Johanna Houska is this year’s first place winner of the Arlene Schnitzer Visual Arts Prize.
In 2013, the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE foundation created the prize to showcase the quality of visual art education at Portland State University (PSU) and to commemorate the late Arlene Schnitzer, who dedicated her interest to the arts and culture of Portland. First prize winners receive $5,500, while second prize winners receive $4,000 and third prize winners receive $3,000.
Houska received a Community Health Education (CHE) from the London College of Fashion in 2018 and a BFA from Portland State University in 2022. She specializes in developing textiles for furniture, apparel and fine art. Her work on textile design and its application focuses on ethical and sustainable sourcing, design and construction. Her practice seeks to solve problems through design and asks which materials can bridge the human relationship to nature and advance connections between people and products.
Houska’s exhibition “Networks” plays with how textiles can create objects of varying utility. The series of pieces are connected through materials and techniques. The physical material reveals how handmade pieces can communicate craft while serving a purpose on our bodies. One of the pieces from the exhibition called “To walk in” is a pair of shoes made of tencel, plant dyes, banana fiber, cotton canvas, ceramic tile and deadstock leather. A lot of the work is similar in that it highlights the slow and meticulous process of using plants, stone and other earth materials.
The second place winner is Shelbie Loomis, who graduated from PSU with a MFA in Art + Social Practice. After graduation, she founded the Park Arts AIR of Jantzen Beach on Hayden Island in North Portland. Her practice explores stories of the Hayden Island community and history, value of time and labor, forming relationships and grief. She uses drawings and digital 3D rendering to explore her community and neighbors.
The socially engaged project created by Loomis is called “The Art We Value” (2022). Loomis collaborates with community members and highlights neighbors in the Hayden Island RV Park & Mobile Home Community to create a collection of memories to share. She uses her neighbors as artists and aims to celebrate community, recognition and value of their passions. She wants to publicly empower the people living on this island who are threatened by gentrification. Park Arts have created workshops, concerts and publications, individually working with each participant to ideate and execute their ideas publicly. One of the works exhibited includes “Madonna’s Hands Creating Paper Lanterns,” a beautifully crafted blue pen drawing.
Third place was awarded to Nia Musiba, who is a multidisciplinary artist. She is committed to diversifying art and design spaces and this practice has manifested primarily in community-based projects and public art since 2019. Musiba is interested in collaboration, experimentation, question-asking and friendship building of art. Throughout her work and depictions of Black and Brown bodies, she reclaims the tenderness and complexities of her own identity, creating a place for people of color historically stereotyped as brutal and hyper-sexual in art and media.
Musiba’s exhibit “This is A Sign” explores how humans use signs to perceive and place meaning on arbitrary words, symbols and circumstances in hopes for answers. The exhibit raises questions about a sign’s purpose and prompts viewers to consider what signs do for us. Musiba’s series of posters, sculptures and found images encourage viewers to experience what signs are intended to do: Create specific yet somehow universal messages that at the same time are meaningless, childish and intellectual. The installation includes a stop sign that says “missing you” and a poster that reads “some of the cutest boys are really girls.”
The eligibility criteria for the prizes includes applicants pursuing a major in one of the PSU School of Art + Design programs, which include Art Practice, Art History and Graphic Design. Applicants must also be enrolled with half-time or greater status during the term in which they apply. All award winners must participate in an exhibition held in their honor at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU.