One of the United States’ oldest cultural institutions, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, is undergoing some of its biggest changes in more than a century. For the first time since 1908, the academy is expanding its core membership from 250 artists – in literature, music, art and architecture – to 300 by 2025.
This year’s inductees, 33 of them, are the largest and most diverse group in recent memory. They range from U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo and author-journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to jazz great Wynton Marsalis and visual artist Betye Saar, who at 94 is the oldest new inductee since Roger Angell was voted in at 94 in 2015.
New members announced Friday also include poet Kevin Young, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, along with former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith.
New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als, pianist-composer Anthony Davis, visual artist Faith Ringgold and architect Walter Hood – whose work is currently featured in the Museum of Modern Art exhibit “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America” – have also been inducted, while Spike Lee has been named an honorary member, along with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Korean composer Unsuk Chin and the Indian architect Balkrishna “B.V.” Doshi.
“We’re expanding the membership so that it is more clearly representative of this country,” says the academy’s president, architect Billie Tsien….