Mayor's Arts Awards for Williams, Stevens, Deal and Others
Everybody’s always giving awards. No big deal.
In the case of the 27th Annual Mayor's Arts Awards Ceremonies at the historic Lincoln Theatre—a half-a-breath away from Ben’s Chili Bowl and its muraled side walls—that’s not true. They are and were a big deal—the breadth and depth of the Washington community’s emerging cultural world were on display and showered with accolades. In fact, the Mayor's Arts Award is the highest honor in the arts conferred by the District of Columbia.
It’s always easy to point out the winners, the big names represented in lifetime achievement awards, but there’s something larger at work here. Elected officials and the people who run institutions, including the D.C. Commission on the Arts, headed by Judith Terra, all referred to the arts, and how important the arts were to the community, and the state goal of mayors, city councils, commissions, and boards of trustees to reach out and make Washington, D.C., a world-class city in terms of its culture and the arts.
You can get a sense of that movement toward achieving the goal by the variety of groups and individuals present as nominees, participants, achievers and honorees—plus the oft-repeated fact that the arts, like tourists, generate several billion dollars in revenue for the city and make the non-profits a profit-generating engine. Rather than being dissed and first on the list of cuts in a budget, the arts should be perceived as bottom-line enhancing.
An avid hand dance aficionado, Mayor Vincent Gray, former Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilman Jack Evans explained the economic advantages fueled by the arts and how they helped forge a cultural identity for this city that was beginning to rival the likes of New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Happy to be out of office after two successful terms by all appearances, Mayor Williams was one of the city’s great boosters and supporters in the arts. Williams received a special award for "Visionary Leadership."
Washington is special in its arts identity in the sense that it doesn’t really have such a thing but rather offers a multi-faceted and rich face to the world. You could see it, for instance, in the variety of strong entrants in the Excellence in Artistic Discipline category, in which you had the growing and world-recognized D.C. Jazz Festival, headed by Charlie Fishman; the Embassy Series, Jerome Barry’s unique endeavor in cultural bridge building through music; Step Afrika!, the homegrown dance group that engages the bodies, minds and creativity of young people; The Phillips Collection, the city’s unique collection sparked by the interests and passions of Duncan Phillips and the Thomas Circles Singer. Here is where home-grown and international jazz meets international classical music in embassies, the choral arts, youth emerging in dance and impressionist and modern art on an inviting and original stage. Step Afrika! earned a Mayor's Award.
Awardee Melvin Deal of African Heritage Dancers and Drummers has instructed and inspired young people in Ward 7 and 8 in African dance and music for more than 30 years and has thus become an example to the community at large, including Step Afrika! and other institutions.
Founder of the American Film Institute, George Stevens, Jr., also founded and produces the Kennedy Center Honors and is the son of the famed Oscar-winning film director George (“Shane,” “A Place in the Sun”) Stevens. A noted director and playwright himself, Stevens was a pioneering presence for the arts in many ways for the Washington community. Instead of settling in New York or Los Angeles, he decided to make his life in Georgetown and Washington and, by his presence, helped pioneer and form the institutions and atmosphere of a world-class cultural center.
Stevens and Deal received lifetime achievement awards.
Other awards included a special award for attorney Paul Jorgensen and awards for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education (Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop); Outstanding Emerging Artists (the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra); Excellence in Service to the Arts (Atlas Performing Arts Center); Innovation in the Arts (Art Enables). The Mayor’s Arts Award for teaching went to Kenneth Dickerson, Roosevelt Senior High School, performing arts; Koye Oyediji, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, language arts and Jennifer Sonkin, Caesar Chavez Public Charter School, visual arts.
The awards were hosted by WUSA's J.C. Hayward, herself something of a Washington institution.