Betelhem Makonnen wins $15,000 Tito’s Prize

Austin artist Betelhem Makonnen
Austin artist Betelhem Makonnen is the winner of the 2019 Tito's Prize.

Betelhem Makonnen is the winner of the 2019 Tito’s Prize, a $15,000 award to an Austin visual artist, officials with Big Medium, the nonprofit organization that hosts the award, announced today.

Funded by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, the Austin-based liquor company, the prize also includes a solo exhibition at Big Medium Gallery. Makonnen’s show will held March 6 to April 4, 2020.

Working with a variety of mediums that include video, photography, and installations,  Makonnen artistically wrestles with questions on perception, presence, and place, along with the diasporic experience and identity.

A native of Ethiopia, Makonnen (b. 1972), received an MFA (2019) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a New Artists Society Merit Scholar, and a B.A (1995), History and Literature of the African Diaspora from University of Texas in Austin. She has also done graduate coursework in painting, time-based media, and modern and contemporary art History at the School of Visual Arts of Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Makonnen is also a curator at Fusebox Festival, an annual art and contemporary performance arts festival, and co-editor of its online arts periodical Written & Spoken.


Along with Adrian Aguilera and Tammie Rubin, Makonnen is also a co-founder of Black Mountain Project, an Austin-based contemporary arts collaborative.

Thee Tito’s Prize was created to provide an Austin artist the means to take a new step in their career.

Related read: Trying to get present: Black Mountain Project’s constant escape

For Makonnen that means having the financial assistance to maintain a working studio in Austin’s increasingly unaffordable real estate market.

“I am immensely grateful to have been awarded the 2019 Tito’s Prize,” Makonnen said. “The award will be a big help towards enabling me to effectively sustain and build on my practice by providing the financial security for my work studio (my rent has gone up twice and I have yet to finish a new two year lease), and the research and material needs of my practice. Ultimately, this opportunity will allow me to increase the focus, time dedication, and professional development that I am committed to.”

Makonnen was selected by a curatorial panel that includes Florencia Bazzano-Nelson, Assistant Curator, Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art; Annette Lawrence, Artist, and Professor of Studio Art at the University of North Texas; and Rigoberto Luna, Director and Curator at Presa House Gallery in San Antonio.

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