Arts Desk

Kennedy Center Changes Selection Process for Honors

Coming soon to the Kennedy Center Honors: More colors of the rainbow?

Responding to recent criticism of the Kennedy Center Honors' limited representation of American artists, the Kennedy Center today announced that it is changing the way it selects honorees for its annual awards blitz.

Last year, Chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Felix Sanchez penned an opinion piece for Fox News Latino that accused the Honors of failing Hispanic artists. But Sanchez's piece not only drew attention to the Kennedy Center's effective snubbing of an entire ethnic group (the Honors have only recognized two Hispanic performers in 35 years), it also reignited long-smoldering criticisms of the Honoree selection process as needlessly arcane—even arbitrary—leading to some apparent soul-searching amid the Kennedy Center's leadership. Today, Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein announced that the Honors' selection process will be much more democratic, incorporating feedback from a retooled advisory committee as well as the general public.

According to a very detailed press release sent today, the advisory committee will consist of artists, former Honorees, and KenCen board members. Members of the public, meanwhile, can submit their Honoree suggestions via a form on the arts center's website. (Please, people, refrain from nominating your mom, pet, or cubicle buddy, unless those individuals have contributed decades of their lives to the advancement of arts in the United States, and/or are famous.) The new selection process begins immediately, and "will guide the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors selection," says the press release.

The shakeup surrounding Sanchez's letter led to an embarrassing public-relations gaffe for Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, whom Sanchez said cursed him out in a heated phone conversation about the Honors. (Kaiser later apologized for his comments.) But it seems Sanchez's high-profile (and justified) KenCen flaming ultimately bore fruit—and in more ways than one. The center has also said it will form a Latino Advisory Committee aimed at strengthening its ties with the Hispanic community.

Read an excerpt from the Kennedy Center press release below.

David M. Rubenstein, Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, today announced revisions to the Kennedy Center Honors selection process. The announcement follows a seven-month review by the Kennedy Center board of trustees with input from many members of the cultural community to ensure the Honors program continues to reflect the full range of artistic excellence in the years ahead. The revisions include expanded solicitation of recommendations from the general public and the addition of an advisory committee comprised of artists, former Honorees, and Kennedy Center board members. The process takes effect immediately and will guide the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors selection.

Under the revised selection process, the solicitation of recommendations for Kennedy Center Honorees will be expanded. The Artists Committee, comprised of accomplished individuals in the performing arts and traditionally the source of recommendations to the Kennedy Center board of trustees, will be expanded to assure the broadest representation of outstanding candidates. Additionally, the Kennedy Center website will provide an opportunity for the general public to recommend prospective Honorees. This page is now live and can be accessed here.

From these recommendations, a roster of eligible individuals will be created that will be reviewed by a Special Honors Advisory Committee composed of two former Kennedy Center Honorees, two Artist Committee members, and two members of the Kennedy Center board of trustees. The committee will narrow the roster to 10 to 20 nominees. The Special Honors Advisory Committee is comprised of Kennedy Center board members Cappy McGarr and Elaine Wynn, former Honorees Yo-Yo Ma, and Chita Rivera, and artist committee members Harolyn Blackwell and Damian Woetzel.

From this list of 10 to 20 nominees, the Kennedy Center Chairman, President, and the producers of the Honors will create slates of Honorees. These slates will provide balance and diversity across the various performing arts disciplines and will be submitted to the executive committee of the Kennedy Center board of trustees for discussion and final decision.

The artists committee and the Special Honors Advisory Committees will have fixed terms: members of the artist committee will serve five-year terms and members of the Special Honors Advisory Committee will serve three year terms. The Kennedy Center board of trustees will also establish an Honors committee to provide ongoing oversight to the revised process and to advise the Chairman on all board-related matters of the Kennedy Center Honors. The revised process was unanimously approved by the Kennedy Center board of trustees.

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