Doris Duke Artist Awards mark a decade by doubling down, with a vibrant new class of honorees
Trumpeter-composer Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah and singer-songwriter Somi Kakoma are among six new recipients of the Doris Duke Artist Awards, as announced on Monday night at the Appel Room in New York. The ceremony doubled as a tenth-anniversary celebration for the Doris Duke Artist Awards, and brought some big related news: starting with this awardee class, the prize has doubled to $550,000, and its scope is expanding in other ways.
“Tonight, we evolve the Doris Duke Artist Award from an award to a platform — a platform to advocate and fight for the future of artists, and therefore, for the future of creative possibility in our society,” Sam Gill, president and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said in his onstage remarks. Among the new initiatives: research commissioned to explore the impact of artists’ work; a series of events “celebrating the power and potential of supporting the true conditions of creativity”; and an annual summit of Doris Duke Artists. Bill Wright, the DDCF’s chairman of the board, put the matter succinctly: “This isn't just an award, it’s a community.”
Monday’s event — the first in-person ceremony in the award’s history, expertly hosted by the rapper Common — underscored that aspiration with extravagant flair. Joining the tenth anniversary class of Doris Duke Artists — jazz artists Adjuah and Kakoma; theater director Charlotte Brathwaite; dancer-choreographers Ayodele Casel and Rosy Simas; and playwright and performance artist Kristina Wong — were dozens of past awardees. Their number featured more than a few pacesetting jazz artists, including drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and John Hollenbeck, pianists Danilo Perez and Kris Davis, and vocalists Jen Shyu and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
“When artists thrive, we all thrive” — that was the official slogan of the evening, uttered in turn by Common, Gill and Maurine Knighton, the chief program officer of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which also funds initiatives like the Jazz Media Lab (supporting five public radio stations, including WRTI).
Knighton, reflecting on a decade’s worth of Doris Duke Artist Awards, asserted that when artists are given the proper resources, “they will open doors to worlds previously unimagined and unlock new levels of creativity.”
“And the ripple effect across our world is boundless,” she went on. “The past few years of volatility across every measure of society have laid plain just how much we need artists. They are our sources of solace and joy, our inventors, our teachers, our mirrors. And we owe them our trust. But that’s not enough. We also owe them the resources they need to be at their best.”
Monday’s program featured performances by the inaugural class of Doris Duke Artists, including dancer-choreographer Bebe Miller and puppeteer Basil Twist. The interdisciplinary performance artist Eiko Otake delivered the most visceral jolt, moving slowly through the room with a long, crinkly sheet that she occasionally tore, while a multichannel video feed showed footage of her face in agonized closeup, comprehending fistfuls of flowers.
“Art makes sense of insensible things,” Mark Bamuthi Joseph declared in a spoken-word poem commissioned for The Cartography Project at the Kennedy Center. Joseph’s piece, titled “The Road Ahead,” is a stirring meditation on Black dignity in the face of mortal violence — the most insensible thing imaginable. In similar fashion, Vijay Iyer opened the evening by troubling the waters; his dark, atonal rumble at the piano gradually melted into the angular form of a recent composition. Iyer didn’t announce its poignant title, “Children of Flint,” but somehow the intention rang clear.
Flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell invoked a horizon-scanning realm of possibilities, in a piece titled “Between Earth and Sky.” Augmenting her flute with trilling vocal utterances, an amplified kalimba and a sampler, she embodied the unclassifiable creative dimensions of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which she used to serve as president. (Later, during the reception, she could be seen catching up with two of that organization’s elders, fellow Doris Duke Artists Roscoe Mitchell and George Lewis.)
In his remarks from the stage, Gill announced that the DDCF had secured a $30 million commitment to support the continuation of the Artist Awards. The legacy of that commitment will resonate in myriad ways, as Chief Adjuah, the artist and activist formerly known as Christian Scott, noted in a press statement. “Not only is this tremendously meaningful for myself,” he said, “it also puts me in the position to create new opportunities throughout my community. Growing up, I often heard elders use the phrase ‘Take my song and pass it along,’ and I look forward to embodying this spirit in passing along this gift to others.”
For more information about the Doris Duke Artist Awards, visit dorisduke.org.
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