Ballet dancer turned arts leader Damian Woetzel MPA ‘07 is the recipient of the 2015 Harvard Arts Medal, which will be awarded by Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust at a ceremony on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 4 pm at Farkas Hall, 10-12 Holyoke St., Cambridge. The ceremony, presented by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and the Board of Overseers of Harvard College, will include a discussion with Woetzel moderated by actor and Harvard’s Master of the Arts John Lithgow ‘67 ArD ’05, host of the event. This is the official opening event for ARTS FIRST, Harvard University’s annual festival showcasing student creativity in the arts, April 30-May 3.
Admission is free but tickets are required, available in person at the Harvard Box Office at Smith Campus Center, 1450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, or by calling 617.496.2222 or visiting the box office website (phone and online ticket orders are subject to service fees). Ticket distribution for Harvard affiliates (2 per person, with valid ID) begins Tuesday, April 21; ticket distribution for the public (2 per person) begins Thursday, April 23. Some remaining tickets may be available at the door one hour prior to event start time.
“Harvard is proud and pleased to honor Damian Woetzel for his extraordinary contributions to the art of dance and to arts education,” said John Lithgow. “The first dance artist to receive the Harvard Arts Medal, Damian is also recognized for his leadership of programs and initiatives serving performing artists and their audiences, and his dedication to the vitality of our national arts profile.”
The Harvard Arts Medal honors a distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe graduate or faculty member who has achieved excellence in the arts and has made a contribution through the arts to education or the public good. Previous Medal recipients include photographer Susan Meiselas EdM ’71; visual artist and essayist Catherine Lord ‘70; saxophonist/composers Joshua Redman ’91 and Fred Ho ’79; composer John Adams ’69 MA ’72; playwright Christopher Durang ’71; poets John Ashbery ’49 and Maxine Kumin ’41; cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76; film director Mira Nair ’79; conductor and founder of Les Arts Florissants William Christie ’66; stage director Peter Sellars ’80; composer John Harbison ’60; set designer and National Theatre of the Deaf founder David Hays ’52; authors John Updike ’54 and Margaret Atwood AM ’62 LittD ‘04; songwriter/musicians Bonnie Raitt ’72 and Pete Seeger ’40; and actors Jack Lemmon ’47, Tommy Lee Jones ’69 and Matt Damon ‘92.
Damian Woetzel is director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, which under his leadership aims to further the value of the arts in society, focusing on education, social justice, economics, and diplomacy. He has created events and programs furthering this work in venues varying from the National Performing Arts Center in Beijing, to the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, the home of Shakespeare in the Park. In addition to his role at the Institute, Woetzel is producer and director of dance and music performances, including the artistic directorship of the Vail International Dance Festival, where he presents dance performances and commissions. Among his other recent projects have been “Lil Buck @ Le Poisson Rouge,” an award-winning show featuring Lil Buck, Yo-Yo Ma and an array of stellar musicians; an arts salute to Stephen Hawking at Lincoln Center; and the first performance of the White House Dance Series, which took place in the East Room of the White House and was hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. Woetzel works with Yo-Yo Ma on his Silk Road Connect program in the New York City Public Schools, and on “Arts Strike” events which they have pioneered as a format for artists to engage in public service. In 2012, Woetzel co-produced the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to honoree Natalia Makarova, and for the 2014 Honors he co-produced the salute to honoree Patricia McBride. In 2009, Woetzel became the founding director of the Jerome Robbins Foundation’s New Essential Works (NEW) Program, which over a five year period initiated grants to enable the production of 35 new dance works.
Woetzel was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet from 1989 until his retirement from the stage in 2008, where he had works created for him by Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, and Christopher Wheeldon, among others. During his career, Woetzel frequently performed internationally as a guest star and was a visiting artist with numerous companies including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre and starred in numerous television broadcasts and as the Cavalier in the Time Warner movie version of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Woetzel has also choreographed a number of ballets for NYCB and other companies.
Among his awards, in July 2012 Woetzel was honored with the inaugural Gene Kelly Legacy Award—an honor jointly created by the Dizzy Feet Foundation and the Estate of Gene Kelly in honor of the 100th anniversary of Kelly’s birth. Woetzel serves on the artists committee of the Kennedy Center Honors, the Knight Foundation’s National Arts Advisory Committee, and was a member of the Harvard University Task Force on the Arts. Woetzel holds an MPA degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In the fall of 2010 he was a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School where he co-taught a course on performing arts and the law. In November 2009, President Obama appointed Woetzel to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, where he has worked on creating the Turnaround Arts Program, which now brings arts education to some of the nation’s most challenged school districts.
Harvard University’s 23rd annual ARTS FIRST festival, showcasing student and faculty creativity, will take place Thursday-Sunday, April 30-May 3, 2015. Sponsored by Harvard’s Board of Overseers and produced by the Office for the Arts at Harvard with partners across the University, this year’s festival will feature more than 200 music, theater, dance, film, visual arts and multidisciplinary events at indoor and outdoor venues. All events are open to the public, most free of charge. For more information, contact the Office for the Arts at Harvard at 617.495.8676, or visit the ARTS FIRST web page.