Latina Sculptor and Heart Transplant Survivor Wins Grand Prize in the Kennedy Center's 2014 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program Recognizing Excellence in the Visual Arts

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Gianna Paniagua, 23, Pittsburgh, PA Resident, University of Pittsburgh Graduate (2013) and heart transplant recipient was selected by VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as the grand prize winner of the 2014 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program.

The program is designed to give visibility and a voice to the work of young artists with disabilities, ages 16 to 25, by exhibiting their work throughout the United States and around the world, cementing their work in the broader context of the history, art, and culture of the American, as well as global, experience.

Titled The Journey, the exhibition challenged this year's artists to create work that explores their own personal journeys living with a disability. The 15 winners of this year's competition receive cash prizes totaling $60,000. Of even greater value, they are brought, all expenses paid, to Washington, D.C. to explore the skills needed for a professional life in the visual arts, preparing them to competitively pursue arts-based vocations, whether as full-time visual artists or in a range of other professional capacities employing their creative talents. During this time, artists will meet with highly regarded professionals in the visual arts field and visit museums and galleries around Washington D.C.

Gianna Paniagua has been selected as the grand prize winner of the 2014 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program for her papercut sculpture titled Never Stopping. As the grand prize winner, Gianna will receive an award of excellence, accompanied by a cash prize of $20,000. Born in New York City, Gianna became the recipient of a heart transplant at the age of 14 months at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. Her experiences as a transplant recipient are at the root of her artwork. "Past and present experiences force me to see the body as fragile rather than the traditional symbol of vigor," Gianna said. "In my work, I place an emphasis on the physical, delicate nature of the body and, conversely, its abilities for healing. When making, I consider each separate material, especially paper, to be its own 'body,' meaning that it is susceptible to growth and decay just as we are. In order to work best, one must understand the qualities and work with them."

Gianna maintains a close relationship with her transplant teams saying, "I have an amazingly supportive team who truly care for me and take genuine interest in my work. Birthdays are celebrated with balloons and gifts in the cath lab. My primary transplant doctors attend my art openings. It's amazing to see how they want to know how the work is evolving as time goes on. They don't realize that they play a huge role in the progression of my creative practice, and I am extremely thankful for each medical professional involved."

Since graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Gianna's work has been exhibited throughout the country at Greenpoint Gallery (Brooklyn, NY), Wood St Gallery (Pittsburgh, PA), Scope: New York (New York, NY), The Wynwood Warehouse Project: Basel Miami (Miami, FL), Unsmoke Art Systems (Pittsburgh, PA), Hat Rac Gallery (Oakland, CA) and has just concluded an exhibit at the Westmoreland Museum of Art (Westmoreland County).

The 15 winners were selected by a jury of noted art professionals, including William Newman, the Carolyn S. Alper Professor of Contemporary Arts at the Corcoran College of Art + Design, Brandon Brame Fortune, Chief Curator and Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery, and Sarah Tanguy, curator in the ART in Embassies Program, a program of the U.S. Department of State.

"We are delighted to recognize this inspiring group of talented young artists living with disabilities," said Betty Siegel, Director of VSA and Accessibility at the Kennedy Center. "This program highlights the contributions that young artists living with disabilities make to American society and culture and we commend Volkswagen Group of America for making it possible."

The Journey will be on public display from September 15, 2014 to January 5, 2015 at the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington, DC. The exhibition will be open daily 10:00 am to 5:30 pm and is accessible by Metro. The exhibition is free, no tickets are required. Following the close of the exhibition at the Smithsonian, The Journey will embark on a national tour to museums and galleries across the country. Volkswagen Group of America will host the first leg of this tour, displaying the entire exhibition at its headquarters in Herndon, VA. For information on the where The Journey is touring, please go to:

VSA's signature programs offer multi-faceted, unparalleled opportunities for youth, with disabilities, who have aspirations in the performing and visual arts. Explore VSA programs at:

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CONTACT: Gianna Paniagua giannapaniagua@gmail.comSource:Gianna Paniagua