JMU MFA student named 2023-24 VMFA Visual Arts Graduate Fellow

School of Art Design and Art History

by Cameryn Norris (’22)


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Michelle SmithMichelle Smith, a Master of Fine Arts student at James Madison University's School of Art, Design, and Art History, received a 2023-2024 Visual Arts Fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. 

Life as an MFA student is busy - making art and taking classes while preparing for exhibitions promises a busy schedule. Not to mention attending artist events and balancing life outside the studio, MFA students are always on the go. Despite a busy schedule, graduate student Michelle Smith made time to apply for a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Fellowship last fall. Her impressive portfolio and experience earned her one of just five Visual Arts Fellowships awarded to Virginia graduate students.

The VMFA Visual Arts Fellowship program has awarded funding to Virginia artists since 1940. Started by a donation to the museum from late American Industrialist John Lee Pratt of Fredericksburg in 1940, the program helps fund established and budding Virginian artists who show remarkable skill. The program awards Fellows funding and the opportunity to show their work on the VMFA's campus and around Richmond.

Being named a VMFA Graduate fellow is quite an accomplishment and a notable achievement for Smith's resume. "I was shocked," says Smith. "I didn’t expect anything to come of my application because I didn’t think I had developed enough work to be competitive." The award comes after several solo shows, hours of work in the studio, and even exhibiting one of her sculptures at the Honfleur Gallery Washington, D.C.

"I was shocked...I’m so glad I applied..." -Michelle Smith

Smith just started at James Madison as an MFA student last fall, and she notes that the transition has been difficult. "I knew coming into a graduate program that it would be stressful," Smith shares. "But nothing prepared me for all the new avenues I had to navigate." She points to SADAH's faculty and her fellow students that have helped her manage the transition. Smith shares advice she would tell her younger self: "Have a little more faith in yourself...and apply to every opportunity that comes your way."

Michelle Smith hails from the District of Columbia metropolitan area, where she grew up and earned her BFA in Sculpture at George Mason University, graduating in 2021. She is now in the Master of Fine Arts graduate program at James Madison University and a 2023-2024 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Graduate Fellow.

VMFA Visual Arts Fellowship information sourced from the Fellowship 2023–24 Recipients webpage on the VMFA website

For more information regarding VMFA Visual Arts Fellowships, see the Visual Arts Fellowships 2024–25 webpage on the VMFA website.

Published: Friday, March 17, 2023

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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