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Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival awarded National Medal of Arts


BECKET, Mass. — President Barack Obama honored Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival with a National Medal of Arts, the highest arts award given by the United States Government, Wednesday afternoon, March 2.

President Barack Obama presented the National Medal of Arts to Ella Baff, executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival at a White House ceremony March 2. Photo: Ruth David

The medal is awarded to individuals or organizations “deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.” Named a National Historic Landmark in 2003, Jacob’s Pillow is the first dance presenting organization to receive a National Medal of Arts and the only organization to receive the award this year.

Fellow 2010 honorees include Harper Lee, James Taylor, Quincy Jones, and Meryl Streep. Since the awards were established in 1985, National Medal of Arts recipients include musicians Wynton Marsalis and Yo-Yo Ma; film icons Clint Eastwood and Gene Kelly; visual artists Georgia O’Keefe and Jasper Johns; dancer/choreographers Twyla Tharp and Judith Jamison; writers Maya Angelou and John Updike; and more than 250 others. In the past 25 years, only 17 arts organizations have received this honor.

Jacob’s Pillow, founded in 1933 by Ted Shawn, a pioneer of American dance, is home to the nation’s longest-running international dance festival, The School at Jacob’s Pillow, and rare and extensive dance archives dating back to the early 1900s

The medal was presented to Ella Baff, Jacob’s Pillow executive and artistic director, by President Obama in an East Room ceremony at the White House. In a statement released after the event, Ms. Baff said, “Today was a great day for the arts and humanities and an extraordinary honor for Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. I hope the day carries meaning beyond the occasion in terms of support for the arts.”


Ms. Baff said the president visited the honorees in the Green Room prior to the ceremony and greeted each personally. She said she was “proud and humbled to have represented Jacob’s Pillow, the Berkshires, the dance field, the performing arts, and all those who value and support culture in our society, by accepting this award.”

A press release from Jacob’s Pillow says that the president personally selected the recipients from nominations submitted to him by the National Council on the Arts, a group of Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals. The Council’s recommendations are culled from hundreds of nominations submitted by citizens across the country. The National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence, is a White House initiative managed by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The 2010 recipients of the National Medal of Arts include: (organizations) Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival; (individuals) Robert Brustein, theater critic, producer, playwright and educator; Van Cliburn, pianist and music educator; Mark di Suvero, sculptor; Donald Hall, poet; Quincy Jones, musician and music producer, Harper Lee, author; Sonny Rollins, jazz musician; Meryl Streep, actress; James Taylor, singer and songwriter.


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