On September 12, the Japan Art Association (JAA) announced its selection of Rural Studio as a 2023 recipient of the Grant for Young Artists. Wiatt Professor and Director of Auburn University Rural Studio Andrew Freear traveled to the White House to receive the Grant on behalf of the Studio.
In 1988, on its 100th anniversary, the JAA established the Praemium Imperiale, a global arts prize to honor Prince Takamatsu and annually given to artists in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theatre/film. In 1997, the Praemium Imperiale expanded to include an annual Grant for Young Artists, most often given to organizations rather than individuals. The nominating team identifies those who “actively contribute to the development of young artistic talent.” Each year an international advisor to the JAA selects the Grant’s recipient(s) from among the worthy nominees. This year, Hillary Rodham Clinton served as the international advisor and selected Rural Studio and the Harlem School of the Arts for the Grant. Rural Studio is the first recipient in architecture in the Grant’s 27-year history.
We couldn’t be more delighted! It’s heartening to see architecture education recognized and supported. It’s especially heartening to see the rural take a spotlight. As Director Freear notes, “There’s a perception that design is just part of the culture of cities or urban places. To bridge this misconception, it’s important to bring young folks into an isolated rural place, like Newbern, to encounter the many provocative design challenges and opportunities.”
The ceremony was the icing on the cake. It began with a brief video montage featuring each of the honorees. First, the video introduced the Laureates: painter Vija Clemins, sculptor Olafur Eliasson, architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, musician Wynton Marsalis, and theater director and artist Robert Wilson. Then, it introduced the recipients of the Grant for Young Artists, the Harlem School of the Arts and Rural Studio.
The ceremony was held in the East Room at the White House. After the Laureates proceeded to the podium and were seated, Dr. Biden gave a rousing opening. She poetically remarked,
The artists we honor today invite us to join a conversation with the world, to step beyond the limits of our imagination. It’s a conversation that speaks across borders, languages, and centuries; as we tilt our heads to see just one more angle, bend our ear to take in just one more note, our hearts and hopes reach toward each other.
Her apt description of the “conversation” captures the conversations we have not only within our discipline but with those for whom we build and those who make architecture possible.
Honorary Advisor Mr. David Rockerfeller, Jr., gave a concise history of the Awards and noted that the Praemium Imperiale is “one of the world’s most important arts awards,” with “its mission to recognize the vital role of artists in our international discourse.” The Laureate distinction has often been called the Nobel Prize of the Arts. And the Grant for Young Artists facilitates nurturing the next generation of artists. Mr. Rockerfeller noted that artists’ “contribution to peace and understanding has never surely been more important.” Although Prince Hitachi could not join the ceremony because of health reasons, Chairman of the JAA Mr. Hisashi Hieda passed along his respect and his “hope that these Awards will stand as a reminder of how the arts contribute to” worldwide “peace and harmony.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments were dotted with gentle humor. She, too, lauded the importance of the Awards, and she called out to past recipients who were in the audience, including none other than two of our good friends, both Billie Tsien and Tod Williams! We’re so glad they could be present. Former Secretary of State Clinton also introduced each Laureate, highlighting their work, then invited Mr. Hieda back to the podium to present the Grant diplomas and call attention to the work of Rural Studio and the Harlem School of the Arts in turn. As Andrew stood on the podium, she described Rural Studio’s “ambition . . . to help students understand social responsibility in architecture through direct involvement in construction work as well as design.”
After the live-streamed ceremony ended, in-person attendees were treated to a fantastic live performance by the Harlem School of the Arts All-Stars, accompanied by 2023 Laureate Wynton Marsalis.
Rural Studio is honored and humbled to stand among such talent in such a historic setting.
Final thoughts from Dr. Biden:
But art stops us in our tracks.
It feeds our spirit when we’re hungry for something more. It shows the contours of our sorrows and our joys so that we know that we’re not alone. It brings us back to the beauty and humanity of every moment.
Art matters. And that is why we’re here today.
All photos courtesy of Japan Art Association