Opens design competition for medals to be awarded first in 2013

Published : 10/20/12
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The National Endowment for the Humanities has opened a design competition for its annual presidential medal honoring individuals and groups who have made outstanding contributions to the humanities.

The new medal is intended to be first presented to the 2013 recipients at the annual National Humanities Medal ceremony and then used for future presentations. Design entries in the competition must be submitted to the NEH by Feb. 1. A winner will be announced on or about April 15, unless the term of the competition is extended as provided in the notice announcing the contest.

The competition is intended to “encourage artists and designers to create a thoughtful and imaginative visual representation of the humanities for a Presidential medal,” according to an announcement published in the Oct. 1 Federal Register.

“NEH is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States,” notes the Federal Register. “NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television and radio stations, and to individual scholars.”

According to the announcement: “The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups who have made outstanding contributions to the humanities. Past winners have included author Toni Morrison, historian Stephen Ambrose, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. It is a distinguished group of thinkers who deserve a glorious medal.”

The announcement details the challenges and requirements in the competition, and offers guidelines to the competing designers:

“Translating the idea of the humanities — the study of literature, philosophy, history, and other subjects — into a visual form is a challenging task. ... The design should reflect the importance of the award and of the humanities in a graceful, insightful, and ultimately beautiful manner.

“a) Your design must include the following: The words ‘‘National Humanities Medal’’ and a blank area on the back of the medal of at least 3 by 1.5 inches. The name of the medalist will be engraved here.

“b) Things to keep in mind as you draft a design: The medal hangs on a ribbon around the neck; the diameter of the medal should be between 3 to 4 inches; the design can use realistic or abstract elements to convey the idea of the humanities; designs should indicate relief depths, if possible, and make suggestions for type of metal, materials, patinas, and/or colors to be used.”

Once the competition closes, “NEH will select a judging panel that will consist of 4–7 outside experts, chosen for their achievements in the fields of art, sculpture, minting, and cultural management, along with 2–3 representatives of NEH,” according to the competition announcement. “Judges will be fair and impartial. A judge may not have a familial or financial relationship with an individual who is a registered contestant in the competition. Judges will fully comply with all applicable government ethics requirements for Federal employees.

“Judges will use the following criteria to judge the submitted designs:

“1. Design relates to the humanities. The subjects and ideas of the humanities — literature, history, philosophy — need to be conveyed in the design of the medal. This may be done through a realistic or abstract design.

“2. Design will translate into a three-dimensional medal. Ultimately, the design needs to be translated into a three-dimensional medal. A winning design, which may be two-dimensional, will have to be adapted by an artisan in order to create a sculpture for the medal. Can this design become a successful bas-relief medal?

“3. Design can be replicated. Between 10 and 12 medals need to be struck each year to present to National Humanities Medalists. Can this design be replicated successfully, without excessive cost, for many years to come?

“4. Beauty of design. Is the design graceful, elegant, and to be cherished by its recipient? Is it worthy of a Presidential medal?

“The judging panel will judge the submissions to advise the Chairman of NEH, who will choose the final winning design. All judging will take place between approximately February 15, 2013, and approximately April 10, 2013.”

All entrants must meet certain requirements, which are found at

The winning contestant will receive $3,000 by electronic transfer and be invited to an unveiling of the final medal in Washington, D.C. ■

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