Through its Visual Arts Fellowship Program, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has awarded nearly $6 million to some 1,500 artists. Now in its 84th year, the program illustrates the impact of a visionary gift and VMFA’s commitment to fostering creative talent across the Commonwealth.

Fellowship recipients are among the most influential artists in Virginia. Past recipients include Sally Mann, named by Time Magazine as “America’s Best Photographer;” Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad; and Nell Blaine, one of the first women artists associated with Abstract Expressionism.

Selected by a panel of curators, art historians, and artists, awards are available to professional artists as well as students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. A unique aspect of the program is that recipients may use the money in whatever way best supports them.

VMFA’s recent exhibition Benjamin Wigfall and Communications Village highlights the ripple effects of such funding. Fellowships in 1949 and 1951 helped Wigfall, who grew up in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood and attended classes at VMFA in high school, attend Hampton Institute.

His painting Chimneys was acquired by the museum in 1951, making the 21-year-old student the youngest artist—and one of the first African American artists—to have a work in VMFA’s collection. In addition to his career as an artist and educator, Wigfall (1930-2017) founded Communications Village as a community art space to bring leading African American artists of the era together with local youth to experiment with printmaking as an art form.

When John Lee Pratt made his initial gift in 1940 to establish the Fellowship Program, he could not have known how many artists would benefit from his generosity. Beginning with just three recipients in its inaugural year, the program now supports 20-25 artists annually and is still largely funded by the Pratt Endowment, supplemented by the J. Warwick McClintick, Jr. Scholarship Fund.

We couldn’t have achieved these milestones without the support of friends like you! To learn how you can use your estate plan to make an even greater impact on VMFA’s future, please contact Marie Hawthorne, Senior Development Officer, at 804.340.1335 or