Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2001

Arthur Mitchell

Jacques d'Amboise and Arthur Mitchell share the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for moving beyond their own individual achievements as two of America's - and the world's - premier classical dancers. They have individually rededicated their extraordinary talents to offer inner-city children a golden glimpse of a world not governed by poverty, deprivation or conflict, but rather one of discipline, of dreams, of hope - a world of art.

As young men, both resisted the potentially destructive enticements of the mean streets of their New York City neighborhoods, Mr. d'Amboise in Washington Heights and the Harlem of Mr. Mitchell. Their talent was unmistakable, however, and led both of them to careers with the New York City Ballet in the 1950s. Mr. d'Amboise electrified audiences with his virility and exuberant athleticism. Mr. Mitchell, as the first black male dancer to become a member of a major ballet company, was mesmerizing in his elegance and strength.

Despite their successes, neither of these incredibly talented dancers was content to rest on his professional laurels. In 1969, Mr. Mitchell responded to the death of Martin Luther King Jr. with a determination to share with the children of Harlem the kind of opportunities he felt had been given to him and so, 30 years ago, in a New York City garage, the Dance Theatre of Harlem was born. In a similar personal commitment, in 1976, Mr. d'Amboise founded the National Dance Institute, the goal of which was to permit inner-city school children the opportunity to experience, as he had, the sheer joy of pursuing excellence in an art form, be it dance, painting or music.

Today, the Dance Theatre of Harlem is a world-famous institution, credited with playing the single most significant role in helping to break down racial stereotypes in dance and with pioneering a uniquely American perspective in classical ballet. Arthur Mitchell's extraordinary commitment to identifying and developing artistic talent has provided a chance for professional achievement and recognition in the arts for scores of leading dancers who might otherwise have been denied the chance to share their creativity. The Dance Theatre of Harlem, its birth, survival and success, ranks as one of this nation's most inspiring cultural achievements.

Likewise, the National Dance Institute is today one of the nation's largest arts education organizations, having fostered a heightened awareness of the arts and self in over a half million urban students. Using a distinctive combination of dance classes, performances and educational materials, the Institute offers a unique experience in developing self-esteem, discipline and a standard of achievement among inner-city youth. Its success must be credited to its founder's commitment to make the arts accessible to all children as an integral part of their education and with performance goals that inspire hard work and perseverance.

Jacques d'Amboise and Arthur Mitchell have demonstrated that it is simply not sufficient just to be legends. They have generously taken their individual joy in dancing and channeled it into new directions. In the process, they continue to nourish the spirit of young people by using their art to instill feelings of hope, courage, understanding and pride in those who might otherwise never know such accomplishments.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


REMEMBERING

Arthur Mitchell passed away on September 19, 2018.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

May 2006 - Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem receives a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation. The grant "will fund the DTH School and Dancing Through Barriers" education and outreach program. - Dance Theatre of Harlem

February 2006 - Mitchell and his Dance Theatre of Harlem are honored at the White House for positive achievements and advancements within the African-American community. A lavish party at the White House features dancers from the company. - The Washington Post

December 2004 - The Dance Theatre of Harlem re-opens its doors after a six-week hiatus due to funding issues. The landmark school re-opens thanks to over $1.6 million in foundation and corporate grants as well as a $500,000 anonymous gift. - The New York Times

November 2004 - Mitchell is honored with the prized Tower Award during the Russian Nights Festival at Lincoln Center. The award, which is traditionally "presented to significant and respected international personalities who, through their work, have inspired and made significant contributions to world culture." The award goes to Mitchell for being a pivotal leader in the world of dance. - New York Amsterdam News

August 2004 - Mitchell receives Dance/USA's 2004 honors for his contributions to dance in America. - Dance Magazine

Speech

3/5/2001 - Acceptance Speech

Good evening, and thank you very much. Jacques, I can't imagine we're still doing this, but we are. And the wonderful thing is that, my mother wanted me to be a teacher or a preacher so, I'm doing both. And so, I'm going to say thank you to Teresa, the Heinz Foundation, and all the nominees. I'm very proud, I'm very honored to be here, but the thought that I'd like to leave with all of you is - the arts ignite the mind. They give you the possibility to dream and hope, and in our society, with technology abounding the way it is, that's what young people need. And we need to keep that balance.

This is my 52nd year in the business, I'll be 67 years old next month, and I found the fountain of youth. It is being with youth. That's what it's simply about. But I thank you very much for this Award, and you know, like a salmon swimming up stream, there are moments when you have things that there's a plateau, then something will happen and you can go for it for another decade, and that's what the Heinz Award has done for me. I've got another 12 more years, and Teresa, thank you very much.
Arthur Mitchell