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Last-Ever Round Of Annenberg Arts Fellowships Announced

Apr 11, 2017

Careers in the fine arts can't be created with love or money. But the right combination of the two at the right time has boosted any number of recipients of the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts, which has distributed $6 million to 70 artists over 10 years and which will formally announce its final round of grants Wednesday at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Recipients have included ballet star Misty Copeland, Broadway's Bryce Pinkham, Moonlight actor Andre Holland, and numerous opera singers, including soprano Brenda Rae (who had a big success in Opera Philadelphia's Tancredi this year). The program was intended from its inception to end this year -- the technical term is a "wasting endowment," created to be spent and then concluded -- so the 2017 recipients will be its last.

The fund has already told this year's recipients about their awards, and it provided their names to the Inquirer in advance of Wednesday's announcement. They are: mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, ballet dancer Cassandra Trenary, actors Ato Blankson-Wood and Ruibo Qian, visual artists Herman Aguirre and Emily Erb, and cellists Khari Joyner and Jia Kim.

The idea of the endowment isn't specifically to create the stars of tomorrow. "There's no guarantee that it will work. We all know that," said director Gail Levin, who has administrated the grants at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. "We try to increase the chances that they will achieve at least some of their goals."

This year's grantees are from diverse backgrounds with strong educational pedigrees. Another priority among many is a sense of social conscience in their work.

Example: Philadelphia painter Erb, who has degrees from the Tyler School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, creates silk paintings that touch on all manner of social issues, most recently Lady Liberty, a painting made from a collage of images from U.S. currency in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.