While celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Billie Holiday Theatre in Bed-Stuy has received one of the nation's highest arts honors.
“We are honored and grateful to have received a National Medal of Arts in recognition of the Billie’s impact and continued commitment to telling Black stories and redefining the arts community in New York,” said Blondel Pinnock, president and CEO of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.
On March 23, Pinnock accepted the 2021 National Medal of Arts on behalf of the Billie Holiday Theatre at a ceremony celebrating the 2021 honorees.
President Joe Biden presented the medal at the ceremony, which was held in the east room of the White House.
“The National Medal of Arts recipients have helped to define and enrich our nation’s cultural legacy through their lifelong passionate commitment. We are a better nation because of their contributions. Their work helps us see the world in different ways. It inspires us to reach our full potential and recognize our common humanity,” said the National Endowment for the Arts chair, Maria Rosario Jackson.
Now a community staple, the Billie Holiday Theatre was originally founded by the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in 1972.
“Culture is at the center of all we do, and we are thrilled to see the Billie receive the nation's most prestigious arts award as it celebrates 50 years of essential and unwavering support for Black creative expression,” said Pinnock.
The theatre has always been dedicated to elevating the voices of Black artists. It was opened with the intention of exposing the rest of the county to Bed-Stuy, one of the largest artistic Black communities in America.
Over the years, the Billie has elevated critical voices of Black artists such as Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen and others.
The theatre’s programming largely focuses on producing, presenting and commissioning new and classic works and festivals in theater, dance, music, visual arts and film.
“Restoration and the Billie have long played a critical role in providing opportunities and resources for young Black artists to develop their craft, share their stories and be a driving force in shaping the cultural landscape of Brooklyn for generations," said Brooklyn borough president, Antonio Reynoso. “This incredible honor is a testament to the outstanding work being done to enrich our communities and inspire generations of young artists to pursue their dreams, right in the heart of Brooklyn."
The National Medal of Arts is awarded annually. In the past, it has honored a wide range of artists and culturally significant institutions and organizations, such as the Apollo Theater and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In addition to the Billie, 2021 Medal of Arts recipients include:
- Mindy Kaling
- Bruce Springsteen
- Gladys Knight
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- Antonio Martorell-Cardona
- Vera Wang
- The International Association of Blacks in Dance
For a full list of recipients, click here.