Last evening (May 22nd) was the 21st Annual Pell Awards, an event hosted by Trinity Repertory Company to “celebrate outstanding contributions in the arts.” The event was held in the spectacular new Waterfire Art Center in Providence. RISCA was honored for its 50 years of support for the arts in Rhode Island, and shared the stage with a distinguished group of awardees: Joe and Sally Dowling, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, and screen and stage legend Jessica Lange.
It was a thrill and honor for RISCA to be recognized for the work it does on behalf of the arts in Rhode Island. I tried to express our gratitude in my remarks while accepting the award on behalf of the RISCA board and staff, but for me personally the best expression of our work is in the achievements of others. I couldn’t help but feel a thrill when Joe and Sally Dowling talked about their personal engagement with Trinity artistic directors and actors over the years, and how their commitment to an art form and an ensemble has meant the difference, not only for them but frankly for all of us who love the arts in Rhode Island.
I have long admired Ricardo Pitts-Wiley. He has a strong and steadfast commitment to the arts as an actor and director, and an unending work ethic. It has, sadly, been a challenge for African-American artists to build a career in the arts in this state and this country. Frankly, agencies like ours struggle with the most appropriate ways to equitably support work by African, Asian, Native and Latino artists, and Ricardo has been one of our toughest critics, which – perversely, I know – makes him one of our most important friends. In spite of the challenges – and with the help of his wife and partner, Bernadette – Ricardo has built Mixed Magic Theatre into an important company sharing the work of the African-American experience, among other works, with a Rhode Island audience.
Finally, I was moved by Shura Baryshnikov‘s introduction of her mother, Jessica Lange. Shura talked about how her mother’s work and approach to life helped to shape her own as a dancer and performer, and how that inspiration is finding root in her own daughters’ lives. This reminded me of the importance and influence of community. We Rhode Islanders take for granted the small size of our state, which I believe is one of our greatest advantages. Shura is the co-artistic director of the Doppelganger Dance Collective, and this young company has been influence by the dance, and the music, and the theatre and visual and literary arts it sees all around it. Generations of theatre artists have been influenced by the work of Trinity Rep, and it has spawned a number of important companies and ensembles in our state. The Rhode Island Philharmonic and its Music School have an outsized influence over the growth of music in Rhode Island. And the list goes on.
So, sure. RISCA was absolutely honored to be recognized for 50 years of work on behalf of the arts in Rhode Island. We’re grateful to Trinity Rep and others for the award. But for those of us who work at RISCA, the excitement of helping to grow and support the arts in Rhode Island is, indeed, its own reward.