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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

APAP Awards honor Ping Chong, outgoing APAP prez Mario Garcia Durham


From left: 2020 APAP Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts recipient Ping Chong, former acting chairman and former senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Joan Shigekawa, and APAP president/CEO Mario Garcia Durham (Photo by Adam Kissick for APAP)

The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) honored artists, visionaries and advocates in the performing arts business Monday at its Annual Awards Ceremony, which celebrates individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a significant impact on the industry and communities they serve both in the U.S. and abroad.

“We artists work because we must,” said Ping Chong, the APAP 2020 Award of Merit honoree. “We create in the hope of connecting with other human beings. This honor that APAP has gifted me confirms that a connection has indeed been made. I am deeply humbled by this award.”

Internationally acclaimed theatrical innovator Chong produces theatrical works addressing important cultural and civic issues concerning race, history, art, media and technology. His productions range from intimate oral history projects to grand scale cinematic multi-disc productions featuring puppets, performers, and full music and projection scores.

Presenting Chong’s Award of Merit, former acting chairman and former senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Joan Shigekawa cited his expansion of “the definition of what theater could become.”

“Being an artist is like being paid to be yourself,” said Chong, who was born in Toronto and raised in New York’s Chinatown.

“This nation was built by exploited immigrants and the enslavement of black people—also the genocide of First Nations peoples,” he added, but he recognized that “the true complexion of this nation is an overwhelming fact now.”

Asserting that America was “built by monoculture,” Chong asked, “Will we move forward to include everyone, or will we shut the door once again?”

Also at the awards presentation, which took place at the New York Hilton Midtown, the Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts went to the League of American Orchestras, which leads, supports and champions America’s orchestras and the vitality of the music they perform. Emil Kang, former executive and artistic director of Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, received The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming.

This year’s NAPAMA (North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents) Presenter of the Year award winner was Shane Fernando, executive and artistic director at the Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, N.C. The NAPAMA Liz Silverstein Award for Agent-Manager of the Year went to Rachel Cohen, executive director of Cadence Arts Network, Inc.

Finally, the Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Service to the Field of Professional Presenting was given to Rena Shagan, president of Rena Shagan Arts, Inc.

“As our industry welcomes a new decade, this year’s honorees exemplify those individuals and organizations that have charted extraordinary paths for the progress our field has made in advocacy, achievement and artistic endeavors,” said APAP president/CEO Mario Garcia Durham. “Our arts ecosystem is stronger today because of their efforts and commitment to the field.”

As Durham is leaving his post, The National Endowment for the Arts honored him with a proclamation commemorating his more than 20 years as a performing arts professional, leader, and advocate. NEA chairman Mary Anne Carter made the presentation prior to the other awards, saluting Durham for such accomplishments during his tenure as changing the name of APAP from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters to Professionals, as well as promoting a policy of REDI (racial equity, diversity and inclusion)--and a board reflecting it.

Carter also praised Durham’s “warm embrace of arts,” which he often referred to as “the big embrace.” Heather Noonan, VP of advocacy for the League of American Orchestras, likewise cited Durham’s “leadership, partnership, and above all, kindness.”

Backed by piano and saxophone, jazz singer Stacey Kent serenaded Durham with the pop standard “I Thought About You,” while photos of Durham’s APAP tenure flashed on the projection screen above.




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