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Her Work Speaks Eloquently, Beautifully, of Histories We All Need to Face

- July 31, 2023

Type: Artist News, Events

MacDowell Madam Chairman of the Board Nell Painter welcomes the crowd to Medal Day on July 23, 2023. (Christian Holland photo)

MacDowell Madam Chairman of the Board Nell Painter welcomes the crowd to Medal Day on July 23, 2023. (Christian Holland photo)

Transcript: Madam Chairman of the Board and Fellow Nell Painter welcomes the crowd to Medal Day 2023

Good afternoon and welcome all to MacDowell’s 2023 Medal Day, a day for celebrating MacDowell artists and, most joyfully, awarding the 63rd Edward MacDowell Medal to Alanis Obomsawin, pioneering filmmaker, singer, performer, and printmaker, the first woman filmmaker to receive the Edward MacDowell Medal.


But first, welcome to the Dawnland. MacDowell’s staff and board acknowledge that our residency program takes place in Wabanaki, the Dawnland, on the traditional homelands of the Western Abenaki people, on the Pegontagok River. We recognize the hardships they still endure as a result of the loss of their un-ceded land. We also acknowledge that our New York office is located on Lenape land, and we lament the devastation of centuries of warfare and colonialism and we join voices within our field of artist communities calling for a necessary illumination of the history of the Indigenous peoples of North America and an investment in their future.

We further acknowledge the continued presence and sovereignty of Indigenous communities and nations today, and we thank our Indigenous colleagues and Fellows for their goodwill in our ongoing efforts to collaborate in the challenges of decolonizing the arts.


Today’s land acknowledgment resonates with our very pleasant task at hand, because we are recognizing a foundational artist who is actually Abenaki from what is now New Hampshire. In her work and in her person, Alanis Obomsawin powerfully gives lie to the myth of Indigenous erasure. With an oeuvre extending beyond her distinguished filmmaking, she perfectly embodies MacDowell’s commitment to artists of all disciplines. Today’s land acknowledgment also resonates powerfully in this climate of political disavowal, replete with attempts to suppress the unflattering aspects of North American history: Genocide, slavery, racial discrimination. While continuing the broad tradition of art and artists at MacDowell, the work we honor today speaks eloquently, beautifully, of histories we all need to face.

Artists treasure the sense of MacDowell as a physical place of trees and space and darkness, and in this summer of ominous weather extremes, MacDowell’s woods offer a peace that fosters our art. I speak from experience when I tell you this place is special, a creative home away from home. I have been in residence two additional times since my first residency in 2016, and each time I have seen how MacDowell’s “freedom to create” offers a haven to a variety of artists at all stages of their careers, from emerging to esteemed. We want all artists of all heritages and all identities to feel supported in their persons and in their work, to feel free to speak about their work at every stage of completion.

MacDowell fosters exchanges over breakfasts and dinners and, during the day, promotes uninterrupted concentration on one’s work with the delivery of MacDowell’s famous picnic basket lunches. For many decades memories of these basket lunches would come flooding back when the legendary Fellows Services Coordinator Blake Tewkesbury greeted returning Fellows with, “welcome home.” Blake, are you here today?


Thank you for letting us recognize you.

Ask any of the Fellows here today about the value of unplanned exchange, and they will tell you of astonishing solutions springing from engagement with people working in disparate fields. Fellows, current and past, let us see you.

The annual Edward MacDowell Medal that we award today rotates across artists’ disciplines to honor one distinguished artist per year. Last year we recognized the poet Sonia Sanchez; in 2021 we recognized the composer Rosanne Cash; in 2019 we recognized visual artist Charles Gaines; in 2018 the comic artist Art Spiegelman. This year we honor Alanis Obomsawin, one of North America’s most prolific and insightful filmmakers.


Alanis Obomsawin was chosen by a jury of her filmmaking peers. As chair of the MacDowell board and with guidance from former MacDowell Executive Director Philip Himberg, I asked Tabitha Jackson, former director of the Sundance Film Festival, to chair the filmmaker selection panel. Joining her on the panel were Bird Runningwater, who guides the Sundance Institute’s Investment In Native American and Indigenous filmmakers; MacDowell Fellows and filmmakers Natalia Almada, Rodney Evans, and So Yong Kim; MacDowell Fellow and board member Julia Solomonoff, and board member Josh Siegel, film curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. If any of you are with us today, please stand so we can thank you. Thank you!


Now I turn the microphone over to Christine Fisher, longtime pillar of our MacDowell board, and the new MacDowell board president. Thank you.


Read Board President Christine Fisher's words to the gathered arts lovers on Medal Day

Read new Executive Director Chiwoniso Kaitano's first address to the 2023 Medal Day crowd

Read Resident Director David Macy's tribute to Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

Read introductory speaker Jesse Wente's eloquent address contextualizing Alanis Obomsawin as the 63rd MacDowell Medalist

Read Alanis Obomsawin's heartfelt acceptance of the Edward MacDowell Medal