Jon Batiste, Darren Criss, Jess Williams. Photo by Neil Rasmus. Courtesy of © BFA 2022

Presented by Americans for the Arts, Monday’s ceremony paid tribute to artists and collectives who have spearheaded equitable social efforts in the arts community

On Monday, October 17, Americans for the Arts presented the annual National Arts Awards at Guastavino’s, as part of National Arts and Humanities Month. The first National Arts Awards to take place since 2019, the ceremony celebrated the contributions of artists, activists, and collectives whose work demonstrates extraordinary aesthetic achievement while advancing social justice initiatives within the United States.

“Americans for the Arts is looking to a new horizon where equitable advocacy will align how we support artists and organizations across the country,” said Americans for the Arts President and CEO Nolen V. Bivens. “The arts were and continue to be a main driver for reengaging with businesses and individuals, and in reviving local communities. The awardees and this incredible crowd gathered here to celebrate and demonstrate the power and fundamental importance of the arts. This level of passion, diversity, and enthusiasm fills me with hope for our future.”

This year’s National Arts Awards honorees are:

Joy Harjo
Lifetime Achievement Award

“Art is the carrier of culture. Without the arts, we are not viable human beings,” said Joy Harjo, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and three-time Poet Laureate of the United States. “It wasn’t until I was a student majoring in studio art that I found poetry. Or rather, it found me. I was not easy with words, but I needed them. And it became essential to becoming a witness of my generation for justice for our Indigenous nations. I thank everyone on this journey and thank you, Americans for the Arts and allies of arts, for your support.”

Darren Criss
Ted Arison Young Artist Award

“I like to remind people that arts education is not just for a professional life in the arts,” said Darren Criss, recipient of the Ted Arison Young Artist Award. “That’s just like saying to kids in Algebra 2 in high school, you guys better be mathematicians. That’s an absurd concept. Having an arts education allows young people to fortify themselves with the human experience, so they can consider their own life differently through the eyes of art and through culture… I’m so very appreciative of the work that all of you do, not just honorees here tonight but those in the past, the future…”

For Freedoms (Co-Founders: Wyatt Gallery, Eric Gottesman, Hank Willis Thomas, and Michelle Woo)
Marina Kellen French Outstanding Contributions to the Arts Award

“Art is about living in the future,” said artist and For Freedoms Co-Founder Hank Willis Thomas. “Everything we do is about making the things that we dream about happen, pulling all the forces in the universe together to actually manifest that. That magic is a result of the collaboration and generosity of so many people here. I invite any of you to join us on this road toward making a more awesome world.”

Robert F. Smith
Philanthropy in the Arts Award

“I want to thank Americans for the Arts for bringing us all together tonight,” said Robert F. Smith, recipient of the Philanthropy in the Arts Award. “For more than half a century, this amazing organization has enriched the lives of people and communities across this country by sharing what a true artistic vision of collaboration and discovery makes possible. With your powerful advocacy, you are showing policy-makers the importance of the arts. With your industry-leading research, you are demonstrating how a focus on the arts can promote economic, social, and educational well-being. And from networking opportunities, you’re creating essential new avenues for exploration and connection.”

The Gordon Parks Foundation
Arts Education Award

“Gordon Parks was not just a photographer, he was also an artist,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., executive director of the Gordon Parks Foundation. “He composed music, he was a filmmaker, he was an activist. His contributions to the civil rights movement, his focus on the humanity of his subject and his lifelong battle against racism define his legacy.”

Notable attendees included Derrick Adams, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, Sarah Arison, Anya Ayoung-Chee, Jon Batiste, Gina Belafonte, Nolen V. Bivens, Rachel Boynton, Julia Chiang, Daren Criss, Paula Crown, Carla Dirlikov Canales, Brian (KAWS) Donnelly, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Wyatt Gallery, Martha Goode, Eric Gottesman, Darrick Hamilton, Joy Harjo, Rujeko Hockley, Michi Jigarjian, Crosby Kemper, Jon Kessler, Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Nicola Lorenz, Flora Major, Dennis Masel, Susan Meiselas, Walter Mosely, Alton Murray, Gabby Nadig, Chris Ohlson, Nora Orphanides, José Parlá, Walter Robinson, Janet Rollé, Lea Salonga, Robert F. Smith, Mia Swier, Nicola Vassell, Brooke White, Debi Wisch, Jesse Williams, Hank Willis Thomas, and Michelle Woo.

Performers included Jayla Chee, Jake Goldbas, Sophia Kickhofel, Blaine Krauss, and Devon Yesberger.

Presenters included poet and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander; actor and activist Jesse Williams; performer and composer Jon Batiste; photographer and advocate, LaToya Ruby Frazier; and award-winning actress and singer, Lea Salonga.

The awards were unveiled in a ceremony helmed by Sarah Arison in her first year as chairperson. Musical accompaniment for the evening was an arrangement of Criss’ music and Harjo’s poetry, directed by Jake Goldbas and performed by alumni of YoungArts, an organization chaired by Arison that provides opportunities to teenage artists of excellence. The artist José Parlá designed a singular and welcoming immersive visual environment for the ceremony.

Event co-chairs included the Herb Alpert Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Marina Kellen French, Agnes Gund, Jeff and Justine Koons, Kara Moore and The Rosenthal Family Foundation: Rick Rosenthal, Nancy Stephens, Jamie Rosenthal Wolf, Jane Stephens Rosenthal, and Mick Rosenthal.

This was the first National Arts Awards to take place since the Covid-19 pandemic, and offered a renewed focus on mission-driven work within the organizational structure of Americans for the Arts. Currently undergoing what President and CEO Nolen V. Bivens has designated a Strategic Realignment Process, Americans for the Arts has striven for a mission-oriented, diverse, and inclusive institutional approach, advocating to advance change from within and beyond to its network of partner organizations.

The 2022 honorees represent a collection of firsts for the National Arts Awards: Joy Harjo was the first Native American to be honored at the ceremony, Darren Criss was the first Filipino American to be recognized, and For Freedoms was the first collective to receive an award.

Born and raised in Miami, Sarah Arison is president of the Arison Arts Foundation, a private grant-making organization that supports emerging artists and the institutions that foster them. She was immersed in the arts from a young age by her grandparents, visionary philanthropists Ted and Lin Arison, who founded Arison Arts Foundation, YoungArts, and the New World Symphony, among their many philanthropic endeavors.

Arison is active across a broad cross-section of national arts organizations. She is chair of the board of YoungArts, where she has developed strategic partnerships with the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, Jacob’s Pillow, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sundance Film Festival and more to provide aspiring talent with presentation and mentorship opportunities. Arison is also the chair of the board of MoMA PS1; a trustee of MoMA; board president of American Ballet Theatre; a trustee of Lincoln Center; a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum and chair of the education committee; a trustee at New World Symphony; a member of the Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts; and a trustee of the Americas Foundation of the Serpentine Galleries.

Arison has also ventured into film producing, supporting projects that shed light on lesser known
aspects of the arts. In 2015, she produced her first feature film, Desert Dancer, starring Freida
Pinto. She later went on to co-produce The First Monday in May, a documentary film chronicling
the creation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute blockbuster exhibition China:
Through the Looking Glass. She co-produced The Price of Everything which was acquired by
HBO and she most recently served as an executive producer for the film Aggie, which premiered
at the Sundance Film Festival.

Nolen V. Bivens joined Americans for the Arts in 2021 as president and CEO and has supported and advocated for the arts as a national asset for much of his life. A retired U.S. Army Brigadier General with 32 years of service as an Infantry officer, Bivens is a passionate advocate for the benefits of the arts to service members and Veterans suffering the invisible wounds of war, and the role the community plays in transcending trauma. He has advised numerous arts groups as well as federal, state, and local arts agencies, utilizing his unique understanding of operational perspectives of commanders, enlisted noncommissioned officers, and Veterans and family members, to promote connections, advance equitable and collaborative partnerships, and help develop new arts programming for military and veteran communities. Bivens holds a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from South Carolina State University, a Master of Science in management from the Naval Post Graduate School, and a Master of Science in national security and strategic studies from the National Defense University. He and his wife Pamela have three children, all of whom are now professionals in the fields of creative writing, visual arts, and art history/architecture.