,’An Elegant Utility’, ‘This Is Who We Are’, and ‘Wa Na Wari’ represent a prismatic exploration of the history, current experience and future of Seattle’s African American Community. Inye received his B.A. degree in journalism and filmmaking from Clark Atlanta University. He received two photojournalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a 2004 National Council on Crime and Delinquency PASS Award for criminal justice reportage, and a 2012 Telly Award for his film ‘Lost and (Puget) Sound’.

The finalists in the Painting category are: 

Tatiana Garmendia is a professor of fine arts in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division at Seattle Central College. She has exhibited her work throughout the US, including such venues as The Bronx Museum of Arts, Art In General, and Stux Gallery in New York. Among the international venues where Garmendia has shown are The Milan Art Center in Italy, Castfield Gallery in England, the Galeria Riesa Efau in Germany, Art Konsult Gallery in New Delhi, and Aakriti Art Gallery, in Kolkata, India.  Her works are in public collections in Seattle, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Illinois, California, Ohio, and the Dominican Republic.Synthesizing formal concerns and a humanist engagement with history and culture, the artist’s figuration occupies fluid boundaries. Born in Cuba at the height of the Cold War and immigrating to the USA as a youth, the artist’s practice deciphers myths, histories, languages, and tropes from different communal fonts. This variability is reflected in her use of visual languages and hybrid narratives reporting on lived experiences, real and imagined.

Emily Gherard is a Seattle-based painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. She received her MFA from the University of Washington, and her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Selected exhibition locations include The Museum of Northwest Art, Whatcom Museum, The Henry Art Gallery, Gallery 4Culture, SOIL, Francine Seders Gallery, Cornish College of the Arts, and Bridge Productions. She received the 2006 PONCHO Special Recognition Award and a 2014 GAP Grant. She was a finalist for the 2006 and 2010 Betty Bowen Award, a painting finalist for the 2013 Neddy Art Awards at Cornish, and a Stranger Magazine Genius Nominee for Visual Art in 2014. Emily was awarded residences at Jentel Artist Residency Program, WY and the Ora Lerman Charitable Trust Artist Residency, PA. Shehas taught for the last fourteen years throughout the Puget Sound area, including the University of Washington, Western Washington University, North Seattle College, and Bellevue College. 

Aramis O. Hamer is a visual artist and muralist living in Seattle, WA. Her subject matter is inspired by divine femininity and the complexities throughout the Black culture. From a very young age she always loved to create, but at the age of fifteen she discovered her love for acrylic paints. With the supportive art community in the Pacific Northwest, Aramis has been able to exhibit her colorful creations at many different exhibitions in the greater Seattle area- including MoPop, Paramount Theater, Martyr Sauce Gallery, Columbia City Gallery, and more. Aramis created the iconic purple goddess in 2016 for KEXP radio station at Seattle Center which became a catalyst to her mural career. You can find many of her designs all over the city. As a self-taught artist, Aramis lets the pull of her imagination be her guide. Her adventure is just beginning, and she invites others to join her on this journey. Learn more about Aramis’ work at 

Amanda Knowles grew up in Philadelphia, PA and earned a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. She moved to Seattle in 1993 before returning to school to earn a MA and MFA in Printmaking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduate school she moved back to Seattle. She has received a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation as well as three GAP grants from Artist Trust. Knowles has taught classes and workshops, has been awarded several artist residencies including a 2017 residency at the Ucross Foundation as well as residencies at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Vermont Studio Center, Kala Art Institute, Centrum, and Anchor Graphics. She has been a visiting artist at universities around the United States. She served on the board of Seattle Print Arts from 2005-2017. In 2017 she joined the Duwamish Artist Residency. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is currently represented by Guthrie Contemporary in New Orleans and G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle, WA. Knowles currently teaches printmaking and drawing at North Seattle College, and is the director of the North Seattle College Art Gallery.

“Being part of the Neddy selection panel was a beautifully democratic and truly rewarding experience,” said Local Juror Juan Alonso-Rodriguez. “The knowledge and insight each panelist brought to the table made for some thoughtful discussions and wonderfully unexpected results. As a past recipient of the Neddy, I hope this recognition will have a significant positive impact on this year’s finalists and awardees as it did for me in 1997.”

The two grand-prize winners of the 2019 Neddy at Cornish Award will be selected by National Juror Jessica Hong. 

About the Jurors

Cuban-born Juan Alonso-Rodríguez is a self-taught artist with a career spanning over three decades in Seattle. His work has been exhibited throughout the US and is included in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Portland Art Museum, Microsoft, Swedish & Harborview Hospitals and General Mills, among others. He has created public works for Century Link Field, Sea/Tac Airport, King County Housing Authority, Epiphany School, Sound Transit, Chief Sealth High School and Renton Technical College. His awards include a Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, The Neddy Fellowship, DeJunius Hughes Award and the 2017 Conductive Garboil Grant. Juan is a Seattle Arts Commissioner and serves on the city’s Public Art Advisory Committee.


As executive director of Chihuly Garden and Glass Michelle Bufano oversees the overall direction and operation of the exhibition. She brings more than 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations and has held leadership positions at Pratt Fine Arts Center, Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum during times of major growth and expansion. Prior to joining the exhibition, Bufano served as Executive Director and Education Director, respectively, at Pratt Fine Arts Center. Bufano has been a consultant to nonprofit arts organizations and has served as an adjunct professor on these topics in the Museum Studies program at the University of Washington. In addition, she holds an M.A. in Education from George Washington University.

S Surface is a Seattle-based curator of architecture, design and art, currently King Street Station Program Lead with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture. Surface earned the M.Arch from Yale School of Architecture and the BFA in Integrated Design (graphic design, photography, entrepreneurship) at Parsons School of Design. From 2016-2018 Surface was co-curator of The Alice, an artist-run exhibition space and writers’ residency, and Out Of Sight 2017, a regional survey of Pacific Northwest Artists. As Program Director at Design in Public, Surface organized the annual city-wide Seattle Design Festival and curated at the Center for Architecture & Design.

Jessica Hong is currently the Associate Curator of Global Contemporary Art—the first to fill this position—at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. Before joining the Hood, Hong was assistant curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, where she organized exhibitions including Arthur Jafa: Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2018) and the ICA’s presentation of We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 (2018). Prior to the ICA, she was part of the inaugural team of the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art that launched the renovated Harvard Art Museums. Hong was previously based in New York and held curatorial positions at Independent Curators International (ICI), SculptureCenter, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has written editorial pieces for BOMB Magazine, ICA/Boston, SculptureCenter publications, among others. Additionally, she served as ICI’s external evaluator for all curatorial programs, as visiting critic for Residency Unlimited (NY), and as a juror on numerous panels and fellowship programs. Hong received her M.A. in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and B.A. in art history from Barnard College, Columbia University.

About Ned Behnke

The Neddy at Cornish Award honors the legacy of Seattle painter and teacher Ned Behnke (1948-1989). Ned was the son of Robert and Sally Skinner Behnke. Deaf from birth, Ned Behnke expressed himself in the visual arts from an early age. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Central Washington University, and his Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, Painting, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. He lived and worked in Seattle, where he taught art to hearing-impaired students at Cornish College of the Arts and other institutions.

During his life, Ned Behnke received many national arts awards including a major public art commission by the King County Arts Commission for the Seattle Hearing and Deafness Center. He exhibited his art widely and was represented by Foster/White Gallery in Seattle. Ned Behnke died in 1989.

His legacy is in evidence throughout our community through the generous philanthropy of the Behnke family. The Northwest AIDS Foundation (now the LIFELONG AIDS Alliance) created the Ned Behnke Leadership Award in 1993. The Ned Behnke Preschool, Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center was founded in 2007 with an emphasis on speech, language, and literacy development.

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