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2018 Herb Alpert Award Winners Announced

The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has been presented to five mid-career artists who were recognized for their contributions to the fields of music, film/video, theater, dance, and the visual arts. This year’s recipients of the $75,000 unrestricted prize are composer and pianist Courtney Bryan, artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa, playwright Robert O’Hara, choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili, and artist Michael Rakowitz. 

“At this fraught moment it’s a powerful antidote to honor and support this year’s winners who are alert to the world, rigorous in their reach, and fiercely engaged with that which is undepicted, unheard, misnamed, unspoken, buried, and marginalized,” Irene Borger, director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, said.

The awardees are known for making politically charged works that challenge the status quo. Bryan works in multiple genres, including jazz, traditional gospel, spirituals, and hymns. Known for her commitment to social justice, the Tulane University professor strives to “communicate the sounds of rebellion and healing” through her compositions.

Jafa makes work that radically recontextualizes historical narratives of blackness. As a cinematographer, he has worked on Julie Dash’s 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, as well as films by Spike Lee, Isaac Julien, and John Akomfrah. Meanwhile, O’Hara interrogates how Americans think about history, family, sexuality, addiction, and representation in his plays, which include Insurrection: Holding History, Bootycandy, and Barbecue.

Known for addressing social-justice issues such as the Nigerian Women’s War of 1929 and the Boko Haram kidnappings of hundreds of young girls, Okpokwasili views the body as a site of protest. She is a Bessie Award winner and a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. Rakowitz—who recreated an ancient statue of a winged bull destroyed by ISIS for the famous Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, which was unveiled earlier this year—works in sculpture, radio, video, performance, and architecture.

In its twenty-fourth cycle, the Herb Alpert Award is presented by both the Herb Alpert Foundation and the California Institute of the Arts and recognizes artists for their “creativity, ingenuity, and bodies of work at a moment in their lives when they are poised to propel their art in new and unpredictable directions.” The recipients of last year’s prize were luciana achugar, Eve Beglarian, Daniel Fish, Amy Franceschini, and Kerry Tribe.