Philadanco founder, landscape architect to receive medal

Joan Myers Brown, founder in 1960 of Philadanco.
Joan Myers Brown, founder in 1960 of Philadanco.
Posted: July 05, 2013

Dancer and choreographer Joan Myers Brown, the founder of Philadanco and a commanding presence in the world of dance and arts education, and Laurie Olin, whose landscape-architecture firm is responsible for revitalizing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and many other public spaces in the city, have been named recipients of the National Medal of the Arts, the White House announced Wednesday.

In announcing the 12 winners of the nation's highest civic honor for excellence in the arts, President Obama cited Brown, 80, for carving out "an artistic haven for African American dancers and choreographers to innovate, create, and share their unique visions with the national and global dance communities."

She founded her dance school in Philadelphia in 1960, a time when formal dance was segregated and African Americans were virtually excluded from serious training in white schools and companies. In 1970, Philadanco was launched.

"It's totally unexpected," Brown said of the award. "Totally exciting."

She is in the midst of preparing for a trip to Chile, where Philadanco will become the first American dance company to perform at the Danza Patagonia festival in Frutillar.

Obama cited Olin, 74, for "his acute sense of harmony and balance between nature and design," and noted that Olin has "dedicated his energy to shaping many iconic spaces around the world and to educating new leaders in his art."

The awards will be bestowed Wednesday at a ceremony at the White House.

In addition to the Philadelphia winners, nine other artists and one organization will receive the award: musician Herb Alpert; arts patron Lin Arison; soprano Renée Fleming; writer Ernest Gaines; sculptor Ellsworth Kelly; playwright Tony Kushner; moviemaker George Lucas; filmmaker, writer, and actress Elaine May; musician and composer Allen Toussaint; and the Washington Performing Arts Society.

The White House also announced winners of the National Humanities Medal: Edward L. Ayers, Henrico, Va.; William G. Bowen, Princeton; Jill Ker Conway, Boston; Natalie Zemon Davis, Toronto; Frank Deford, New York City; Joan Didion, New York City; Robert Putnam¸ Cambridge, Mass.; Marilynne Robinson, Iowa City, Iowa; Kay Ryan, Fairfax, Calif.; Robert B. Silvers, New York City; Anna Deavere Smith, New York City; and Camilo José Vergara, New York City.


Contact Stephan Salisbury

at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @SPSalisbury.

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