The Bennett Prize Brings a $50,000 Prize and Recognition of Women Artists to West Michigan

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The Bennett Prize: Rising Voices 3, a juried exhibition of figurative realist paintings by women artists, will premiere at the Muskegon Museum of Art May 18 – September 10. The Prize, which awards $50,000 and a traveling solo exhibition to one of 10 finalists, aims to propel the careers of women figurative realist painters and expand opportunities for women artists.

Historically, women artists have been underrepresented in museums, galleries and collections around the world. The Bennett Prize aims to be a platform of recognition and empowerment for women artists to take their place among the most celebrated painters, often men, dominating the art world today. 


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The Bennett Prize was founded by Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, who are among the country’s top collectors of figurative realist art. Their aim is to boost the careers of women figurative realist painters who have yet to reach full professional recognition and to bring figurative realist painting to a wider audience. The Bennett’s, along with The Pittsburgh Foundation, selected the Muskegon Museum of Art to be the premiere venue for The Bennett Prize as they consider the museum to be one of the great hidden gems among American museums and their commitment to both women and realism art. 

This year, a four-member jury selected the 10 finalists and the winner for The Bennett Prize: Rising Voices 3. Announced on Thursday, May 18 at the Muskegon Museum of Art, the winner of the $50,000 prize and solo exhibition is Shiqing Deng of Brooklyn, New York. Deng—who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in her native China and a Master of Fine Arts from the New York Academy of Art—uses her paintings to explore the “relationships between virtual manipulated reality and the tangible world.” 


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2023 The Bennett Prize: Rising Voices 3 Finalists:

  • Ruth Dealy, Providence, Rhode Island ● Laura Karetzky, Brooklyn, New York
  • Ronna S. Harris, New Orleans, Louisiana● Linda Infante Lyons, Anchorage, Alaska
  • Haley Hasler, Fort Collins, Colorado● Mayumi Nakao, Brooklyn, New York
  • Sara Lee Hughes, Lockhart, Texas● Kyla Zoe Rafert, Amanda, Ohio
  • Monica Ikegwu, Baltimore, Maryland

Alongside The Bennett Prize exhibition, the 2021 winner of The Bennett Prize, Ayana Ross, will be premiering her solo exhibition The Lessons I Leave You, featuring the works she has created since winning The Bennett Prize two years ago. Ross’ exhibition will travel around the country throughout the next year with The Bennett Prize 2023 finalists.

The Bennett Prize is supported by The Pittsburgh Foundation and locally sponsored by Raymond James.

Courtesy of the Muskegon Museum of Art.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Kyla Zoe Rafert (Bennett Prize® 3 finalist), Dreams of Thalassa, oil, acrylic, and serigraphy on panel, 14"x11", Monica Ikegwu (Bennett Prize® 3 finalist), NiaJune, oil on canvas, 2022, 48"x36", The Gregg J. Justice III Collection, Ronna S Harris (Bennett Prize® 3 finalist), Actress (What Kind of Fool Am I?), Oil on canvas, 2017, 57" x 52.5”, Shiqing Deng, Life, Oil on linen, 2021, 66"x44".


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