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What is the Herb Alpert Award?

The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts is an unrestricted prize of $75,000 given annually to risk-taking mid-career artists working in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theatre and the visual arts.

The prize was initiated and funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation and has been administered by California Institute of the Arts since 1994. The Herb Alpert Award honors and supports artists respected 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 Herb Alpert Award recognizes experimenters who are making something that matters within and beyond their field.

Irene Borger, Director, Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

Who receives the Herb Alpert Award?


Each year the one hundred nominated artists are invited to apply. See below for more information. 

  • In Dance, the prize is given to choreographers, choreographer/performers, and performance artists creating movement-based work.
  • The Film/Video Award honors independent media artists working in film, video, multimedia, new technologies, and installation.
  • Composers and musician/composers are eligible for the prize in Music.
  • The Award in Theatre is given to playwrights, auteur directors, and performance artists creating text-based work.
  • Recipients in Visual Arts work in all media, performance and conceptual forms.
How would you describe the ethos of the Herb Alpert Award?


Herb Alpert Award artists are curious, they wrestle with the given. From the beginning, the prize was viewed as a way to encourage artists to take risks. Here is how some of the artists have expressed this:

“The Herb Alpert Award allowed me to not have to know where I was going, to stumble blindly until I found my way,” choreographer Victoria Marks wrote.

Filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh saw the prize as an “opportunity to shake myself up.

Musician Vijay Iyer said, “I took it as an urgent, timely directive to push myself further.

I want to make work that makes people brave,” noted collaborative theatre artist Lisa D'Amour.

The greatest danger is believing that there is a right way to make a film,” said filmmaker Ellen Bruno.

From artist Byron Kim: “I am interested in making abstraction and abstract painting relevant today, and doing so in a way that might subvert our usual ways of perceiving.

Rinde Eckert, interdisciplinary artist, told us “I need to feel I'm learning with each new project, and that each work is a piece of a much larger puzzle.

Artist Paul Chan summed it up: “I make work that works to remake me.

How are the 5 artists identified?

In three stages:

  1. 50 artists and arts professionals each nominate 2 artists.
  2. 100 nominated artists are invited to submit work samples.
  3. 5 three-person panels - Dance, Film/Video, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts – each select one artist for the Award.
Nominators and panelists change yearly and are chosen for their knowledge of contemporary art practices, their integrity and aesthetic, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity.
Who are some of the people who’ve served as Herb Alpert Award panelists?

Herb Alpert panelists are knowledgeable and adventurous. They’ve included Tony Kushner, Trisha Brown, Don Byron, Luis Alfaro, Yvonne Rainer, Julie Taymor, Miya Masaoka, Bruce Jenkins, Maria Irene Fornes, Ann Hamilton, George Lewis, Alma Guillermoprieto, Garth Fagan, David Levi Strauss, Mel Chin, Deborah Hay, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Sara Rudner, Donald Byrd, and Anthony Davis.

What do nominators do?

In each of the five disciplines, ten nominators each recommend two outstanding artists whom they feel meet the spirit of the Award; they describe the work, and why they think it is important to support, both this moment in the artist's development and cultural life. Nominators are asked to use as their measure the quality, engagement, and independence of the work.

To insure that recommendations and decisions remain focused on the work, nominators remain anonymous. (Panelists' names are made public at the time the Awards are announced.) Similarly, nominees names remain confidential; artists may choose to publicize their own candidacy.

What goes on in a panel meeting?

One full day of looking and listening to submitted work samples, reading musical scores, and re-reading applications, followed by a second day of talking, grappling, agonizing, celebrating, and looking further. (Music panelists receive recordings ahead of time; Theatre panelists read scripts in advance. All panelists receive the written material – artists’ applications and nominators’ comments – six weeks before meeting.)

What are some of the questions we ask panelists?

“Which work makes you curious?”

“Why give the prize at this moment in this artists’ career and that of the culture?”

“Whose work has the capacity to impact the field…and beyond?”

“What exactly is risk?”

Panelists have described wanting to be “taken off their guard,” seeking a “new vocabulary being added to our language.” They are looking for something risky, courageous, for artists whose work is not ‘finished.’ How will the work of the artist influence the next generation and the discourse? Does the work have the potential for impact outside of the art world?

What are some of the results of being given the Herb Alpert Award?

The Award is an unrestricted prize. Artists have used the funds to realize un-produced or nascent visions, provide time for investigation, experimentation, focusing and dreaming. What have Alpert winners actually done with the prize? What would have been harder - or impossible - without it?

  • Writing three orchestral compositions
  • Making a trip to Japan
  • Turning an old church into a studio in which to make work
  • Going back to school for an MFA to be able to teach
  • Finishing a film on hold for 12 years
  • Releasing a new CD
  • Starting a retirement account
  • Buying new glasses, an engagement ring, health insurance and bookshelves, an electric Chinese-lacquer red harp, a house, equipment for a tour
  • Re-granting a portion of the award to other artists
  • Paying artistic collaborators
  • Becoming better known and going on to receive other major awards
What have Herb Alpert artists said about other effects of receiving the prize?

“It eased the $$worry-center$$ in my brain.”

“Built my confidence.”

“Alleviated panic - how would I survive? The Herb Alpert Award allows me to keep on keeping on.”

“Saw me through a fallow period, laying the ground for a more fruitful period, and helping me, these many years later, to make possible the work I am doing now.”

“Gave me a year of freedom to think in peace.”

“Time to study and to think, to planning, realizing and completing a longer, more time-intensive project.”

“Able to say ‘no’ to bad gigs!”

“Spent 3 months without teaching to write, write, write.”

What are the Residency programs?

Herb Alpert Award Residencies

In conjunction with a member of the CalArts faculty, each Herb Alpert Award winner is asked to design and take part in a week-long residency at CalArts, in Valencia, California, during the year of their Award. Residencies may include workshops, productions or concerts, seminars, lectures as well as individual critiques of student work.

Herb Alpert Award Residency Prizes

Herb Alpert nominees who do not receive the Alpert Award may be eligible for month-long stays at a number of distinguished artists communities that include, and have included, Hedgebrook, MacDowell, Ragdale, Sacatar, the Ucross Foundation Residency Program, and Yaddo. Artists chosen for Herb Alpert residency prizes receive a stipend from the Herb Alpert Award program. Please see Residency Prizes for more information.

Terms of the Award

An individual may receive the Award once, and in one category. Nominators, panelists and employees, officers, directors, trustees or relations of the aforementioned categories of The Herb Alpert Foundation and California Institute of the Arts are ineligible for the Award while acting in these capacities. Recipient artists maintain their prime residency in the United States; they need not be U.S. citizens.

Irene Borger, Director