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PR- 441-09
October 6, 2009


Presents Legendary Opera Singer Jessye Norman with the 2009 NYC Handel Medallion, the City’s Highest Award for Achievement in the Arts

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presented the 2009 Mayor’s Awards for Arts & Culture to six individuals and organizations in celebration of their outstanding contributions to New York City’s cultural life. The Mayor also presented the 2009 NYC Handel Medallion, New York City’s highest award for achievement in the arts, to Jessye Norman. Recipients of the Mayor’s Awards were the Big Apple Circus, Jaynemarie Capetanakis, H.T. Chen, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Vernon Reid, and the Thalia Spanish Theatre. The event, held at the newly-opened Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, was co-hosted by Bye Bye Birdie star John Stamos.  It featured live performances by the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Musical Theater Ensemble, Cajun Cellist Sean Grissom, and Picaso, Jr. of the Big Apple Circus. Special guests included Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson of Carnegie Hall and actor Avery Brooks. The Mayor was joined at the awards ceremony by Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, and Cultural Advisory Commission Chair Agnes Gund. 

“Our artists and cultural groups help make New York City a great place to live, learn and work, and a destination for ambitious and creative people from across the world,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Tonight’s awards give us a chance to recognize the achievements of some of the people who work hard every day to ensure that New York City remains the place to be for artists and audiences from the five boroughs and beyond. I’m thrilled to present the Handel Medallion to Jessye Norman, one of the consummate artists of our time, whose body of work reflects the City’s energy, audacity and passion.”

Jessye Norman is one of America’s most eminent and universally acclaimed performing artists.  Born in Augusta, Georgia, Norman’s extraordinary artistry has been hailed around the world, through a career that bridges acclaimed opera stagings, and new music collaborations with artists on the cutting-edge.  This year, she served as curator and director for HONOR!, a collaboration with Carnegie Hall that celebrated the African American contributions to the cultural mosaic of the world.  Norman is the recipient of 35 honorary doctorate degrees, the Kennedy Center Honor and five Grammy Awards, including the award for lifetime achievement in 2006.  Her service to New York City’s cultural life extends beyond her music, to include serving on the boards of the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, Carnegie Hall and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  She is the national spokesperson for the Partnership for the Homeless and the Lupus Foundation, and a former board member of City-Meals-on-Wheels.  She is also the founder of the Jessye Norman School for the Arts in Augusta, Georgia.   

The NYC Handel Medallion was established in 1959 by Mayor Robert F. Wagner to honor outstanding achievement in the fields of art and music.  Named for the composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), the award was first presented at the Handel Festival, a series of 32 concerts held in New York City in 1959 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Handel’s death. Past NYC Handel Medallion recipients have included Alvin Ailey, Benny Goodman, Richard Rodgers, Charlie Chaplin, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne, Merce Cunningham and Neil Simon.

“It is an honor, indeed, to receive the Handel Medallion and to find myself in the company of icons, trailblazers, artists of such power and strength,” said Jessye Norman. “I am encouraged to work even harder to merit being a part of such an illustrious and diverse assemblage of intellect, daring, inventiveness and sheer talent.”

The Mayor’s Awards for Arts and Culture were created in 1974 by the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission to honor individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the cultural life of New York City.  The Awards acknowledge and celebrate the role individual artists, arts educators, cultural organizations, corporations and philanthropists play in the public-private partnerships that sustains the City’s creative vitality and economic well-being.  The Bloomberg Administration revived the awards in 2004.

“For the last six years, the Commission has been proud to work with Mayor Bloomberg on the Mayor’s Awards for Arts and Culture, building on the strides Commissioner Levin and her staff have made in supporting and sustaining our City’s cultural community,” said Ms. Gund.  “Tonight’s event reminds us of how lucky we are to have the highest-caliber artists, educators and organizations dedicated to serving New York City’s audiences.”

“Culture is critical to the City’s economy and quality of life in every neighborhood,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Levin. “As my agency works daily to support cultural nonprofit groups through funding and advocacy, it’s important to take this moment to celebrate the people who help define New York City’s identity as a home for artists, and a destination for audiences from around the corner and around the world.”

At the awards ceremony, Mayor Bloomberg invited guests to view “Splatter Project #1,” part of a series of new video installations by Tony Oursler, commissioned for Frank Sinatra School of the Arts by the Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program, the Department of Education and the New York City School Construction Authority.  Completed in 2009, this new media installation marks the City’s first ever usage of video for a permanent public art commission.

2009 Mayor’s Awards Recipients

Big Apple Circus
For inspiring New Yorkers and visitors from around the world through the joy and artistry of classical circus, and providing significant, innovative services to communities across New York City.  Through high quality circus programs tailored to the needs of children undergoing pediatric treatment, at-risk youth, and the disabled, the Big Apple Circus serves as a model for nonprofit cultural community service.

Jaynemarie Capetanakis, “Mrs. C.”, Principal, P.S. 69
For her visionary leadership as Principal of P.S. 69, The Vincent D.Grippo School in Brooklyn. Since 2006, Mrs. C. has built strong cultural partnerships with arts education providers to implement the Department of Education’s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, helping the 850 students at her “A” rated school receive a high-quality arts education. 

H.T. Chen
For his leadership of the acclaimed H.T. Chen and Dancers company, which presents the richness of Chinese culture and history to audiences from across the City and around the world.  Mr. Chen is currently leading his 31-year old organization through a significant capital renovation to expand the company’s capacity to serve its diverse audiences, while continuing his seminal work as a choreographer, performer and arts advocate for the Asian-American and dance communities.

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
For extraordinary support of New York City’s dance, jazz and theatre artists, and the nonprofit organizations that nurture, produce and present them.  The Foundation has proved a staunch supporter of the arts during the current economic downturn, providing $2.5 million in additional unrestricted support for its grantees, and collaborating on the rollout of the Cultural Data Project in New York, which will help to strengthen the capacity of the City’s nonprofit cultural sector. 

Vernon Reid
For his contributions to the musical life of New York City through extraordinary performance and innovative compositions.  A native of Staten Island, Mr. Reid’s work as a composer has led him to collaborations with a diverse array of innovative, New York City-based performing artists.  As guitarist for the iconic band “Living Color”, Mr. Reid is the recipient of two Grammy awards, and will soon debut the critically-acclaimed album, The Chair in the Doorway.

Thalia Spanish Theatre
For its extraordinary service as New York City’s first and only bilingual Hispanic theatre company in Queens, serving one of the most diverse communities in the United States.  For 32 years, its more than 150 innovative productions and education programs have highlighted the richness of Hispanic culture, inspiring audiences from Queens and beyond.


Stu Loeser / Andrew Brent   (212) 788-2958

Kate deRosset/Danai Pointer (Cultural Affairs)   (212) 513-5323

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