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Kennedy Center Honors' selection process set for a review

January 08, 2013|By Deborah Vankin
  • Honoree Dustin Hoffman, First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama at the 35th annual Kennedy Center Honors.
Honoree Dustin Hoffman, First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack… (John Paul Filo/CBS Broadcasting…)

After receiving criticism from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, the Kennedy Center is revisiting its artist selection process for the Kennedy Center Honors.   

The Kennedy Center has announced that an 11-member artist advisory panel along with Kennedy Center board members will review the way the Kennedy Center selects honorees.

Among those on the review panel are Broadway actor Rául Esparza, actress Debbie Allen and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Representatives of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture will be on the panel, as well as Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School in New York. 

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The Kennedy Center said it also has formed a Latino advisory committee, which will meet quarterly, to help foster collaboration with the Hispanic community.  

The 35-year-old Kennedy Center Honors pays tribute to performers and creators in the arts during a star-studded awards ceremony broadcast every December on CBS. The president and first lady are always on hand for the evening.

Last year's honorees were actor-director Dustin Hoffman, comedian David Letterman, musician Buddy Guy, ballerina Natalia Makarova and  the rock band Led Zeppelin. This year as in most, Latinos were not selected. The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts raised the issue last year, noting that of the more than 180 past honorees, only two have been Hispanics -- Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo in 2000 and actress-singer Chita Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican descent, in 2002.

"While the center has a strong track record of diversity throughout its other performance, education and arts education programs,” Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said on Monday, “it is important to undertake this review process to ensure the Honors reflect the diversity of those who have contributed to American culture.” 

Until now, the first stage of the selection process has been led by Kaiser, Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein and filmmaker George Stevens Jr., who has produced the awards show the past 35 years. They would whittle down a list of potential honorees from a wider pool nominated by an artist committee each year. The executive committee of the Kennedy Center board finalizes the list of award recipients.  

This past December Stevens was unsure if the selection process needed to be amended in the first place.

"We should be conscious of diversity insofar as it doesn't compromise excellence because without excellence, we're not fulfilling President Kennedy's mandate," he said. "And I think we can do both."

National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Chairman Felix Sanchez, however, was more adamant in his view following Monday's announcement.  

“For many years, Latinos have been excluded from the American tapestry. Despite our historical alliance to the Kennedy family and our work in expanding the cultural horizons in America, we have been unduly overlooked for one of the nation’s highest cultural honors,” Sanchez said in a statement.

“The Kennedy Center’s commitment to improving its selection process is a long-awaited acknowledgment that Latinos are an important part of the American mosaic.”  

Sanchez flagged Carlos Santana, Rita Moreno, Joan Baez, Gloria Estefan and others as potential Latino honorees for a Kennedy Center Honor.    


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