The 33rd annual Mayor’s Arts Awards (MAA) which recognizes D.C.’s diverse cultural arts, had something for everyone last week at the Lincoln Theatre, with performances from go-go to stepping to jazz mixing with presentations of numerous individual and group awards.
Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off the Sept. 25 event by giving the first award to go-go luminaries Rare Essence. More than 20 current and former members of the group came onstage to thunderous applause to accept the MAA for Lifetime Achievement.
“I hope you guys know what you do for us,” said Rare Essence member James “Jas.Funk” Thomas. “When we go out and we just want to party, you’re always there.”
The awards program is produced under the auspices of the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities. Fifteen commissioners, representing all eight city wards, review and offer recommendations that drive and prioritize the work of the commission.
“It’s a lot of work and it takes a big team to put on this awards program,” said Commissioner José Alberto Uclés from Ward 5 and chairman of the MAA.
Actor and native Washingtonian Lamman Rucker, who served as the master of ceremonies, kept the audience hyped by throwing out names of local talent in front of and behind the scenes in arts and entertainment. An alumnus of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Rucker was excited to put the spotlight on the city that supported his educational and professional pursuit of cultural arts.
“It is always nice when your hometown asks you back to shed light on what an incredible town this is,” he said. “This is where a big part of who I am as an artist has been shaped.”
Another local favorite that received enthusiastic acknowledgement was Step Afrika Founder and Executive Director C. Brian Williams. He thanked the commission for many years of support and told the audience to expect big things in 2019 as Step Afrika celebrates its 25th anniversary.
More funding for arts programs in the District was a consistent thread from several Commissioners at the annual gala. Appreciation for advancements that have been made was followed with a desire to continue building support for the arts in the District.
“With more funding, we can provide more spaces and access for the arts,” said Commissioner Josef Palermo from Ward 1, who espoused his passion for performance art. “I think we are well on our way as the mayor has approved a budget increase for the arts.”
Frank Smith, executive director of the African American Civil War Museum, which received the Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in the Humanities, lauded the commission for its part in the District’s economic turnaround.
“The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has played a big role in the redevelopment of our city,” Smith said. “Of course, we represent a major museum that is at a subway stop, bringing lots of tourism to this area.”
Continuing to offer arts programs to young people, is a top interest for Commissioner MaryAnn Miller, who has represented Ward 3 for six years on the commission. She was excited to give Allyn Johnson, director of jazz studies at the University of the District of Columbia, the MAA for Distinguished Honor.
“The commission supports art education programs,” Miller said. “It’s a good place for me to promote what I feel so strongly about — young people with talent and giving them the opportunity to excel.”
The evening also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Interim Commission Executive Director Angie Gates touted how the commission has supported cultural programs that have touched all corners of the city.
“To celebrate 50 years and to look at how we have grown speaks volumes,” said Gates, who also is director the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment. “D.C. is such a vibrant and diverse community. We have something special in each ward and I am just happy to be a part of it.”
2018 Mayor’s Arts Honor Awards
Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor
Allyn Johnson, director of jazz studies, University of the District of Columbia
Mayor’s Arts Award for Visionary Leadership
C. Brian Williams, founder and executive director, Step Afrika
Mayor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement
2018 Mayor’s Arts Awards
Excellence in Creative Industries
DC Jazz Festival
Excellence in Humanities
African American Civil War Museum
Larry Neal Writers’ Award – Youth
Larry Neal Writers’ Award – Adult
Excellence in Arts Education
Young Playwrights’ Theater
Excellence in Visual Arts
Cory L. Stowers
Excellence in Performing Arts
Chloe and Maud Arnold