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Just one year ahead of its 30th anniversary, the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has announced 11 winners — the most ever — of its annual prizes which recognize and fund risk-taking mid-career artists in the fields of dance, music, film/video, theater and visual arts.
The 2023 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts winners — each of whom receive $75,000 in unrestricted funding (with one duo sharing the payment) — include filmmakers Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich and Christopher Harris.
“I believe in the arts. I think the arts are the heart and soul of our country. Not just music. We’re talking about actors and poets and painters and sculptors — the whole gamut. We need the artists, especially in these times. They are creating through their passion and those people need to be supported and helped and nurtured. It’s a dire need out there. A lot of people are struggling. We’re just trying to do our part,” says Herb Alpert in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about the awards.
Founded by the legendary trumpeter, A&M Records co-founder and philanthropist and his wife, Grammy-winning singer Lani Hall, the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts is also honoring the following artists for 2023: choreographers Ayodele Casel, Makini (jumatatu m. poe) and Jermone Donte Beacham; composers and musical performers Erin Gee and Linda May Han Oh; theater director Whitney White and live artist Tania El Khoury; and visual artists American Artist and Park McArthur.
This year marks the third year in a row in which the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has doubled the number of winners. For each category, a three-person panel of respected arts leaders chose the winners. Honorees also receive a residency at CalArts, which administers the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts on behalf of the 38-year-old Herb Alpert Foundation (which to date has made more than $200 million in philanthropic donations and is a major funder of arts education).
“At this moment of increasingly retrograde laws and actions,” said Irene Borger, director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, in a statement, “Herb Alpert Award panelists came to the table energized to recognize rigorous investigations, compelling voices and invigorating forms embedded with deep questions and propositions for alternative futures.”
Past winners of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts include visual artists Carrie Mae Weems, Kerry James Marshall, Cai Guo-Qiang and Sharon Lockhart, theater artist Taylor Mac and playwright and Genius: Aretha showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks.
Alpert (who is not involved in selecting winners of the awards) is in the middle of a world tour with Hall, which will next take him to Canada, England and 10 U.S. cities including Chicago and Denver.
“I’m having a good time,” says Alpert, who turned 88 in March, of the tour. “I feel like I needed to do it for my own well-being. I get energy out of doing it, and I know a lot of people get a good feeling from the experience.” Having sold more than 72 million albums in his career, with 29 of his records reaching the Billboard 200, Alpert saw his 1965 song “Ladyfingers,” from the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights, go viral on TikTok last year. “There’s a royalty, but it’s a pretty slim amount,” says Alpert, who also notes that his 1955 instrumental song “Mae” appeared last year in ads for DoorDash.
Alpert — who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 — is also a painter and sculptor who says that he’s currently building a warehouse in Palm Springs where he plans to house his works. “I have over 1,000 paintings and sculptures,” he says. They include a sculpture of a trumpeter. “If it wasn’t for the trumpet, I wouldn’t have all these other things and that happened when I was eight years old,” says the musician of picking up the instrument 80 years ago. He hopes to one day open the warehouse to the public “as a place where you can view some of the work that I’ve done.”
As for plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary next year of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, Alpert says that, while he’d like to honor the occasion, he’d prefer not to invest too much in a celebration and instead preserve as much money as possible for direct gifts to artists. “We did one [celebration] for the 25th anniversary and that was fun. We’ll see what the powers that be feel we should do. I don’t like to just throw money away for something like that. If it doesn’t mean anything, I’d rather put it into the things we do,” he says.
This year’s awards will be bestowed during a virtual event on Wednesday, May 3, at 2 p.m. PT. Read on for more about the winners below.
The 11 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts Winners for 2023
Ayodele Casel is a tap dancer and choreographer. The award’s three-person dance panel — writer and podcaster Eva Yaa Asantewaa (founding director of Black Diaspora), Carla Peterson (director of Florida State University’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography) and Ali Rosa-Salas (vice president of visual and performing arts at Abron Arts Center) noted that Casel was chosen “for her exquisite, formidable artistry in performance and dancemaking, her discernment and generosity, and her dedication to strengthening awareness of tap’s intellect, its intricacy, its Black history — in particular, the overlooked contributions of Black women in tap — and its soul.”
The duo of choreographer, performer and video artist Makini (jumatatu m. poe) and choreographer Jermone Donte Beacham share in the other 2023 prize for dance.The dance panel selected the pair “for their artistic collaboration. Shining new light on communities, histories, ways of life and ways of expression and celebration not previously acknowledged in our industry, they raise the visibility of J-Setting, a movement style derived from drill teams, and developed in Southern Black queer club culture, and reveal the largeness and complexity of our world.”
Christopher Harris is an experimental filmmaker and artist whose works include Halimuhfack, Dreams Under Confinement and still/here, which was recently restored by the Academy Film Archive. The film/video panel (composed of Seen journal editor-in-chief Dessane Lopez Cassell, filmmaker Bill Morrison and Columbia University professor of professional practice, film, Richard Peña) describe Harris as “a true cinematic explorer, for his sustained commitment to formal and conceptual experimentation, his fresh eyes and admirable restlessness, yielding a deeply personal film language, both astute and expressive in its analysis of the nuances of Black histories, systemic neglect and oppression.”
Filmmaker and artist Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich (whose films include Footnote to the West, Outfox the Grave and Spit on the Broom) was noted by the film/video panel for combining “striking imagery, sound design and montage with rigorous research and interrogation, attending to the oft-neglected interiority of Black women and elders and revealing deep meaning and nuance in each of her films.”
Erin Gee is a composer and vocalist known for her series of pieces titled Mouthpiece. The music panel (composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel, composer and flutist Nicole Mitchell, composer/performer and media artist Pamela Z) selected Gee “for her groundbreaking explorations of the human voice, and her focused and sublime aural imagination. Creating micro-worlds brimming with nuanced and fresh colors, continuing to develop and deepen an innovative and personal musical vocabulary, she is carving out a potent and vital space within contemporary music.”
Bassist, composer and band leader Linda May Han Oh released her latest album, The Glass Hours, earlier this year on Biophilia Records. The music panel noted “the breadth of her musical language, orchestrational palette and intellectual rigor” and called her music “full of powerfully unexpected moments, alternately rhythmic, ornate, bright, spare and whimsical.”
Tania El Khoury is a live artist who creates interactive performances and installations in which the audience collaborates. Her works have been performed everywhere from national museums to fishing boats. The three-person theater panel (Emilya Cachapero, director of grantmaking operations, Theatre Communications Group’ Avery Willis Hoffman, artistic director Brown Arts Institute; Gideon Lester, artistic director and chief executive, Fisher Center, Bard College) praised El Khoury “for her serious and playful and complex work, her breadth of imagination and powerful sense of ethical responsibility. Studying the political potential of live art, treating audiences as fellow investigators and researchers, inventing new forms and new ways of engagement with each project, she is opening new paths of meaning and creation.”
Whitney White is an Obie Award-winning director whose original musical, Definition, was part of Sundance Institute’s 2019 Theatre Lab. The theater panel selected her for “her artistic range as a writer, musician, performer and director who moves fluidly between difficult and knotty contemporary plays and well-known classics, never allowing herself to be pigeonholed as one kind of artist. A brilliant and generous collaborator, she leads audiences on wonderful investigations of form, politics and of the fundamental nature of theater.”
American Artist — who works in sculpture, new media and video — showed his multimedia work My Blue Window at the Queens Museum in 2019 and Shaper of God at REDCAT in 2022. The visual arts panel (curator and scholar Nana Adusei-Poku, assistant professor in African Diasporic Art History, UC Berkeley; Jessica Hong, curator of modern and contemporary art, Toledo Museum of Art; and curators and writer Joan Simon) selected American Artist “for their ‘though experiments’ which charge a potent space for examining urgent issues at the intersection of race, technology, and power while exploring potential alternative realities and futures. Through sculpture, video and digital interventions, their ever-evolving body of work will continue prompting viewers, in the artist’s words, to ‘remain critical of the social conditions that we take for granted.’”
Park McArthur is a visual artist who has had solo exhibitions at Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her “incisive, insightful” work, noted the panel, addresses “urgent yet overlooked issues related to dependency, autonomy, ableism and accessibility, particularly in relation to institutional sites and structures. McArthur’s diverse and conceptually rich bodies of work interrogate and reframe imposed-upon notions of care and access.”
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