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This morning, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation announced the 2019 recipients of the Doris Duke Artist Award, an extremely prestigious recognition which grants $275,000 to individual artists in celebration of their ongoing contribution to their field. Among the winners is Seattle choreographer Donald Byrd, artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater.

Donald Byrd. Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki.

Byrd’s recognition builds on a lifetime of accomplishment in the field of dance. A TONY Award nominee and Bessie Award winner, Byrd has been previously recognized with a Masters of Choreography Award from the Kennedy Center, a United States Artists fellowship, and the Mayor’s Arts Award in Seattle, among others. Even in light of these many honrs, being named a Doris Duke Artist is a crowning achievement.

“An endorsement like this from a group of my peers is both surprising and humbling,” said Byrd. “It was completely unexpected and outside the realm of any acknowledgements I have had in the past. Not living in New York—the de facto center of the dance world in the U.S.—in more than 16 years, I often feel isolated and invisible to my peers. That I am seen and known is both enlightening as well as moving. It touches me in ways that are difficult to express.”

Donald Byrd. Photo by Brian Smale.

Byrd was the artistic director of Donald Byrd/The Group from 1978 to 2002, at which point he relocated to Seattle to direct Spectrum Dance Theater. Under his leadership, Spectrum has become known for its technical rigor and examination of complex societal issues. Byrd’s evening length works have tackled current and historical events like the Iraq war, police violence against unarmed black men, the Holocaust, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. His most recent work, Strange Fruit, addressed the racial terrorism and lynching during the Jim Crow era.

Of the six awardees, two are contemporary dance artists, Byrd and Michelle Ellsworth, who presented at On the Boards just this spring. Ellsworth’s boundary-pushing works integrate technology and carpentry into madcap, cerebral social examinations. Other awardees are Terri Lyne Carrington and George Lewis in jazz music, and Marcus Gardley and Lauren Yee in theater.

Michelle Ellsworth’s The Rehearsal Artist. Photo by Julia Cervantes.

“We could not be more excited to share the names of the 2019 Doris Duke Artists,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “They have earned this recognition through an incredibly rigorous nomination and review process conducted by a body of their peers. The work of these six artists has inspired creativity, new ideas and awe across the arts sector and beyond. With the money from this award, they will be able to invest in their own well-being in ways that create the right conditions for them to continue to flourish and do their best work.”

The Doris Duke Artist Awards are not a lifetime achievement award, but rather a deep investment in the creative potential of dedicated artists. The award addresses needs unmet by the project-based art granting that dominates the field, empowering artists through unrestricted support to take creative risks and care for both professional and personal needs. $250,000 of the prize is completely unrestricted. The other $25,000 is encouraged to be used towards retirement and planning for later-life needs.

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