Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris Receives 2020 Doris Duke Artist Award

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) announced today the names of the 2020 Doris Duke Artists, each receiving an award of $275,000 intended as an investment in and celebration of these artists’ ongoing contributions to the fields of contemporary dance, jazz and theater. A total of $250,000 of the prize is completely unrestricted, and $25,000 is dedicated to encouraging savings for retirement. The awards are not tied to specific projects; rather, they are available to artists to attend to important life needs that can help artists thrive. As one of many ways DDCF is upping its support to individual artists in response to the impacts of Covid-19 on the arts sector, the foundation is expanding the number of artists receiving Doris Duke Artist Awards to a total of eight for 2020, up from six the previous year.

Half of the 2020 Doris Duke Artist Awards recipients are receiving the award for their impact on dance, including Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris.

“I was shell shocked when they told me I was a 2020 Doris Duke Artist,” said Harris. “The Doris Duke Artist Award couldn’t have come at a better time for me given the effects of the pandemic on some of my contracts. This award will help me better sustain the financial impacts of this environment and greatly help me personally. It will help me get my financial house in order, so to speak.” 

Additional dance recipients this year included Ana María Alvarez, Sean Dorsey, and Pam Tanowitz. 

“The work of this year’s Doris Duke Artist Award recipients is profoundly inspiring and brings vibrancy, insight, gravity and light to the world,” said Ed Henry, president and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “We believe that the arts are critically important to the well-being of our nation, and at the heart of the arts is the individual artist. We take great pride in supporting these outstanding artists as they continue to develop and share their talent.” 

“The 2020 class of Doris Duke Artists consists of an extraordinary set of creative visionaries, and we are thrilled to award them with this support,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Each of them has earned this well-deserved recognition, as attested to by a body of their peers through an incredibly rigorous nomination and review process. Our intent for this award has always been to enable its recipients to invest in their own well-being in ways that create the right conditions for them to continue to flourish and do their best work. Amid a year like no other in recent memory, the importance of this aim should be readily apparent to all.”

Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris is considered the pioneer of street dance theater and a choreographer internationally known for creating a cohesive dance style, both staunchly rooted in and expanding the boundaries of hip-hop, that finds a cogent voice in the theater. Born and raised in an African-American community in North Philadelphia, in 1992 he founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop and street dance theater company dedicated to preserving and disseminating hip-hop culture and bringing these dance forms to the traditional stage. In 2012, Rennie Harris Puremovement was chosen to be part of DanceMotion USA, the Obama Administration’s U.S. Department of State cultural exchange program produced in partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as one of four companies to serve as citizen-diplomats to tour Egypt, Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan. His work “Rennie Harris Funkedified” (2018) is a multi-media dance creation that challenges audiences to reevaluate what they think they know as hip-hop dance and culture in a celebration of the street dance and funk music of the 1970s. Some of his other notable works include “Lazarus” (2018), “Lifted” (2017), “Straight Outta Philly” (2016), “Exodus” (2015) and “Heaven: A B-Girl Ballet” (2014).

Voted one of the most influential people in the last 100 years of Philadelphia history, Harris has been recognized with many awards and prizes, including three Bessie Awards, three Alvin Ailey Black Choreographers Awards, an Ethnic Dance Award, the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for choreography, a nomination for a Lawrence Olivier Award (U.K.), a “Philadelphia Rocky” award, Governor’s Artist of the Year Award, a USA Fellowship and was voted one of Philadelphia’s Creative Ambassadors in 2010. He received two honorary doctorates in the Arts and Humanities from Bates College and in the Fine Arts from Columbia College Chicago.