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Jacob's Pillow Wins National Medal of Arts

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, in a special White House ceremony today. The National Medal of Arts is awarded to individuals or organizations who "are 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.

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 (including The MacDowell Colony, in 1997).

Jacob's Pillow (one of the Alliance of Artists Communities founding members) was founded in 1933 by Ted Shawn, a pioneer of American dance, and is home to the nation's longest-running international dance Festival; The School at Jacob's Pillow, among the most prestigious dance training centers in the world; and rare and extensive dance Archives dating back to the early 1900s. Jacob's Pillow has been lauded as the "hub and mecca of dancing in North America" by TIME Magazine, "the dance center of the nation, and possibly the world" by The New York Times, and "one of America's most precious cultural assets" by dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Ella Baff, Jacob's Pillow Executive and Artistic Director, comments "Jacob's Pillow is tremendously honored to be recognized with the National Medal of Arts. Along with a sense of immeasurable pride and celebration, it is our hope that this most distinguished award inspires increased interest in and support for dance and all the arts. We share this signal honor with the pioneering artists who have enlivened Jacob's Pillow, our audiences and supporters; and all those who recognize the vital role that the arts play in our society and communities."

Joan Hunter, Chair of Jacob's Pillow Board of Directors, comments "Receiving the National Medal of Arts is an enormous honor for Jacob's Pillow, and it is a validation of the visionary leadership of Ella Baff. In addition, this award reflects the dedication and efforts of the Pillow staff, Board of Directors, and all who have served the Pillow throughout its history. We will continue to strive for excellence and work to preserve the Pillow for future generations."

Unlike other arts awards, the National Medal of Arts is not limited to a single field or area of artistic endeavor. It is designed to honor exemplary individuals and organizations that have encouraged the arts in America and offered inspiration to others through their distinguished achievement, support, or patronage. The Medal's genres and forms encompass arts education, crafts, dance, drawing, film, graphic/product design, interior design, landscape architecture, literature, classical and popular music, painting, patrons/advocates, photography, presenting, printmaking, sculpture, theater, and urban design.

The medals were presented by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in an East Room ceremony at the White House on March 2. 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 National Medal of Arts recipients represent the many vibrant and diverse art forms thriving in America," says NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "As America's longest running international dance festival, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival not only supports the creation and presentation of dance, but also provides education programs and preserves extensive dance archives for future generations. I join the President and the country in saluting them."

The 2010 recipients of the National Medal of Arts include:

Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

Robert Brustein, Theatrical 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


Currently celebrating its 79th season, Jacob's Pillow is a 163-acre National Historic Landmark located in Western Massachusetts in the town of Becket. "The Pillow" is home to America's longest-running dance festival, presenting more than 300 free and ticketed talks, events, exhibits, tours, and performances each year, including more than 50 dance companies from around the world. The Boston Globe comments "the grand dame of U.S. dance festivals always offers a provocative mix of traditional, experimental, and ethnic dance from around the world" and The New Yorker states "...intimate and surrounded by nature, Jacob's Pillow, in Becket, Mass., is an ideal place to watch dance." Festival 2011 runs June 18 through August 28, and includes more than 160 free and ticketed dance performances by companies hailing from Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, and across the United States. For more information, visit

Jacob's Pillow commissions, the annual $25,000 Jacob's Pillow Dance Award and Creative Development Residencies, in which dance companies are invited to live and work at the Pillow and enjoy unlimited studio time, all support visionary choreographers.

The School at Jacob's Pillow is one of the most prestigious professional advancement dance centers in the U.S., and offers professional training programs in Ballet, Cultural Traditions, Contemporary, and Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance. Each year, dancers from around the world audition and apply for 100 coveted spots and the opportunity to work with internationally-acclaimed choreographers, directors, and artists. The Jacob's Pillow Intern Program offers incomparable training for young professionals from around the world in arts administration, documentation, and production. The Pillow's extensive Archives, open year-round to the public, chronicle more than 80 years of dance in photographs, programs, books, costumes, audiotapes, and video. Each season, hundreds of talks, rehearsals, performances, classes, events, and oral histories are filmed and added to the Archives.

The Pillow's Community Programs enrich the lives of children and adults through classes, residencies in area schools, and more than 200 free public events. Through Jacob's Pillow Curriculum in Motion®, artist-educators work with Berkshire County teachers and students grades K-12, transforming existing curricula such as biology, literature, science, and history into kinesthetic learning experiences.

Jacob's Pillow is building online audiences for dance through Virtual Pillow, a new series of digital programming that provides unique, insightful, and entertaining Jacob's Pillow experiences. Virtual Pillow offerings include select artist interviews and PillowTalks on, an online historical tour, and DanceClips+, a pilot series of short video clips of performances, classes, and artist interviews. On March 28, the Pillow will launch Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive, a curated online video collection of Festival artists from 1937 through 2010. Dance Interactive features rare performance videos, including footage of Ted Shawn's Men Dancers and the only known moving images of Asadata Dafora (the first artist to introduce authentic African dance and music to American audiences), and corresponding facts about the artists. Virtual Pillow is made possible by the Leading for the Future Initiative, funded by the Doris Duke Foundation, which selected ten "artistically outstanding organizations" nationwide and invested in them to take on a transformative challenge. To experience Virtual Pillow, visit

In 2011, director Ron Honsa will release Never Stand Still, a new documentary film about dance, dancers, and Jacob's Pillow. The film, shot at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, features high-definition performance footage and exclusive interviews with Marge Champion, Merce Cunningham, Suzanne Farrell, Joanna Haigood, Nikolaj Hübbe, Bill Irwin, Judith Jamison, Mark Morris, Gideon Obarzanek, Paul Taylor, Rasta Thomas, and others.


Jacob's Pillow began in the late 1700s as a New England farm owned by the Carter family. Knowing the Biblical story of Jacob, who laid his head upon a rock and dreamed of a ladder to heaven, the Carters aptly named a large boulder on the property "Jacob's Pillow." In the 1800s, Jacob's Pillow played a role in American history as a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves escaping to Canada. In 1931, modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn bought the farm as a retreat. At that time, Shawn and his wife, Ruth St. Denis, were America's leading couple in dance. Their Denishawn Company had popularized a new dance form rooted in theatrical and ethnic traditions rather than those of European ballet. Their trailblazing work and cross-country tours paved the way for the next generation of modern dance performers and choreographers such as Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, and Doris Humphrey, who were all members of Denishawn. But Shawn and St. Denis soon separated, personally and professionally, and in the fall of 1931, Shawn conducted the last rehearsals of the Denishawn era at Jacob's Pillow.

Shawn had long harbored a dream of legitimizing dance in America as an honorable career for men. In 1933, he recruited eight men, including Denishawn dancer Barton Mumaw and several physical education students from Springfield College--then a men's school--for his new company. The tall and burly Shawn and his athletic dancers were intent on challenging the image of men in dance; they forged a new, boldly muscular style in dances celebrating Pawnee braves, toiling sharecroppers, and Union machinists. When not training or touring, they built many of the structures still used today at Jacob's Pillow.

The Men Dancers began to perform for the public in 1933, and the Pillow's programming expanded to encompass other artists after the Men's company disbanded in 1940. Despite wartime hardships, such as gasoline and tire rationing, audiences climbed the hill on foot and horseback to attend a wide array of programs: ballet, modern dance, mime, ballroom, folk, and classical dance of many cultures. In 1942 the Ted Shawn Theatre opened, built by architect Joseph Franz as the first theatre in the U.S. designed specifically for dance. Throughout the intervening seven decades, Jacob's Pillow has continued in Shawn's trail-blazing spirit, presenting emerging artists and acclaimed dance companies from around the world. In its 79-season history Jacob's Pillow has presented such distinguished artists as Alvin Ailey, Alicia Alonso, Nina Ananiashvili, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Margot Fonteyn, Savion Glover, Cynthia Gregory, Gregory Hines, Judith Jamison, Bill T. Jones, Carmen de Lavallade, José Limón, Mark Morris, Ann Reinking, Antony Tudor, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Edward Villella and literally thousands of others. For a full list of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival artists 1933 through 2010, visit

In the twenty-first century, the Pillow's national status has been underlined with noteworthy distinctions. In 2000, it was included on the Dance Heritage Coalition's list of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2003, the federal government named Jacob's Pillow a National Historic Landmark for its importance in America's culture and history, thus distinguishing the Pillow as the country's first and only Landmark dance institution. In 2007, the Pillow was formally dedicated as a site on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, which celebrates people and places that hold pivotal roles in key events of African American heritage. On March 2, 2011, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival will receive a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

As of February 2011, major support for Jacob's Pillow has been provided by The Kresge Foundation; The Howard Gilman Foundation; The Geoffrey C. Hughes Foundation, Inc.; The Leir Charitable Foundations, In Memory of Henry J. Leir; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Mertz Gilmore Foundation; National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts; Leading for the Future Initiative, a program of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency; MassDevelopment; National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius; Save America's Treasures; CEC ArtsLink and the Open World Leadership Center; Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York; Frances Alexander Family Fund; ALEX®; The Legacy Banks Foundation; Quality Inn; Jacob's Pillow Business Alliance; and Jacob's Pillow Members.

Major endowment support is provided by The Barrington Foundation, Inc.; The William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The Leir Charitable Foundations, In Memory of Henry J. Leir; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Onota Foundation; The Prospect Hill Foundation; Talented Students in the Arts Initiative, a collaboration of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Surdna Foundation; and Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.