2021 Annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts Recipients Announced

Headshots of the 2021 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts winners. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the artists.

On Tuesday, May 18, the Herb Alpert Foundation announced the recipients of the 2021 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (HAAIA). Administered by CalArts since 1994, the awards have traditionally recognized five mid-career artists pushing the boundaries of Dance, Film/Video, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts. For the first time in its 27-year history, the foundation has doubled the number of honorees to 10, each of whom receives an unrestricted grant of $75,000.

This year’s HAIAA recipients are:

“More than ever, in these tumultuous times, we need the strong voices of artists to remind us of what independent thinking and freedom of speech really mean, and to keep our democracy alive,” said Herb Alpert Foundation President Rona Sebastian.

As part of their Herb Alpert Award in the Arts’ year-long tenure, each of the newly named artists will undertake a visiting artist residency at CalArts during the upcoming academic year.

“The Alpert Awards have been a proud part of CalArts’s work since their inception,” said CalArts President Ravi Rajan. “Herb and Lani’s generosity enables groundbreaking artists to take risks and thus remain groundbreaking. By doubling the number of recipients, this year’s outsized effort ensures that the Award amplifies even more voices of artists often unheard. Thank you, Herb and Lani for all you do for artists.”


  • Rawls is a New York-based multidisciplinary choreographer who engages the realities of race and gender with fearless, physically demanding movements. His works draw from his wide-ranging studies in African-fusion, postmodern and house dance, Chinese opera, and more. Rawls also serves co-editor of dance laboratory Movement Research’s online publication Critical Correspondence.
  • Gill is a New York-based choreographer whose masterful and theatrical dances employ visual arts concepts like color, texture, light, and scale. Her passion for sci-fi, fantasy, and drama emerge through imaginative arcs punctuated by stillness and slow movements. Gill is the recipient of a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a Bessie Award.


  • Joseph is an artist and filmmaker whose mesmerizing visual works, sound pieces, and installations “affirm Black lives and the historical struggle for liberation in America.” His works have been shown in venues ranging from the Venice Biennale to a Black-owned barbershop in Washington, D.C. Joseph is also known for his work as the first director on Beyonce’s 2016 album Lemonade and is the recipient of a 2017 Artadia Award.
  • Khalil is an Ojibway filmmaker whose dynamic and critical works explore indigenous political activism, experimentation, research, and collaboration with other artists. Khalil won Best Director at the 2018 Tacoma Film Festival for his documentary short “The Violence of a Civilization without Secrets” and is a co-founder of COUSINS Collective.


  • Reagon is a Brooklyn-based musician, composer, curator, and producer known for “beautiful, incendiary, empowering and haunting work.” From rock, blues, R&B, country, folk, spirituals, and funk, her music is celebrated as healing and energetic. Reagon is also known for her Afro-Futurist rock-opera The Parable of the Sower, which is based on an Octavia Butler novel by the same name, and was the last work to be performed at UCLA before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the theater.
  • Virelles is a New York-based pianist and composer who weaves folkloric musical tradition from his native Cuba with American jazz. His thought-provoking works are celebrated for their “deep cultural grounding,” leading him to be referred to by legendary Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés as a “genius.” In 2017, Virelles was named the #1 Rising Star in the piano category by DownBeat Magazine.


  • Lee is a playwright whose scripts assert an “incisive clarity” that musically pulse as they subvert stereotypes, experiment with new theatrical forms, and ponder some of the most salient questions of today. Among her plays, which draw from her experience as a Korean American growing up in rural Idaho, have been presented at numerous venues and conferences. Lee is also the recipient of the inaugural 2015 PoNY/Bush Theatre Playwright Residency in London. 
  • Schaal is a director and theater artist whose works have been formed across continents in various contexts, from New York City apartments to East African amphitheaters. Armed with a background in avant-garde theater, her works spotlight traditionally marginalized voices, especially through an “unapologetic expression of Black culture.” Recently, Schaal was named a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow and received a 2019 United States Artists Fellowship.

Visual Arts

  • Linklater is a Native American visual artist and choreographer whose varied, collaborative practice traces artmaking through history and investigates indigenous culture. Her installations, video works, writings, and choreography reflect her “knowledge of and responsibility to Indigenous culture as a living practice.”
  • Jemison is an artist who works in audio and video, objects, images, and movement. Her practice investigates the Black avant-garde and experimental performance. Though she primarily creates independently, Jemison is also known to collaborate with artists across disciplines. 

The 27th HAAIA awards celebration will be held virtually on Thursday, May 20, 2021, at 2 pm PST.

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