Friday, June 11, 2021

Photo of the Leadership Award trophy, a glass cube topped with a purple and orange teardrop shape.

Americans for the Arts announced today the recipients of the 2021 Americans for the Arts Leadership Awards at Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention. Given annually, the awards recognize the achievements of individuals and organizations committed to enriching their communities through the arts. This year’s awards recipients are:

  • Alma Robinson – Michael Newton Award, which recognizes an individual for their innovation in developing arts and business partnerships for the arts and/or long-term achievement in effective and creative techniques to engage the private sector.
  • Jean Tokuda Irwin – Arts Education Award, which recognizes transformational leadership in arts education through strategic planning, strong programming, and the engagement of partners to achieve community goals.
  • Julie Baker – Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award, which honors an individual at the state level whose arts advocacy efforts have dramatically affected the political landscape.
  • Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer – Selina Roberts Ottum Award, which recognizes an individual working in arts management who has made a meaningful contribution to their local community and who exemplifies extraordinary leadership qualities.
  • Christine Her – American Express Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes visionary leadership by an individual who is a new and/or young arts leader who demonstrates an ability to engage and impact their community.

“My heartfelt congratulations to these passionate leaders and advocates. They have implemented innovative and transformative programs to strengthen the communities they serve, and their unwavering commitment to local, state, and national support for the arts is deserving of this recognition,” said Nolen V. Bivens, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts.

2021 Americans for the Arts Leadership Awardee Bios

Alma Robinson, Michael Newton Award
As the Executive Director of California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA), Alma Robinson leads a multi-faceted, statewide organization with offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Berkeley. While overseeing CLA’s legal referral, education, advocacy, and alternative dispute resolution programs, she has led several groundbreaking initiatives including the Arts-in-Corrections Initiative, a collaborative effort that resulted in an initial two-year $2.5 million contract between the state’s  Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Arts Council for arts programs in 20 California prisons in 2014. This pilot project has now expanded into an $8 million/year fund for arts classes in all 35 state prisons. CLA is currently funded by the NEA to replicate the demonstration projects in collaboration with state and local arts councils in New York, Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Robinson serves on the national policy committees of the Free at Last Coalition and the Abolish Slavery National Network—organizations that are working to replace the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A former journalist at the Washington Star, Robinson was a founding board member of California Arts Advocates and the Museum of the African Diaspora, and served as a trustee of the San Francisco Opera Association and Mills College. She is a graduate of Middlebury College and Stanford Law School.

Jean Tokuda Irwin, Arts Education Award
Jean Tokuda Irwin, holds a B.A/M.A. from the University of Texas Permian Basin, and currently serves as Arts Education Program Manager for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. She serves on NASAA/AE’s Diversity, Equity, Access & Inclusion Group and NEA/POL Accessibility Working Group, Spy Hop Advisory Board, Emerald Hills Institute Board. Past service includes panelist for the NEA, sister SAAs, and President’s Committee for Arts and Humanities Education; NASAA/AE Advisory Group & Leadership Taskforce, Coalition for Minorities Advisory Committee to the Utah State Board of Education; the Utah Indian Education Taskforce; National PTA Board of Directors (added dance and film/video to national Reflections Program); adjunct faculty - Odessa College, Galveston College, Western Texas College, and Director of Museums (History & Art). Irwin received the Utah Human Rights award/Utah Counselors Association, Ruby Chacon Award for Arts and Social Justice, the Sorensen Legacy Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arts Education, and Utahns for Culture Special Honoree. Irwin’s mixed media work appeared in the 2002 Cultural Olympiad featuring 20 works by Utahns and, most recently, in the Clay, Paper, Scissors Gallery in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a serial fondler of books and crafts visual journals, is an independent world cinema addict who loves traveling, weird foreign foods, and squiggly ingredients. She abhors bottled water and plastics.

Julie Baker, Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award
As the Executive Director of California’s statewide arts advocacy organizations since 2018, Julie Baker has worked to increase the legislative clout and visibility of the arts and culture communities by building coalition across the for and nonprofit sectors of California’s creative industries, producing a month-long arts awareness and advocacy campaign every April, and fighting for resources and legislation to serve and protect artists and cultural workers. She serves as the California State Captain to Americans for the Arts' National Arts Action Summit, on the State Arts Action Network Council, and as co-chair of the Western Arts Advocacy network for WESTAF. She is on the board of California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, a founding member of the Nevada County Relief Fund advisory council, and was elected to the Nevada County school board in November of 2020. Over the years, Baker has owned a fine arts gallery for emerging artists, co-founded Flow art fair—a satellite to Art Basel Miami Beach—opened a consulting firm Julie Baker Projects and curated an annual music series at the Crocker Art Museum. Earlier in her career she was president of her family’s arts marketing firm in New York City and worked at Christie’s Auction house before moving to California in 1998. Baker also served for eight years as the Executive Director of The Center for the Arts, a nonprofit performing arts venue, and California WorldFest, an annual music and camping festival located in Grass Valley, California. She is the recipient of the inaugural Peggy Levine Arts & Community Service Award from the Nevada County Arts Council.

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Selina Roberts Ottum Award
Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts with a lot to say about this work we do as artists and for artists. “Artists thriving at the centrality of their communities” is Lee Krakauer’s vision for the borough of Queens, renowned for being one of the most diverse places in the United States. This work can only be done through trust and the willingness to validate each other’s contribution, one artist, one neighborhood at a time. Under Lee Krakauer’s leadership, artists from over 157 countries are valued and visible in self-defined communities, as creative leaders, advocates, and makers. Lee Krakauer has served on many boards and panels including The Writers Room, Tony Bennett’s Exploring the Arts Foundation, and the NYC Mayor’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission. Read more at and follow @hoongyeelee on Instagram for a daily cartoon about how to make art, make a difference, and make life amazing for all of us.

Christine Her, American Express Emerging Leader Award
Christine Her is the daughter of Hmong refugee parents from Laos. She pursued her B.A. at Drake University studying Creative Writing, Philosophy, and Political Science. She was named as one of Des Moines Register’s 15 people to watch in the State of Iowa for 2021. Her is a fellow with the Mid Iowa Health Foundation HealthConnect Fellowship, focusing her project on developing diverse and healing-centered texts reflecting authentic stories of individuals who are minoritized and marginalized. She is part of the DSM USA 4 Equity Collective and the Des Moines Performing Arts (DMPA) Equity Diversity Inclusivity (EDI) Community Task Force. Her currently serves as the Executive Director of ArtForce Iowa, a nonprofit organization based in Des Moines. Founded in 2012, ArtForce Iowa has a mission to transform youth in need through art, pioneering a non-pathologizing approach to working with youth who have court involvement or identify as refugee and immigrant and offers a critical humanizing perspective using art and music. Her is highly motivated to interrupt social and systemic injustices with hope and art while helping others rise in their own power and lean into their purpose.

Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of more than 60 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at