WASHINGTON – Denise Saunders Thompson, associate dean of administration in the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, was presented with the 2021 National Medal of Arts by President Biden during an East Room ceremony at the White House held Tuesday. Thompson received the award on behalf of the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD).
“Receiving this National Medal of Arts award is a significant milestone in the history of this organization. It acknowledges the work, years of dedication by so many and endless contributions of Black people in Dance,” said Thompson. “This award from President Biden and the National Endowment for the Arts is so incredibly gratifying. It gives me more encouragement, hope and drive to continue the journey of moving forward. I am so honored!”
Thompson serves as the president and chief executive officer of IABD, an organization created to preserve and promote dance by people of African ancestry or origin, while assisting and increasing opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring. Thompson has served as the president and CEO of IABD since 2017 and previously held the position of executive director.
The award ceremony will feature awardees of the 2021 National Humanities Medals and the 2021 National Medals of Arts. The United States Government’s National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists, arts patrons, and groups. The award honors exemplary individuals and organizations that advance American arts and offer inspiration to others through their distinguished achievement, support, or patronage. Individuals or groups whose work has deepened and broadened American citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects are honored.
Thompson is co-founder of PlayRight Performing Arts Center, Inc., a non-profit arts organization in Atlanta, Georgia, and former Business Manager for The Malone Group, Inc. a non-profit arts organization in Washington, D.C. that co-produced “Black Nativity” at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for six years. In April 2015, she completed 17 years of service at Howard University in the capacities of Professor, Theatre Manager/ Producing Artistic Director for the Department of Theatre Arts and Manager of Cramton Auditorium.
She is also the president and chief executive officer of D.d.Saunders & Associates, Inc., a comprehensive fine arts advisory firm offering artist management/ representation, arts producing, consulting, and production services.
Freelancing in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and across the nation in production and arts management, Thompson has held positions at Debbie Allen Dance Academy, National Black Arts Festival, 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, National Endowment for the Arts, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art, and various other arts initiatives.
Below is the list of 2021 recipients:
2021 National Medal of Arts Recipients
Judith Francisca Baca: Judith Francisca Baca’s collaborative work has turned forgotten histories into public memory—pioneering an art form that empowers communities to reclaim public space with dignity and pride.
Fred Eychaner: From dance and architecture to arts education and a lifetime of LGBTQI+ advocacy, Fred Eychaner has helped give millions of people strength to be themselves and moved our country forward.
Jose Feliciano: Over 60 years, 60 albums, and 600 songs, Jose Feliciano has opened hearts and built bridges—overcoming obstacles, never losing faith, and enriching the goodness and greatness of the Nation.
Mindy Kaling: Imbued with humor and heart, Mindy Kaling’s work across television, film, and books inspires and delights—capturing and uplifting the experiences of women and girls across our Nation.
Gladys Knight: Gladys Knight’s exceptional talent influenced musical genres—from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop—and inspired generations of artists, captivated by her soundtrack of a golden age in American music.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: As one of the most decorated comedic actors of our time, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has blazed a trail for women in comedy and across American life through her commitment to excellence and the power of her example.
Antonio Martorell-Cardona: Transcending generation and genre, Antonio Martorell-Cardona’s art exposes hard truths with whimsy and color, to help us remember and grow, as people and as a Nation.
Joan Shigekawa: Throughout her career, Joan Shigekawa has championed artists, created global exchanges, and promoted the power of the arts to heal, build strong economies, and help people and Nations reach their full potential.
Bruce Springsteen: One of our greatest performers and storytellers, Bruce Springsteen’s music celebrates our triumphs, heals our wounds, and gives us hope, capturing the unyielding spirit of what it means to be American.
Vera Wang: From the runway to red carpets to retail stores, Vera Wang’s modern designs and bridal collections express individualism and elegance, making beauty and style accessible to all.
The Billie Holiday Theatre: Channeling its namesake’s exploration of freedom and identity, The Billie Holiday Theatre cultivates some of our Nation’s most renowned Black actors, writers, designers, and musicians and has expanded the reach of American artistic expression and achievement.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance: Through teaching, training, and performance, The International Association of Blacks in Dance promotes dance by people of African ancestry and origin, explores and exchanges art, spans cultures and generations, and enriches the dance culture of America.
2021 National Humanities Medal Recipients
Richard Blanco: An award-winning poet and author, professor and public speaker, and son of Cuban immigrants, Richard Blanco’s powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our Nation’s highest ideals.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole: A scholar, anthropologist, and academic pace-setter, Johnnetta Betsch Cole’s pioneering work about the on-going contributions of Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African communities have advanced American understanding of Black culture and the necessity and power of racial inclusion in our Nation.
Walter Isaacson: Through the stories of our Nation’s remarkable citizens, Walter Isaacson’s work, words, and wisdom bridge divides between science and the humanities and between opposing philosophies, elevating discourse and our understanding of who we are as a Nation.
Earl Lewis: As a social historian and academic leader, Earl Lewis has made vital contributions to the field of Black history, educating generations of students, while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our Nation.
Henrietta Mann: The pioneering efforts of Henrietta, Ho’oesto’oona'e, Mann, led to programs and institutions across the country devoted to the study of Native American history and culture, honoring ancestors that came before and benefiting generations that follow.
Ann Patchett: With her best-selling novels and essays, and her bookstore, readers from around the world see themselves in the pages of Ann Patchett’s books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation.
Bryan Stevenson: An advocate fighting tirelessly for the poor, incarcerated, and condemned, Bryan Stevenson follows the Book of Micah’s instruction to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly as he chronicles the legacy of lynching and racism in America, shining a light on what has been and all that we can be as a Nation.
Amy Tan: By bravely exploring experiences of immigrant families, heritage, memories, and poignant struggles, Amy Tan’s writing makes sense of the present through the past and adds ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature.
Tara Westover: Tara Westover’s memoirs of family, religion, and the transformative power of education, has moved millions of readers and served as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people—and a Nation—free.
Colson Whitehead: With genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity, Colson Whitehead’s celebrated novels make real the African-American journey through our Nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and our ongoing march toward a more perfect Union.
Native America Calling: Through its interactive shows on the radio and online, Native America Calling educates the American public about Indigenous issues while preserving Indigenous history and culture to honor their contributions that strengthen the sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship.