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Meshell Ndegeocello, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Lloyd Suh, Pam Tanowitz, Cecilia Vicuña. Photo: the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

Recipients of 2019 Herb Alpert Awards Announced

The Herb Alpert Foundation and the California Institute of the Arts have announced the five winners of this year’s Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, which recognizes midcareer artists working in the fields of visual art, film and video, music, theater, and dance, and supports their practices by providing them with unrestricted $75,000 prizes.

Chilean artist, poet, filmmaker, and activist Cecilia Vicuña, perhaps best known for her large-scale installations of quipus—a complex system of knotted cords that the ancient people of the Andes used as record-keeping devices—received the award for the visual arts. Vicuña’s work often addresses human rights, cultural homogenization, and environmental concerns. 

The award for film and video went to Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, whose work deals with the imagining of a decolonized Caribbean and the restaging of historical events. The Puerto Rican­–based artist has also been organizing walking seminars for filmmakers, theorists, and curators, among others, so that they can learn more of the geography, local history, and emerging art practices of the island.

Composer, singer, bassist, and lyricist Meshell Ndegeocello received the award for music. The ten-time Grammy Award nominee has played bass and keyboard with performers such as Herbie Hancock, Jason Moran, Chaka Khan, and the Rolling Stones, and in 2016, she created a musical theater production inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time about race in America, called Can I Get a Witness, and staged it as a church service. She is also known for her albums ranging from Pour une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone (2012) to her more recent work Ventriloquism (2018).

Playwright Lloyd Suh won the award for theater. He is the author of numerous works, ranging from historical realism to punk rock musicals, which examine themes such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, yellowface, and the emerging Asian American identity of the 1960s. Currently, he serves as the director of artistic programs at the Lark. “An Asian face on stage is significant, and signifying,” Suh said. “So, as a writer I consider it my job to try and shape how and what it signifies.” 

The award for dance was given to Pam Tanowitz, who is known for her abstract treatment of classical and contemporary ideas about movement. The selection panel for this category said that Tanowitz was chosen because of “her unwavering commitment to her uncompromising artistic vision, rigorous sense of craft and composition, and for beginning again with each new work.”

In addition to the prize money, the artists will be invited to participate in a one-week residency at CalArts. They will also be honored at a celebration hosted by the Herb Alpert Foundation in New York City on Monday, May 13. Commenting on this year’s cohort, Irene Borger, director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, said: “The artists the Herb Alpert Award honors and supports not only ‘think outside the box,’ they think: What Box?”

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