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Arts Award to Fund Production Design Masters Degree

Virginia Berg, a 2012 graduate of the University of Virginia, has received a 2013 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Award.

Berg, of Warrenton, was a drama major with an art history minor in the College of Arts & Sciences. She is currently an assistant arts teacher at The Langley School in McLean.

The Cooke Award pays up to $50,000 a year for three years to cover the cost of graduate training.

“I was completely overwhelmed and elated,” Berg said of receiving the award. “I felt so incredibly grateful that people saw potential in my work and wanted to assist me in advancing my education.”

Berg, 23, has enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where she will pursue a master’s degree in production design. She hopes to work as an art director or production designer in the entertainment industry, especially as part of a creative team that inspires children.

“I see the scholarship as a gift that will keep on giving,” she said. “I hope to ignite imaginations and continue working with children, helping them be aggressive in discovering their passions.”

Berg said she fell into production design as someone who loves theater, but was reluctant to sing in a high school production.

“The director suggested I help out with the set,” she said. “I did it on a whim and it was a perfect marriage of visual art and the theater.”

A review panel of artists, arts faculty and university administrators selected Berg as one of 15 scholars from across the country on the basis of artistic or creative merit, academic achievement, financial need, desire to engage in and contribute to the world, self-confidence and resilience. Applicants must plan to pursue a career as a practicing artist to be eligible. 

Berg was hesitant to apply, believing her chances of being selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants were slender.

“I kept asking myself, ‘Why not?’ and I could never come up with a good enough reason not to try and give it everything I had,” she said. “It was the most extensive and slightly intimidating application I have ever come across, but the essay prompts asked all of the right questions and as I wrote the answers it elucidated the reasons I love the arts and why it is important to share creativity.”

Receiving a Cooke grant puts Berg in rare company, according to Brian Cullaty, director of undergraduate research opportunities at the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

“At a time when public funding for the arts has been on decline, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Award provides a tremendous opportunity for young artists,” he said. “Each college and university can only nominate two students for the award and among this select group, the foundation receives over 200 applications for only 15 spots. Virginia’s selection demonstrates not only her promising talent, but also U.Va.’s commitment to fostering students’ creativity through programs in the arts.”  

While at U.Va., Berg was president of Kids Acting Out, and a member of the First Year Players, Shakespeare on the Lawn and the Idly Bent Theatre Company. She has worked as a scenic artist for the Live Arts Theatre, Heritage Theatre Festival, Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Smithsonian Institute. She was also the 2012 recipient of the Drama Department’s Pettway Prize, awarded to fourth-year students who made distinctive contributions to the department and its production activities.

Berg’s favorite stage design was for a drama department production of “By the Bog of Cats,” an Irish tragedy by Marina Carr.

“I entered this design in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Region 2 and was awarded first alternate for the Barbizon Design Award,” she said. “First place actually went to my close friend, mentor and fellow U.Va. graduate, Jeff Kmiec. He was an MFA Scenic Design graduate student and he graduated spring 2012 as well.” 

Thomas Bloom, an associate professor and chairman of the drama department, mentored Berg. “She was an exceptional student, and she’s not only a creative and innovative designer, she’s also an intelligent designer,” he said. “Virginia is a shining example of our department’s commitment to nurturing theater artists who embody the core values of a liberal arts education.”

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