05/15/2012 02:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Herb Alpert Foundation Awards Huge Grants to 5 Artists!

Herb Alpert with the five winners of his foundation's grants!

Musicians/philanthropists Herb Alpert and his wife Lani Hall, continually astonish me with their charitable and educational efforts, mainly out of the public spotlight but enormously successful. This week I watched in astonishment as the Herb Alpert Foundation gave its 18th annual awards to five brilliant artists in different fields. As one of the awardees said in awe, "It's a big hunk of change." Yes, it was... each artist got a check for $75,000 to spend as they saw fit. One of them came up to me and said, "Can you recommend a nice restaurant in Santa Monica for dinner tonight? Now I can afford it." (I sent her to Michael's on 3rd Street, since it is a lovely venue and Michael's wife is a prominent artist whose paintings grace the restaurant. They would most appreciate another artist.)

Again, imagine how astonishing this is... five exceptional artists in mid-career each receiving such a huge grant from Herb's foundation and California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). It's almost two decades that Herb and Lani have been doing this, according to Foundation President Rona Sebastian. She told me, "Beginning in 1995, when NEA cut back on individual artist' grants, we created these Alpert Awards to acknowledge the importance of our artists and their contribution to society."

A view of the event prior to giving the awards.

On Friday, I attended a luncheon at foundation headquarters and had the pleasure of meeting each of these extraordinary youngish individuals who had been selected for this honor by a panel of well-known people in each of the five disciplines, Dance, Visual Arts, Music, Theatre and Film/Video. The building in Santa Monica which houses the Alpert Foundation is distinguished by the several high, intriguing Alpert sculptures which poke their heads into the clouds on the various terraces, along with several large canvases painted by Herb which grace the walls. (See my photo herein of what Herb humorously calls, a self-portrait. And two intriguing paintings which he did with coffee!)

Herb Alpert's painting, which he descibed to me as a self-portrait. I think it is stunning.

Herb's coffee painting, done with coffee and grinds. Unique and interesting. like everything he does.

He thanked me for my recent rave review of his sophisticated jazz club, Vibrato, and then said to me in all seriousness: "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, who take aesthetic, intellectual and political risks and challenge worn-out conventions, will push CalArt students even further into the unknown."

Eisa Davis won the Theatre award. She is from Brooklyn, which is also my home town.

Michael Smith won for visual arts, and his fabulous videos can be seen online.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, two of my favorite people.

The five winners this year are: Nora Chipaumire, Dance; Eisa Davis, Theatre; Kevin Everson, Film/Video; Myra Melford, Music; and Michael Smith, Visual Arts. Eisha and I exchanged words about both of us growing up in Brooklyn, New York, where she still lives, and she gave me a CD of her singing/reciting her works called Something Else. (It's stunning.) She was selected for her profound multiple gifts as a playwright, performer and musician. I'm sure we will hear much from her and all of the other winners in the future. Incidentally, CalArts President Steven Lavine told me that all of their students will benefit when these exemplary artists come to campus for the residence which is a component of the awards.

Myra Melford won for Music. She was amusing and self-deprecating in her acceptance speech.

Nora Chipaumire won for dance. She was described as a steaming, hot presence.

Kevin Everson won for film/video.

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, 22 Guggenheim Fellows and four MacArthur 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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