If You're a Performing Artist, It Doesn't Get Much Better Than This Award. Discuss.

How does Fred Hersch feel about receiving a Doris Duke Artist Award in the jazz category?

"I'm just blown away," he said.

We'd concur—and we'd probably sprinkle in a few colorful expletives just for good measure.

That's because each recipient of a Doris Duke Artist Award receives $275,000—including an unrestricted, multi-year cash grant of $225,000, plus as much as $25,000 more in targeted support for audience development and as much as $25,000 more for "personal reserves or creative exploration during what are usually retirement years for most Americans."

That's about as good as it gets for performing artists these days.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) recently announced that 21 performing artists received $275,000 each as part of its Doris Duke Artists Awards, a program that has supported 101 artists with a total of $27.7 million since 2012. The recipient breakdown is more or less even across the three fields served by the program: six for theater, seven for dance, and eight for jazz. 

From our in-depth analysis of Duke's (brief) press release, it seems as if, at least for this round, the foundation doesn't favor a specific philosophical or political bent. For example, it avoided a lot of the language associated with the recent spate of "artist as activist" grants. Rather, program recipients were simply

...visionaries who have already made important contributions to their respective fields. We hope these awards enhance their capacities for exploration and experimentation, in keeping with Doris Duke’s adventurous spirit. DDCF looks forward to their continued creativity, as their work is not only important to the creative sector, but vital to the vibrancy of our society, as well.

This absence of an overriding thematic ingredient stands in contrast to last year's award recipients. As we noted at the time:

Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the foundation said, "This year's class is particularly notable for their collective, strong and consistent commitment to touring and working in multiple communities, enabling them to have enormous impact on artists and audiences in every corner of the country." (Emphasis added.)

The contrast, mind you, is very subtle, and you shouldn't read too much into it. (But when you're paid to intricately comb through press releases like we worker bees at IP, these types of things inevitably jump out at you.)

Beyond the sheer magnitude of the gift itself, we were also struck by Duke's support for artists in their "retirement years." Needless to say, creating some sort financial cushion for a secure and productive retirement is huge. 

And so we'll let Fred Hersch, reveling in his newly found retirement "personal reserves," have the last word: "Given the health struggles that I’ve experienced over the years, it’s remarkable that I’m alive: I never expected to be 40, and now I’m 60. I feel like I’m still getting better at what I do, and that keeps me going."