Tito’s Prize

2020 Artist Announcement


Big Medium is pleased to announce Betelhem Makonnen as the winner of the third annual Tito’s Prize. The prize comes courtesy of a generous donation from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, the Austin-based liquor company and includes a $15,000 award and a solo exhibition in the Big Medium Gallery, which will open with a special reception on Friday, March 6, 2020 and run through April 4, 2020.

Photo by Stephen Pruitt

Photo by Stephen Pruitt

Working with a variety of mediums that include video, photography, and installations, Betelhem Makonnen researches questions on perception, presence, and place within a trans‑temporal and trans-locative topology that operates on the relational dynamics of a diasporic consciousness.

A native of Ethiopia (b. 1972), Betelhem Makonnen currently lives and works in Austin, Texas. Her formal education is comprised of an MFA (2019) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a New Artists Society Merit Scholar; graduate coursework in Painting, Time‑based media, and Modern and Contemporary Art History (2010 – 2013) at the School of Visual Arts of Parque Lage (EAV), Rio de Janeiro; and a BA (1995), History and Literature of the African Diaspora from University of Texas in Austin.

In addition to her artistic praxis, she is also a co-founder of the Austin-based contemporary arts collaborative Black Mountain Project. She is also a curator at Fusebox Festival, an annual art and contemporary performance arts festival, and co-editor of the online arts periodical Written & Spoken.

The Tito’s Prize is intended to provide an artist the means to take a new step in their career. Big Medium hopes the award will have a meaningful impact on Makonnen’s artistic practice and help deepen her roots in Austin.

“I am immensely grateful to have been awarded the 2019 Tito’s Prize. 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.”  — Betelhem Makonnen

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

Tito’s Handmade Vodka is dedicated to supporting artists who live and work in Austin. Big Medium is honored to work with Tito’s to elevate an artist in our community through this truly transformative prize for the third year in a row.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka takes great pride in our creative community and organizations like Big Medium that help support and cultivate that creativity,” said Zack Flores, Director of Philanthropic Programming at Tito’s Handmade Vodka. “It is our social responsibility to give back and directly support our artists by providing job opportunities while encouraging the rest of our communities to do the same.”


The Tito’s Prize is a $15,000 award for one Austin-based artist. The Tito’s Prize is funded by a generous gift from Tito’s Handmade Vodka and facilitated by Big Medium. The award includes a solo exhibition featuring the selected artist, on display from March 6 – April 4, 2020 in the Big Medium Gallery at Canopy.

This opportunity will be available to all artists within a 20 mile radius of Austin. Artists working in any artistic media and at any stage in their career are eligible. A three member curatorial panel will unanimously select the prize-winning artist.


Important Dates

2020 Tito’s Prize Exhibition Opening
Friday, March 6, 2020
7 – 10pm

2020 Tito’s Prize Exhibition
March 6 – April 4, 2020

2020 Curators

The Curatorial Panel includes Florencia Bazzano, Assistant Curator, Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art (Austin); Annette Lawrence, Artist and Professor of Studio Art at the University of North Texas (Denton); and Rigoberto Luna, Director and Curator at Presa House Gallery (San Antonio).


Florencia Bazzano, Assistant Curator for Latin American Art, joined the Blanton Museum of Art in 2015. Her recent projects include co-curating Arte Sin Fronteras: Prints from the Self Help Graphics Studio (upcoming in October 2019) and Words/Matter: Latin American Art and Language (2018). She also assisted in reinstalling the Latin American permanent collection as part of You Belong Here: Reimagining the Blanton (2017). Before joining the Blanton, Bazzano worked for the Cantor Arts Museum at Stanford University and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. She also taught art history for many years and has an extensive list of publications, including the book Liliana Porter: The Art of Simulation (Routledge, 2008). Bazzano is an alumna of The University of Texas at Austin, where she received her undergraduate and master’s degrees. She went on to receive her Ph.D. in Latin American Art from the University of New Mexico.


Annette Lawrence is an artist based in Texas since 1990. In 2018 she received a MacDowell Fellowship and anticipates exhibiting works completed at MacDowell in October 2019 at the Conduit Gallery in Dallas. Lawrence’s work is held in museums and private collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Dallas Museum of Art, The Rachofsky Collection, Artpace, the Blanton Museum of Art, American Airlines and the Art Collection of the Dallas Cowboys. Her work was included in the 1997 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is an alumna of the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She received a BFA from the Hartford Art School and an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Originally from New York, Lawrence lives and works in Denton, Texas and is a Professor of Studio Art at the University of North Texas.


Rigoberto Luna is an artist, designer, and curator in San Antonio, Texas where he is Director and Curator of the Presa House Gallery. Since 2016 Luna has curated over 30 exhibitions with a heavy focus on Latinx artists out of Central and South Texas. Recent major curatorial projects include Ctrl+A, at K Space Contemporary in Corpus Christi; Entre La Sombra: Life Along the Missions a collaboration with The City of San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture World Heritage Office and the Office of Historic Preservation; as well as exhibitions with the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and the former San Antonio Smithsonian Affiliate Museo Alameda. In addition, he is a visual artist who has exhibited his work with Public Art San Antonio, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (San Antonio), Flight Gallery(San Antonio), Good Children Gallery (New Orleans), and 3rd Space Gallery (San Antonio). Luna attended the Pratt Institute where he became an accomplished designer.

Previous Tito’s Prize Recipients

About Tito's Handmade Vodka

Tito's Handmade Vodka is America's Original Craft Vodka. In 1997, Bert “Tito” Beveridge, now a 50–something geophysicist, obtained the first legal permit to distill in Texas and created Tito's Handmade Vodka. Tito distills his corn-based vodka using old–fashioned copper pot stills and the vodka is naturally gluten–free. Tito's Handmade Vodka has won the prestigious Double Gold Unanimous Judge's Choice at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, besting 72 of the world's premier vodka brands. Tito's continues to receive critical acclaim for its impeccably pure taste, affordability and brand growth. Tito's Handmade Vodka is distilled and bottled by Fifth Generation Inc. in Austin, Texas, and is available in Liter, 1.75L, 750ml, 375ml, 200ml and 50ml sizes.