Imagine how astonishing this is! Five exceptional artists in mid-career have each received grants of $75,000 (yes, that's each!) from the Herb Alpert Foundation and California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). And it's the 17th year that musician/philanthropist Alpert and wife Lani Hall have been doing this, according to Foundation President Rona Sebastian. She told me that, "Beginning in 1995 when NEA cut back on individual artists' grants, we created the Alpert Awards to acknowledge the importance of our artists and their contribution to society."
I recently attended a luncheon at the foundation headquarters and had the pleasure of meeting each of these extraordinary young individuals, who had been selected for this honor by a panel of well-known people in each of the five disciplines, Dance, Film/Video, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts. The young woman who won the music award, Nicole Mitchell, played her flute softly as background for the talk which Irene Borger, Director of the Alpert Awards, gave to introduce each of the recipients... and as her soaring notes thrilled us, I immediately understood why she was selected for musical brilliance and courageously breaking forms.
The building on 6th Street in Santa Monica which houses the Alpert Foundation is distinguished by the several high, intriguing sculptures which poke their heads into the clouds on the various terraces, along with several large canvases painted by Herb which grace the walls. The evening prior to the awards, I had attended a performance by Herb and Lani at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, and after the thrilling concert I had a chance to chat with Alpert in the lounge. We've been casual acquaintances for years, ever since he teamed up with my friend Jerry Moss to found A&M Records. This night he immediately pointed a finger at me and, with a wicked smile, said "You reviewed my jazz restaurant, Vibrato, six years ago in your newsletter." I replied that I had given it a rave review, but then he stopped me in my tracks by remembering: "The last line of the review said the only thing you didn't like about the restaurant was the grotesque painting on the wall. That was my painting." He laughed and said, "I took it down the next day. You were right."
I asked him about the awards I would be seeing the next day, and he commented, "CalArts is a really creative place where people push the edges and come up with things that are different from what we heard in the past. It's exciting to me to think that the winners of the Alpert Awards will push CalArts students even further into the unknown." A quick embrace, an invitation to re-review Vibrato, and he was gone.
The five winners this year are: Natalia Almada, for Film/Video; Jess Curtis, Dance; Nicole Mitchell, Music; Emily Jacir, Visual Arts, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Theatre. I must conclude with a note that over the years the distinguished Alpert Award panelists have selected a group of artists who have gone on to extraordinary careers... Zhou Long, 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Suzan-Lori Parks, a Pulitzer winner for Drama in 2002, and 22 Guggenheim Fellows. So bravo to Herb Alpert and Lani Hall for contributing so much to the cultural environment of the world in which we live
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