The Arts Fund Santa Barbara is seeking local artists to apply for the 21st annual Individual Artist Award Awards Program.

The program awards $2000 to winning artists in three different categories: collage and assembly, drawing and general fiction. Visual arts winners will receive a personal exhibition in the Arts Fund Gallery, and the general fiction winner will have the opportunity to give a reading of their work in a local public venue.

Nina Dunbar, the executive director of Arts Fund Santa Barbara, said the IAA program is a stepping stone for many local artists’ careers.

“The IAA directly supports artists in our community with what they need most: funding and visibility,” Dunbar said. “Winning an IAA is often a springboard for artists’ careers and a validation for risk-taking.”

For over 20 years, the program has showcased work from 129 artists in the literary, performing and visual arts categories, and awarded a total of $160,000 through private donations.

Stephen Wilcox, UCSB Religious Studies/East Asian Studies faculty member and the 2008 IAA winner in music composition, said the program offered long-term benefits.

“It got me out into the community a little more; it gave me an idea of who is available for future activities,” Wilcox said. “I thought it was extremely useful; it was the prize that kept on giving.”

According to Wilcox, the program also awakens the public to the artistic side of their community.

“For every Bach and Beethoven, there are many other composers that create the environment and flow for these people,” Wilcox said. “It is good for the community to realize that there are people doing extremely high quality work. It exposes people to the fact that this is not a dead-end job.”

Hugh Margerum, the 2008 winner in the painting category, encouraged applicants to reapply if they are not selected on their first try.

“The important thing for an artist to present is a unique vision and a personal style,” Margerum said. “It’s a great opportunity to have a chance to get your work recognized and shown. Do not take personally a juror’s choice. Apply again next cycle; there will be a new juror and the practice in putting together a professional presentation is invaluable.”

Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, have been residents of the county since March 1, 2009 and have not previously won an IAA award. The deadline for applications is March 16.

The winners and honorable mentions will receive a group exhibition and awards ceremony presented by the Arts Fund Santa Barbara on Sept.16.