POLIN Museum’s Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Smithsonian’s Lonnie G. Bunch III named Laureates of the international Dan David Prize for outstanding contributions in the field of Cultural Preservation
Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Lonnie G. Bunch III have been named the 2020 Dan David Prize laureates in the field of Cultural Preservation and Revival. Their remarkable careers as scholars and curators reflect a profound dedication to the mission of cultural preservation. Each has played a crucial role in establishing an influential museum that explores a sweep of history and illuminates the past: In Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s case – POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, and in Bunch’s – the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C..
The internationally renowned Dan David Prize, headquartered at Tel Aviv University, annually awards three prizes of US $1 million each to globally inspiring individuals and organizations. The total purse of US $3 million makes the prize not only one of the most prestigious, but also one of the highest-value prizes internationally. Laureates are selected on the basis of their outstanding achievements and contributions in the year’s chosen fields, each representing a time category – past, present, and future.
University Professor Emerita Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is a distinguished scholar of Performance studies and of Jewish Studies at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2006, she was asked to lead the development of the core exhibition of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw (The Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator). The Museum was established as a public-private partnership of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, the City of Warsaw, and Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Housing a multi-media narrative exhibition tracing the 1000-year history of Polish Jews, the museum was built on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is a “bridge across time", telling the story literally where it took place. It is also an effort to re-animate a vibrant and culturally rich vanished Jewish world, which Prof. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has spent a lifetime exploring. In 2016, the museum received the European Museum of the Year Award. Almost 4 million people have visited POLIN Museum during its first five years.
She has taught courses on the aesthetics of everyday life, world's fairs, museums, tourism, and heritage. Her numerous publications have influenced critical heritage studies and the interpretation of diverse aspects of Jewish culture and experience. These include the award-winning They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust, coauthored with her father, Mayer Kirshenblatt, which was followed by an exhibition and a film. Image before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939, with Łódź ghetto survivor Lucjan Dobroszycki, was a landmark exhibition, which became a book and the basis for a film.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, the Mlotek Prize for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture, and was honored for lifetime achievement by the Foundation for Jewish Culture. She serves on advisory boards for Jewish museums in Vienna, Berlin, and Moscow. In reaction to the award, she said: "I accept the award for everyone who is committed to transmitting the legacy of Polish Jews to future generations. I accept the award on behalf of all those who foster dialogue in the spirit of mutual understanding and respect. This is what the POLIN Museum stands for; this is what the David Dan Prize stands for; this is what I stand for."
Lonnie G. Bunch III was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s inspiring National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Today, he serves as the Smithsonian’s 14th Secretary – the first historian and first African-American to be appointed to this position.
In a feat of determination and commitment, Bunch transformed his vision – a museum that conveys the full scope of African American history – into reality. He led the construction of the museum’s prize-winning building on the National Mall, worked with Congress to secure funding for the museum, developed the concept, and guided the formation of the museum’s 40,000-exhibit collection and the installation of its opening exhibitions. The museum has been critically praised for its clear-sighted, unflinching portrayal of the African American experience.
In previous roles, he developed landmark projects, such as “Smithsonian’s America,” which explored the history, culture, and diversity of the U.S. and “Teen Chicago,” a highly praised exhibit and program on teenage life. A prolific scholar and author, Bunch has written on topics ranging from slavery to the presidency and American museums.
The Dan David Prize was established by the late Mr. Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist whose vision is the driving force behind the international Dan David Prize. His aim was to reward those who have made a lasting impact on society and to help young students and entrepreneurs become the scholars and leaders of the future.
Ariel David, director of the Dan David Foundation and son of the prize founder, said: “We are very proud of the unique model the Dan David Prize applies in turning the spotlight on endeavors that often do not fall under traditional prize categories, yet result in outstanding contributions to humanity, defining who we are and shaping our future.” The model implements a ‘roving’ formula that rewards achievements in all fields of human endeavor, rather than in a fixed set of categories, and every year, a new theme is selected for each of the three time categories – past, present, and future. Along with the Cultural Preservation and Revival award, the 2020 Dan David Prize recognizing achievements in Gender Equality (Present category) will be bestowed upon prof. Debora Diniz and Prof. Gita Sen, and in Artificial Intelligence (Future category), upon Prof. Amnon Shashua and Dr. Demis Hassabis.
Previous Dan David Prize laureates include journalist and activist Adam Michnik (2006) cellist Yo-Yo Ma (2006); former US Vice President Al Gore (2008); novelist Margaret Atwood (2010); filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen (2011); distinguished economist and Nobel Laureate, Esther Duflo (2013); social activist, theater producer, essayist, and publisher Krzysztof Czyzewski (2014); and astronomer and astrophysicist Prof. Andrzej Udalski (2017).
The laureates donate 10% of their award money to scholarships for graduate or post-graduate researchers in their respective fields.
Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Lonnie G. Bunch III, along with the four other laureates, will be honored at the 2020 Dan David Prize award ceremony, to be held in Tel Aviv in May 2020.
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