SAIC Community Members Receive Prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Awards

Two members of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) community have been recognized by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies. Professor Candida Alvarez and alum Martine Syms (BFA 2007) are among 15 artists who will receive awards in art.

Founded in 1898, the 300-member honor society aims to “foster, assist, and sustain excellence” in American literature, music, and art, and counts SAIC alum Georgia O’Keeffe (SAIC 1905–06, HON 1967) and former faculty member Lorado Taft as members. In addition to memberships, the society grants prestigious art awards every year. Alvarez received one of five Arts and Letters Awards in Art, which includes a $10,000 prize to honor accomplishments and encourage work; Syms received an Art Purchase Prize meant to place the work of living artists in museums across the United States. 

Candida Alvarez 

Candida Alvarez makes paintings and drawings that blur the boundaries between the conceptual, the intuitive, and the abstract. Her work has been collected by the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Whitney Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, among others. She has taught at SAIC since 1998. “Recognition has been coming slowly, but steadily, without expectation for over 40 years of a committed relationship to painting and drawing within a studio setting,” she told SAIC in an interview. “I’m grateful to have it with me now, to keep me company as I continue in health on my path.” Candida joins alum Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999) in this honor, who received an Arts and Letters Award in 2018.

Martine Syms 

Martine Syms works in publishing, video, installation, and performance to explore conceptual grit, humor, and social commentary. She has had solo exhibitions with the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Institute of Contemporary Arts London, and more. She has also been commissioned for work by brands including Nike, Prada, and Celine. Syms co-directed artist-run space Golden Age in Chicago from 2007-2012. Each month, Syms hosts the CCartalkLA radio show on global broadcasting platform NTS. She also founded artists press Dominica Publishing, which is dedicated to exploring Black identity in the arts. Martine joins alum Dread Scott (BFA 1989) in this honor, who received the Art Purchase Prize in 2021.