Times Staff Writer

A landscape archeologist, a “street painter"--that is to say, a painter in and of the streets--a small-town and rural planner and the industrial designer of the Dictaphone 10 are among the 26 artists and scholars announced as winners of the 91st annual Rome Prize Competition.

As fellows of the sponsoring American Academy in Rome, they will share $250,000 in cash stipends and receive living and working accommodations at the academy’s 10-building facility in Rome for terms ranging from six months to two years.

“The key word to describe the academy is interdisciplinary, " said Joan Altman, a spokeswoman for the organization in New York. “There are other American institutions abroad, but they are one-sided, mainly on the academic side. The fact that we are merging the arts with scholarship is the distinction.”

In its way, and certainly in its funding, the institution also merges public and private sectors. Ten percent of the academy’s fellowship money comes from Philip Morris Inc., and a hefty chunk comes from such philanthropies as the Mellon and Kress foundations. In addition, seven American Academy fellows are funded under an agreement with the national endowments for the arts and the humanities.

With increasing cutbacks from such government agencies, Altman conceded, awards like the American Academy’s take on new significance.


“A lot of the government agencies have direct funding to artists,” Altman said. “If that is being pulled back, then the private sector is becoming increasingly responsible for direct support of artists and scholars.

“In this respect, the academy plays an important role, because there isn’t that much money available for individuals.”

American Academy fellowships have another distinguishing feature, Altman said, and that is that “we also do not expect anything in terms of product from the people who go to Rome; whether they use their time just to contemplate their field or to go out on some kind of artistic tangent is up to them, but in no sense do we expect them to produce a manuscript or book, or whatever. In fact, we try to put as little pressure as possible on them to produce in that sense.”

In fact, Altman went on, “one of the famous stories at the academy was when Louis Kahn was a fellow, and he apparently spent the entire year in his room, on his bed, staring at the ceiling. And then, of course, he went on to become one of the major architects in this country.”

Other prominent past recipients of the Rome Prize include writers William Styron, Nadine Gordimer, Francine du Plessix Gray and Ralph Ellison; composers Samuel Barber, Lukas Foss and Elliott Carter; painters Frank Stella and Al Held, and architects Michael Graves and Robert Venturi.

“The focus is for young, emerging artists,” Altman said. “In that sense it is hard to see that we are awarding grants to people after a lifetime of achievements. This is more an act of faith. We award these grants to people that show great promise. Because of the stature of our jurors, we have a sense of confidence about that.”

Selected through an open competition, this year’s Rome Prize winners include University of California Prof. Allan B. Jacobs, the former director of city planning for San Francisco. He will use his fellowship to investigate the physical characteristics of “great streets” and to research the continued economic uses of older city centers.

A founding member and artistic director of the California E.A.R. Unit, a contemporary music group, award-winning composer Rand Peter Steiger of Valencia, Calif., said he would use his time in Rome to work on several pieces requested by performers, principally a double concerto for piano, marimba/vibes and orchestra.

For William Plumb, president of the Plumb Design Group, whose Dictaphone 10 is in a collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the fellowship will provide time to research the relationship between Italian and American design.

And Philip Lawrence Sherrod, one of the founders of the school of “street painters,” stated that “I would like to go back to Rome and paint in the streets, both to document (Rome) as a modern artist and to record Rome’s (physical) progress or decline.”