Thatcher Hoffman Smith Prize honors creative process with $40,000 award 

One Oklahoman's credo inspired his daughter to acknowledge and support the creativity of others in the nation, putting Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma at the heart of it all.

As a young girl, Jeanne Hoffman Smith was incredibly influenced by her father's life philosophy: to leave more wood on the woodpile than was there when you came. In the 80 years she's lived thus far, Smith has challenged herself to abide by this philosophy; with her foundation of the Creativity in Motion Thatcher Hoffman Smith Prize, she not only gives back to her community, but helps others do the same.


The award is named after Smith's parents, Grace Thatcher and Roy Hoffman Jr. When they passed away, Smith saw the opportunity to honor her father's beliefs, using the resources they left behind. Hoping to spur and support the creativity of others around her, she created the CIM prize, which recognizes and awards an individual's creative process with $40,000.

"I think that so many people have ideas and then just let them go, because it looks like it would be too hard or they don't understand what happens with an idea," Smith said. "To see individuals and how they struggle with what they're doing and how they deal with rejections and problems and disappointments, and learning how to keep on keeping on " that's why I wanted to focus on those ideas."

Administered by the University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences, the biennial prize was first awarded in 2003. The main focus and qualifier of the award is the creative process of any U.S. citizen's ideas. The new application process for the 2009 award is in full swing, and Smith has hopes for this year's award to top the growing number of applications received each go-round.

"It's one of those things that you really hope works over time as something that encourages, supports and gives some recognition to some people who maybe never get recognized," she said. "You also hope that it spurs people on to try and let put an idea of theirs to form."

The nature of the award places no boundaries on what type of creative ideas may be submitted, and because of this aspect of the prize, the judging committee receives increasing amounts of applications each time. From operas and symphonies to inventive new ways to play chess, every type of scientific, artistic, literary, educational, environmental and mathematical endeavor is explored and submitted to the award committee.

"That's the beauty of it: the diversity," said Angela Startz, College of Arts and Sciences information specialist. "What Jeanne is looking for is someone to find creative solutions to what's going on in the world " things outside the box about finding a new way to do something."

For the past two awards, Startz participated in organizing and coordinating the application, judging and award selection processes. The first round of the application process calls for creators to complete a letter of intent. Once the judging committee has received all submitted letters by the deadline, the applications are read and critiqued by OU faculty from departments corresponding with the subject of the creative project.

The 50 most viable and creative processes are selected as finalists for the prize, and they are asked to complete a full application. A special committee of professional, creative individuals selected by Smith judges these applications.

"I have a committee of people here in Oklahoma City who I have great respect for," Smith said. "They're from lots of different fields."

This committee has had the final say in awarding the first three prizes. The range of past winners shows the diversity and broadly defined nature of creativity the award aims to recognize. The first award was given to a Nebraska artist, the second was presented to an Alaskan educator who created an online program for learning Russian, and the third was presented to Philip Solomon, a film studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His film, "American Falls," will be shown at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and locally starting Friday at Untitled [ArtSpace], through Nov. 1.

Smith said she is happy that the prize is benefiting creators in a way that allows their work to come to fruition. With hopes that those given the $40,000 prize will reach others with their creation, she said her father's philosophy to give back to the world resounds in others' lives as well as her own.

"It's a metaphor and it does apply," she said, "because it says whatever gifts you have, whatever skills you have, it's our responsibility as human beings to use the gifts we've given, hoping that they will make a positive difference in people's lives." "Reneé Selanders

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Renee Selanders

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