Hosted by Herb Alpert Foundation President Rona Sebastian, the 26th Annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (HAAIA) was presented virtually on Friday, May 22. The HAAIA is an unhampered cash prize granted annually to five mid-career artists working in the categories of dance, film/video, music, theatre, and the visual arts. Each recipient received $75,000, a prize that was originated and funded by the HAAIA and administered by California Institute of the Arts since 1994.

Herb Alpert is an American trumpeter who led Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s and the co-founder of A&M Records with Jerry Moss. Alpert also paints and sculpts abstract expressionist works and is a philanthropist with his Grammy-winning vocalist wife, Lani Hall, through the Herb Alpert Foundation. Herb Alpert wrote: “I’ve always loved the artists that travel the road less traveled…those are the artists that touch me.” It also became clear during the webinar that the prize winners were selected because they fit the criteria of artists who experiment and who are not afraid to take risks.

Prior to meeting the panelists and award recipients, Rona Sebastian, Ravi Rajan, President of California Institute of the Arts, and Herb Alpert each spoke briefly about the history of the awards and how through the use of technology they were able to present the awards during this time of quarantine.

Each area of the arts represented in this award consisted of three panelists who vetted the applicants in their respective field. Karen Sherman who lives and works in Minneapolis, MN is the recipient of the 2020 HAAIA in Dance. Sherman crafts her own lighting, props, and writes her own text.

Karen Sherman - 2020 HAAIA in Dance - Photo by Aaron Rosenblum

Karen Sherman – 2020 HAAIA in Dance – Photo by Aaron Rosenblum

The Dance panelists included luciana achugar – choreographer, Herb Alpert Award Artist, Brooklyn, New York;  Nan Friedman performer/teacher/choreographer, Santa Monica, CA.; and Donna Uchizono – dance artist, Herb Alpert Award Artist, New York. The summary of why they selected Sherman reads as follows: “The Dance panel has selected choreographer Karen Sherman for her genuine, transparent, vulnerable work and the ways she summons the real into existence. They value her sensitivity in grappling with issues of equity and inclusion, and how she poetically and wittily brings forth the unseen, taking risks to create a necessary theatre for this time.”

To watch a trailer of Sherman’s work Soft Goods, click HERE.

Sky Hopinka was the recipient in the category of Film/Video. He is a Native American artist and filmmaker who lives and works in NW Washington State. His first feature-length work, maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, and his book of collected writings and text-based art, Around the Edge of Encircling Lake was published in 2018.

Sky Hopinka - 2020 HAAIA in Film/Video - Photo courtesy of the artist

Sky Hopinka – 2020 HAAIA in Film/Video – Photo courtesy of the artist

The Panelist for Film/Video included Rizvana Bradley – assistant professor, History of Art, and African-American Studies, Yale University, New Haven; Bruce Jenkins – professor of Film, Video, New Media and Animation, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; and Roya Rastagar – filmmaker and curator, PhD. History of Consciousness, Los Angeles. Their statement regarding the selection of Hopika’s work reads: “The Film/Video panel honors artist and filmmaker Sky Hopinka for his remarkable approach to storytelling, at once personal and mythic; for his ability to join the aesthetic and the political, and to engage with questions of ecology and dispossession. They were moved by his visual aesthetic that refuses to objectify people or land, and grounds characters and stories with feeling and soul.”

To watch the trailer of Hopinka’s film maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore, click HERE.

Raised in New Orleans, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a trumpeter, composer, producer who now resides in Sun Valley (Los Angeles) and the recipient of the 2020 HAAIA in Music. Scott is a Third generation Chieftain in the Afro-New Orleanian culture of Louisiana [regionally known as the Black Indians of New Orleans].

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - 2020 HAAIA in Music - Photo courtesy of the artist

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – 2020 HAAIA in Music – Photo courtesy of the artist

“The Music panel celebrates Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah for his originality and artistry, for the inventive ways he decolonizes sound and uses the past to move us forward. His immersive and compelling music makes magic, stretches conventions, has a powerful, visceral impact on listeners, and builds bridges and community.” Those panelists included Molly Barth – flutist, professor, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; Steve Coleman – saxophonist, composer, band leader, Herb Alpert Award Artist, New York, NY – Allentown, PA; and Miya Masaoka – composer, sound artist, Herb Alpert Award Artist, associate professor, director, Sound Art Program, Columbia University, New York.

To watch Christian + his band performing live, Clermont Ferrand, France, 2018, click HERE.

The HAAIA award in Theatre went to New York City based Director Phil Soltanoff who uses elements of dance, new media, puppetry, circus, lo-fi technology, visual and sound art, to build his “rigorous, innovative performances via juxtaposition”.

Phil Soltanoff - 2020 HAAIA in Theatre - Photo courtesy of the artist

Phil Soltanoff – 2020 HAAIA in Theatre – Photo courtesy of the artist

Raelle Myrick Hodges – theater director, creative director, 651 Arts, Brooklyn, New York; Johanna McKeon – director, New York; and Diane Rodriguez – director, writer, producer, Rodriguez Projects, Los Angeles made up the Theatre panel. Their statement read: “ Phil Soltanoff was chosen by the Theatre panel for his phenomenally, seriously playful and rich imagination, for the masterful ways he conveys story through silence and physicality, as well as for the beauty, elegance, and timelessness of his innovations. They are relieved that he –  “the Real Deal with experimentation in his DNA” – is taking his gifts to the next generation throughout America.”

To watch a portion of Soltanoff’s Plan B, click HERE.

The fifth award went to Firelei Báez in the category of Visual Arts.  Báez, born in the Dominican Republic and now lives in New York. She works on paper and canvas, large-scale sculptures, and installations to cast “diasporic histories into an imaginative realm, re-working visual references drawn from the past to explore new possibilities for the future”.

Firelei Báez - 2020 HAAIA in Visual Arts - Photo courtesy of the artist

Firelei Báez – 2020 HAAIA in Visual Arts – Photo courtesy of the artist

The Visual Arts panel consisted of Ondine Chavoya – professor of art, Williams College, Williamstown, MA; Paul Ha – director, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA; and Naima Keith – vice-president, Education and Public Programs, LACMA, Los Angeles. They selected Báez “for the fearless, subversive beauty of her expansive, color-saturated, highly patterned and ornamented paintings, for the immersive and layered visual and kinesthetic experience of her ambitious room-sized and public installations, which both subtly and rigorously interrogate history, transporting us to a powerful future that embodies an alternate past.”

To watch a short video on Báez by the James Cohan Gallery, click HERE.

Among the 125 past winners of the Award are artists – Carrie Mae Weems, Vijay Iyer, Taylor Mac, Arthur Jafa, Suzan-Lori Parks, Julia Wolfe, Meshell Ndegeocello, Michelle Dorrance, Tania Bruguera, Kerry James Marshall, Lisa Kron, Okwui Okpokwasili, Sharon Lockhart, Ralph Lemon, and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Hopefully, next year the 27th Annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts will take place in a venue in front of a live audience.

Written and compiled by Jeff Slayton for LADC.

To learn more about the Herb Alpert Foundation, click HERE.

To visit the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts website, click HERE.

Featured image: Screen capture of Herb Alpert Award in the Arts Zoom webinar – May 22, 2020