Kennedy Center forms committee to review Honors selection process


One of the members of the new panel is actress Debbie Allen. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
January 7, 2013

The Kennedy Center has formed a committee of artists and community leaders to review the heretofore opaque process by which winners of the annual Kennedy Center Honors are selected.

“While the center has a strong track record of diversity throughout its other performance, education and arts education programs, it is important to undertake this review process to ensure the Honors reflect the diversity of those who have contributed to American culture,” Michael M. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, said in a statement released Monday.

The 11-member artist advisory panel will have its second meeting this month, Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said.

Its formation late last year — though only announced Monday — is part of a series of steps the center has taken in response to a controversy that erupted in September over the lack of Latino honorees.

Since the Honors were created in 1978, two of the 186 honorees have been Hispanic: Placido Domingo, the Spanish tenor, in 2000; and Chita Rivera, the actress, singer and dancer of Puerto Rican descent, in 2002.

The omission had been a sore spot for Latino activists for a number of years, but the issue burst onto a broader cultural radar after Kaiser directed a vulgarity at Felix R. Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, who at the time was pressing Kaiser on the issue in a telephone conversation.

Kaiser apologized for his choice of words, and the center’s board of trustees created a subcommittee to look into the selection process. Kaiser acknowledged that the process by which honorees are designated lacked transparency. The new advisory panel will have a broad mandate to consider reforms, Dow said.

The move “emphasizes their willingness to do business differently,” Sanchez said. “And that was what we had really wanted, that the Latino community is and should be a part of the American mosaic.”

Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of la Raza, added: “This is an important acknowledgment that they do want to reflect the entirety and diversity of American culture. It has been highly offensive that we haven't seen more representation by the Hispanic community . . . in those awards.”

The members of the new panel are:

●Gabriel Abaroa, president and chief executive of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences

●Debbie Allen, actress

●Roberto Bedoya, executive director of Tucson Pima Arts Council

●Maria de Leon, executive director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture

●Raul Esparza, Broadway actor

●Yo-Yo Ma, cellist

●Norman Y. Mineta, former congressman and Cabinet secretary

●Joseph W. Polisi, president of The Juilliard School

●Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF

●Carlton Turner of Alternate ROOTS

●Damian Woetzel, dancer and member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities

The center also plans to create a separate Latino Advisory Committee that will focus on cultivating diversity at the center beyond the Honors and forging stronger communication with the Latino community, Dow said.

David Montgomery writes general features, profiles and arts stories for the Sunday Magazine and Style, including pieces on the Latino community and Latino arts.
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