Anna Deavere Smith 2012 Recipient

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Playwright, actress, author and educator Anna Deavere Smith first achieved acclaim with her one-woman theater works Fires in the Mirror (on the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York) and Twilight: Los Angeles (on the violence surrounding the 1992 Rodney King case). On the basis of extensive interviews and research, Ms. Smith transformed herself on stage into an entire community of witnesses and commentators, creating an almost unprecedented “blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie” in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, which presented her in 1996 with one of its “genius grant” fellowships. Ms. Smith considers these and her other one-woman shows, which began in the 1980s, to be a series, titled On the Road: A Search for American Character. Her most recent such exploration was Let Me Down Easy (2008-2012), on the subject of health care.

Ms. Smith is most recognizable in popular culture as Gloria Akalitus on the Showtime television series Nurse Jackie and as Nancy McNally on NBC’s The West Wing. She has been featured in several films, among them The American President, The Human Stain, Life Support and Rachel Getting Married. Film versions of Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles and Let Me Down Easy have been broadcast on PBS.

Ms. Smith’s writings include the books Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines and Letters to a Young Artist, as well as articles for the The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker, O Magazine, Elle, Essence and The Drama Review, among other publications.

Ms. Smith is a University Professor at New York University’s Performance Studies Department and has been an artist in residence with The Ford Foundation, MTV Networks, The Aspen Institute, and San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, among other institutions. In 2014, she appeared as a mentor in Anna Deavere Smith: A Young Arts Masterclass as part of the HBO documentary series, Masterclass. She is the founder of Anna Deavere Smith Works, Inc., to bring together artists, thinkers and activists across disciplines with the goal of cultivating artistic excellence that embraces contemporary social issues.

Ms. Smith has received two Tony Award nominations, an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, and Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle. She was named the Jefferson Lecturer in 2015 and has received numerous honorary degrees.

Selection Committee

Vishakha Desai, Chair – Dr. Vishakha Desai is an Adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a Senior Advisor for Global Programs at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Previously, Dr. Desai was the President and CEO of the Asia Society, held leadership roles at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and was a presidential appointee to the National Museum and Library Board. She has taught at Columbia University, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts and has authored pieces in more than fifty publications around the world.

Dr. Desai was named one of the “100 most powerful women Leaders” in New York by Crain’s New York and one of the “50 most distinguished Indian Americans” by India Abroad. She has served on the boards including the Bertelsman Foundation, the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, the Brookings Institution (Trustee), and the Association of Art Museum Directors (President). Dr. Desai’s awards include, Asian Americans for Equality, Art Table, and the National Institute of Social Sciences.

Garth Fagan – Garth Fagan is the founder and artistic director of Garth Fagan Dance, an internationally acclaimed company that is constantly evolving as it builds a distinct and diverse dance vocabulary. Fagan began his career touring in Latin America with Ivy Baxter and her Jamaican dance company and then studied with legends like Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey in New York. Prior to forming his own company, he was the the Director of Detroit’s All-City Dance Company, and a principal soloists and choreographer for Detroit Contemporary Dance Company and Dance Theatre of Detroit.

Fagan has received a Tony Award for Best Choreography, Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Astaire Award, the Laurence Olivier Award, the Ovation Award, and the Helpmann Award.

George Negroponte – George Negroponte is an American painter who has had eighteen one-person shows at galleries around the world, including the Brooke Alexander Gallery, John Good and Kouros Gallery in New York City, and P37 and Skoufa Gallery in Athens, Greece. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions at museums including The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Negroponte has been reviewed by every major art periodical including The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, The New Yorker, ARTnews and The New Criterion. He has taught painting and drawing for over two decades at universities including, The Studio School, Parsons School of Design, The School of Visual Arts, and Princeton University. He has also organized several shows and written on many contemporary artists.

He was Co-Chairman of The Board of The Drawing Center and later President of the institution, he also served as a panelist at the New York State Council on the Arts.

Rebecca Robertson – Rebecca Robertson has been President of the Park Avenue Armory since 2006 and led the $200-million restoration of the historic facility and its revitalization as cultural institution for non-traditional works in the visual and performing. Under Rebecca’s leadership, the Armory has garnered critical and popular acclaim for presenting immersive programming not possible anywhere else in the City. From 2000 through 2006, Rebecca served as the Executive Director of the Lincoln Center Development Project, Inc. From 1987 through 1997, she led the complex $1.8 billion transformation of 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, which dramatically transformed 13 blighted acres at the foot of Times Square. For her work on 42nd Street, Rebecca received awards from the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association.

Darren Walker – Darren Walker is President and CEO of the Ford Foundation. Prior to his appointment, Darren led the Foundation’s efforts in public education reform, higher education, arts and culture, media, sexuality and reproductive health and religion. He also supervises the foundations offices in the Middle East and Africa. Darren previously served as vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation. Before joining Rockefeller he was COO at the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem. Darren began his career in 1986 at the international law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and was a banker at UBS for seven years. He is a member of the boards of the Arcus Foundation, Friends of the High Line, the New York City Ballet, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.