A recent piece in the New York Times looked at the "growing gap between moviegoers and the academy" in the wake of low Oscar ratings and the fact that films like American Sniper, which was seen by over 40 million viewers, failed to win any major awards. The underlying message is that the Academy is out of touch with the interests and tastes of the general movie-going public.
The Academy is aware of this perceived disconnect. As the Times noted, "In 2009, Academy officials increased their field of best picture nominees, from five to a maximum of 10, in a bid to embrace large, world-spanning films — The Dark Knight, Inception — that are the pinnacle of populist art."
However, based on the Nielsen data revealing that the program drew about 36.6 million viewers, the lowest-rated show since 2009, that strategy didn't exactly work.
But that doesn't mean other organizations can't try it, right? Take the Lincoln Center Segal Awards, for example. For the past 28 years, the awards honored two rising artists chosen by two of Lincoln Center's 11 resident organizations. The $7,500 awards were to be used for career advancement and future study. The ceremony itself consisted of a luncheon. The whole production was abnormally low-key.
Well, that was then.
This year, the awards will be presented at a gala event in Alice Tully Hall. The evening's presenters include composer Jason Robert Brown; Louis Langrée, the Mostly Mozart Festival’s music director; and Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, New York City Ballet dancers.
And taking a page from the Oscar handbook, the ceremony will honor 11 artists, rather than merely two. The honorees include:
- Pianists Shai Wosner and Inon Barnatan
- Actor Sheldon Best
- Sopranos Julia Bullock and Ying Fang
- The Escher String Quartet
- Dancers Silas Farley, Alec Knight, and Claire Kretzschmar
- Filmmaker Matías Piñeiro
- Musician Camille Thurman
Upon further reflection, I wish I could say the center expanded the awards in an effort to mimic the Oscars and create a "bigger tent," and with it, more exposure for both the awards and the winners. That may very well be true. But there's also a little issue of arithmetic at play here. As previously noted, the Lincoln Center has 11 resident organizations. For the last 28 years, two artists were chosen by only two of the 11 organizations, effectively shutting out the other nine.
By expanding the field to 11 awards, the Center is simply giving each resident organization the opportunity to honor a rising artist — while doling out an extra $67,500 in the process. Sounds simple enough.
(Besides, given last week's Oscars telecast, perhaps the center shouldn't be taking award-giving cues from the Academy anyway.)