Medal Day History

Since the Edward MacDowell Medal was first awarded in 1960, artists who have received this honor include Leonard Bernstein, John Updike, Georgia O'Keeffe, I.M. Pei, Merce Cunningham, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Sonny Rollins, and Toni Morrison. The artistic discipline in which the award is given rotates in order to celebrate all of the creative fields practiced at MacDowell. The Medal Day ceremony features not only the honoree but also a well-known presentation speaker who is familiar with the Medalist's work. Past speakers include visual artist Richard Serra, writer William Styron, and Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Robert Campbell.

The Edward MacDowell Medal. A gold plated coin features a bas relief profile of Edward MacDowell with his name above. Black and white photo of a the first Medal ceremony in 1960. Thornton Wilder, holding the Medal in his left hand, is shaking the hand of James Johnson Sweeney.

Thornton Wilder accepts the very first Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts from James Johnson Sweeney, president of the Edward MacDowell Association, on August 13, 1960 in Bond Hall. Photo by Herbert Whitney

MacDowell Medalists

Below is a complete list of MacDowell Medalists, along with the presentation speaker for each year (*asterisks denote MacDowell Fellows). We did not hold a Medal Day celebration in 2020 due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Year Medalist Discipline Speaker
2023 Alanis Obomsawin Documentary Film Jesse Wente
2022 Sonia Sanchez Poet Walter Mosley*
2021 Rosanne Cash Composer Kurt Andersen
2019 Charles Gaines Visual Artist Thelma Golden
2018 Art Spiegelman Comic Artist Hillary Chute
2017 David Lynch Filmmaker Kristine McKenna
2016 Toni Morrison Writer Peter Sellars
2015 Gunther Schuller Composer Yehudi Wyner and Terrance McKnight
2014 Betye Saar Visual Artist Lowery Stokes Sims
2013 Stephen Sondheim Composer Frank Rich
2012 Nan Goldin Photographer Luc Sante*
2011 Edward Albee Playwright Mike Nichols
2010 Sonny Rollins Composer Gary Giddins
2009 Kiki Smith Visual Artist Lynne Tillman*
2008 Thom Mayne Architect Robert Campbell
2007 Les Blank Filmmaker Fred Wiseman
2006 Alice Munro Writer Virginia Barber
2005 Steve Reich Composer Richard Serra and David Lang
2004 Nam June Paik Visual Artist John Hanhardt
2003 Merce Cunningham Interdisciplinary Artist Meredith Monk*
2002 Robert Frank Visual Artist Philip Brookman
2001 Philip Roth Writer William Styron
2000 Lou Harrison Composer Dennis Russell Davies
1999 Ellsworth Kelly Visual Artist James Cuno
1998 I. M. Pei Architect J. Carter Brown
1997 Chuck Jones Filmmaker John Canemaker
1996 Joan Didion Writer Elizabeth Hardwick
1995 George Crumb Composer Christopher Rouse
1994 Jasper Johns Visual Artist Kirk Varnedoe
1993 Harry Callahan Photographer Anne Tucker
1992 Richard Wilbur Poet Richard Howard
1991 David Diamond* Composer Joseph Polisi
1990 Louise Bourgeois Visual Artist Robert Storr
1989 Stan Brakhage Filmmaker John Hanhardt
1988 William Styron Writer George Plimpton
1987 Leonard Bernstein* Composer Ned Rorem*
1986 Lee Friedlander Photographer John Szarkowski
1985 Robert Motherwell Visual Artist Varujan Boghosian
1984 Mary McCarthy Writer Elizabeth Hardwick
1983 Elliott Carter* Composer Michael Steinberg
1982 Isamu Noguchi Visual Artist William Lieberman
1981 John Updike Writer Wilfred Sheed
1980 Samuel Barber Composer Charles Wadsworth
1979 John Cheever Writer Elizabeth Hardwick
1978 Richard Diebenkorn Visual Artist John Canaday
1977 Virgil Thomson* Composer Alfred Frankenstein*
1976 Lillian Hellman Writer John Hersey
1975 Willem de Kooning Visual Artist Dore Ashton
1974 Walter Piston Composer Michael Steinberg
1973 Norman Mailer Writer John Leonard
1972 Georgia O'Keeffe Visual Artist Eric Larrabee
1971 William Schuman Composer Aaron Copland*
1970 Eudora Welty Writer Elizabeth Janeway
1969 Louise Nevelson Visual Artist John Canaday
1968 Roger Sessions Composer Edward T. Cone
1967 Marianne Moore Poet Glenn Wescott
1966 Edward Hopper Visual Artist Lloyd Goodrich
1965 Edgard Varese Composer Milton Babbitt
1964 Edmund Wilson Writer Aaron Copland*
1963 Alexander Calder Visual Artist Meyer Shapiro
1962 Robert Frost Poet Aaron Copland*
1961 Aaron Copland* Composer Irving Kolodin
1960 Thornton Wilder* Writer Edward Weeks

Medal Day Speeches

Below you will find videos of select Medal Day acceptance speeches going back to 2006. The images below the video lineup will take you to PDFs of MacDowell newsletters that have chronicled earlier Medal Day speeches for the enjoyment of those who could not attend.

Poet Sonya Sanchez Accepts the 2022 Edward MacDowell Medal >

Rosanne Cash Accepts the 2021 Edward MacDowell Medal >

Visual Artist Charles Gaines Accepts the 60th Edward MacDowell Medal >

Art Spiegelman Accepts the 2018 Edward MacDowell Medal >

Watch David Lynch’s bonkers video acceptance of the 2017 Edward MacDowell Medal >

Novelist Toni Morrison Accepts the 57th Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts in 2016 >

Composer Yehudi Wyner on his friend 2015 Medalist Gunther Schuller >

Stephen Sondheim Accepts 2013 Edward MacDowell Medal >

Jazz Great Sonny Rollins Accepts the 2010 MacDowell Medal >

Alice Munro Accepts 2006 Edward MacDowell Medal >

More video, including the full ceremonies and Michael Chabon’s collection of inimitable welcome addresses can be found here, at our Vimeo page.

Medal Day Summaries

The cover of the 2009 annual report features an  exhibit room with a massive red sculptural installation dominating the space. Medal Day 2009 — Visual Artist Kiki Smith;
presentation speaker Lynne Tillman

Download PDF (3.294 MB) >

The cover of the 2008 annual report features the open doors of Alexander Studio with an installation of silvery curtain, and trees reflected in the glass of the storm doors. Medal Day 2008 — Architect Thom Mayne;
presentation speaker Robert Campbell

Download PDF (1.819 MB) >

The cover of the 2007 annual report features a gathering of people sitting on red blankets in Central Park. At the front of the gathering is a large, colorful sculpture. Medal Day 2007 — Filmmaker Les Blank;
presentation speaker Fred Wiseman

Download PDF (3.134 MB) >

Cover of the 2006 annual report shows visual artist Whiting Tennis at a work table in Heinz Studio with sunlight streaming into its high windows. Medal Day 2006 — Writer Alice Munro;
presentation speaker Virginia Barber

Download PDF (1.923 MB) >

Collage of images. Front cover of the 2005 MacDowell Newsletter Medal Day 2005 — Composer Steve Reich;
presentation speaker Richard Serra

Download PDF (9.868 MB) >

There is no charge to attend Medal Day.

Thanks to the generosity of our Medal Day Corporate Sponsors as well as our Individual Donors MacDowell is able to keep this annual event free and open to the public.