Herb Alpert Foundation Reveals Recipients for 27th Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

The 10 artists, from such fields as dance, music, film/video, theater and visual arts, receive an unrestricted $75,000 prize and a residency at California Institute of the Arts.

By Chris Gardner for The Hollywood Reporter

May 18, 2021

The Herb Alpert Foundation has selected the recipients for the 27th Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, a group of 10 artists (up from five in previous years) who will each receive $75,000 and a residency at California Institute of the Arts, which administers the prize on behalf of the foundation.

The honorees — mid-career artists representing five disciplines including music, dance, film/video, theater, visual arts — are choreographer Beth Gill (dance); choreographer Will Rawls (dance); artist and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph (film/video); artist and filmmaker Adam Khalil (film/video); musician Toshi Reagon (music); pianist and composer David Virelles (music); playwright Kimber Lee (theater); director and artist Kaneza Schaal (theater); artist Steffani Jemison (visual arts); and artist Tanya Lukin Linklater (visual arts).

They will be feted during a virtual celebration on May 20. The awards were founded by the legendary musician and artist Alpert and his wife, Grammy-winning singer Lani Hall, as a way to single out artists for “challenging and transforming art, their respective disciplines and society.” To date, they’ve honored 130 artists and through the Santa Monica-based Herb Alpert Foundation, they’ve doled out close to $200 million through various art initiatives.

“I like artists who take the road less traveled,” Alpert tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I really think artists are more important than politicians. They are more honest — whether they are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or whatever — their function is to be honest. You have to be authentic to be a great artist and that’s why I love the arts.”

The grants are unrestricted and the artists are free to use the $75,000 in any way they see fit. “Artists are the second responders,” notes Alpert, who, in addition to his music and philanthropy owns Vibrato Grill Jazz at The Glen Centre off Beverly Glen Circle. “They are the ones who give us life and tell us what’s happening in the world.”

For the foundation and the Alperts, doubling the recipient roster meant doubling the good news during what has been a challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has decimated the arts and culture landscape due to widespread closures of live entertainment venues, museums and other institutions where artists practice their disciplines.

“Singular as they are, the 10 winners this year share several qualities,” says Irene Borger, who has served as director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts since its inception. “They are adventurous experimenters, are attentive to the relationship between maker and receiver, and set in motion a counterforce to the issues and absences of our time.”

Each award is adjudicated by three-member panels of arts professionals and artists in each of the five categories. This year featured 10 past winners. Past recipients of the honor are such noted artists as Carrie Mae Weems, Taylor Mac, Suzan-Lori Parks, Julia Wolfe, Michelle Dorrance, Tania Bruguera, Kerry James Marshall, Lisa Kron, Sharon Lockhart, Ralph Lemon, Arthur Jafa, Cai Guo-Qiang, Okwui Okpokwasili and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, among many others.

More about 27th Herb Alpert Awards in the Arts honorees below.

Choreographer Beth Gill
A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she has been working in contemporary dance and performance since 2005. Her credits include Untitled, Eleanor & Eleanor, what it looks like, what it feels like, and Electric Midwife. Per the panel, she was selected “for her masterful, demanding and idiosyncratic work, for her startling, evocative images, for the theatrical, almost narrative tension she sustains and for her use of minimal resources to sensually and rigorously investigate the most private and interior of spaces.”

Choreographer Will Rawls
A graduate of Williams College, he has ben a guest artist at Bard College, Barnard College and a mentor for Colorado College’s Department of Theatre and Dance. His other work had appeared at Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project, Dixon Place, the Brooklyn Museum, Tanzquartier Wien, Mount Tremper Arts, and Williams College. Per the panel, he was selected for using “his spare, elegant body to carry out a fearless engagement with dance forms while never evading the very present realities of race and gender.”

Artist and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph
The Emmy and Grammy-nominated filmmaker is known for his multi-disciplinary work and collaborations with such artists as Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Beyoncé, the latter with whom he worked on her culture-shifting Lemonade. He’s been awarded many artistic prizes including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and the Los Angeles Artadia Award. Per the panel, he was chosen “for his masterful, mesmerizing films and installations that affirm Black lives and the historical struggle for liberation in America.”

Artist and filmmaker Adam Khalil
A Gates Millennium Scholar and graduate of Bard College in the Film and Electronic Arts Department, he is a video artist and media archivist. Per the panel, he was chosen “for generating a space for new forms by and for Indigenous filmmakers through his collaborative filmmaking, mentoring, and assertive position towards institutional politics. With a prankster’s side-eye and biting critique, he creates dynamic, imperative works that resist a finished ‘colonial gesture.'”

Producer Toshi Reagon
On her official website, the multi-talented musician describes her work as “a one-woman celebration of all that’s dynamic, progressive and uplifting in American music. Performing since the age of 17, her albums include Toshi, Have You Heard, The Righteous Ones, Justice and Kindness, works that span genres from blues to rolk to folk. According to the panel, she was selected “for her beautiful, incendiary, empowering and haunting work and for the example she continues to provide of how an artist might help make the world a better place.”

Pianist and composer David Virelles
His albums include Continuum, Mbóko, Antenna and Gnosis. He’s been honored by the Canada Council for the Arts, Louis Applebaum Award and Jazz Gallery Commission. The music panel selected him “for the richness of his astonishing musical language, revealing serious research of different folkloric traditions and deep cultural grounding, in an original and inspiring variety of formats. His thoughtful, provocative work is crucial for this moment.”

Playwright Kimber Lee
A graduate of UT Austin, Lee’s plays include Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play, To the Yellow House and Tokyo Fish Story. She was selected and singled out “for her fierce, vital, and bracingly original investigations that, with incisive clarity, musical, muscular language, and astonishing leaps of imagination, explode clichés, shatter stereotypes, dare to imagine new theatrical forms, and grapple with the most urgent conversations of our time.”

Director and artist Kaneza Schaal
She was named a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow and has received distinctions from United States Artists Fellowship, SOROS Art Migration and Public Space Fellowship, a Joyce Award and a Creative Capital Award. She has taught at Princeton, Yale and Harvard. The panel offered this for choosing Schaal: “Her pieces assert language, music, movement, film, and design, valorize dreaming, humor, and rituals of restoration and do nothing less than reimagine and reinvigorate the theatrical event.”

Artist Steffani Jemison
A graduate of the School of Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia University, her work as appeared at Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, San Jose Museum of Art and Studio Museum in Harlem. She was selected for “her rigorous, generous practice, breathing new life into modernist ideas, bringing forward scholarship of the Black avant-garde and experimenting with movement, gesture, language, and scores to create intimate, reflective performances.”

Artist Tanya Lukin Linklater
A graduate of University of Alberta and Stanford University, she focuses her work on investigating the histories of Indigenous people’s lives, lands and structures of sustenance, according to her website. She has shown work at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Chicago Architecture Biennial. Per the panel, Linklater was selected for “her thoughtful, visually compelling work that powerfully connects art-making across time. Through varied means — archives, histories, language, artifacts, presence and absence and embodiment — she engages community, and dignifies indigenous voices with a deep generosity embedded into her practice.”