The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a 250-member honor society; its goal is to "foster, assist, and sustain excellence" in American literature, music, and art. Located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, it shares Audubon Terrace, a complex on Broadway between West 155th and 156th Streets, with the Hispanic Society of America and Boricua College.
The academy's galleries are open to the public on a published schedule. Exhibits include an annual exhibition of paintings, sculptures, photographs and works on paper from contemporary artists nominated by its members, and an annual exhibition of works by newly elected members and recipients of honors and awards. A permanent exhibit of the recreated studio of composer Charles Ives was opened in 2014.
The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters was formed from three parent organizations. The first, the American Social Science Association, was founded in 1865, at Boston. The second was the National Institute of Arts and Letters, which ASSA's membership created in 1898. The qualification for membership in the NIAL was notable achievement in art, music, or literature. The number of NIAL members was at first limited to 150 (all men). The third organization was the American Academy of Arts, which NIAL's membership created in 1904, as a preeminent national arts institution, styling itself after the French Academy.
The AAA's first seven academicians were elected from ballots cast by the entire NIAL membership. They were William Dean Howells, Samuel L. Clemens, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and John Hay, representing literature; Augustus Saint-Gaudens and John La Farge, representing art; and Edward MacDowell, representing music. The number of NIAL members was increased in 1904, by the introduction of a two-tiered structure: 50 academicians and 200 regular members. Academicians were gradually elected over the next several years. The elite group (academicians) were called the "Academy," and the larger group (regular members) was called the "Institute." This strict two-tiered system persisted for 72 years (1904–76).
In 1976, the NIAL and AAA merged, under the name American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The combined Academy/Institute structure had a maximum of 250 living United States citizens as members, plus up to 75 foreign composers, artists, and writers as honorary members. It also established the annual Witter Bynner Poetry Prize in 1980 to support the work of young poets. The election of foreign honorary members persisted until 1993, when it was abandoned.
Federally chartered corporation
The Academy holds a Congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code (42 USC 20301 et seq.), which means that it is one of the comparatively rare "Title 36" corporations in the United States. The 1916 statute of incorporation established this institution amongst a small number of other patriotic and national organizations which are similarly chartered. The federal incorporation was originally construed primarily as an honor. The special recognition neither implies nor accords Congress any special control over the Academy, which remains free to function independently.
Active sponsors of Congressional action were Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts and former-President Theodore Roosevelt. The process which led to the creation of this federal charter was accompanied by controversy; and the first attempt to gain the charter in 1910 failed. Sen. Lodge re-introduced legislation which passed the Senate in 1913. The Academy was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York in 1914, which factors in decision-making which resulted in Congressional approval in 1916.
The Academy occupies three buildings on the west end of the Audubon Terrace complex created by Archer M. Huntington, the heir to the Southern Pacific Railroad fortune and a noted philanthropist. To help convince the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, which were separate but related organizations at the time, to move to the complex, Huntington established building funds and endowments for both.
The first building, on the south side of the complex, along West 155th Street, was designed by William M. Kendall of the firm of McKim, Mead & White; Kendall was also a member of the Academy. This Anglo-Italian Renaissance administration building was designed in 1921 and opened in 1923. On the north side, another building housing an auditorium and gallery was designed by Cass Gilbert, also an Academy member, and was built from 1928-30. These additions to the complex necessitated considerable alterations to the Audubon Terrace plaza, which were designed by McKim, Mead & White.
In 2007, the American Numismatic Society, which had occupied a Charles P. Huntington-designed building immediately to the east of the Academy's original building, vacated that space to move to smaller quarters downtown. This building, which incorporates a 1929 addition designed by H. Brooks Price, has become the Academy's Annex and houses additional gallery space. In 2009, the space between the Annex and the administration building was turned into a new entrance link, designed by Vincent Czajka with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
Members of the Academy are chosen for life and have included some of the leading figures in the American art scene. They are organized into committees that award annual prizes to help up-and-coming artists. Although the names of some of the members of this organization may not be well known today, each of these individuals was well known in their own time. Greatness and pettiness are demonstrable among the Academy members, even during the first decade during which William James declined his nomination on the grounds that his little brother Henry had been elected first. One of the giants of the academy in his time, Robert Underwood Johnson, casts a decades-long shadow in his one-man war against encroaching modernism, blackballing such writers as H. L. Mencken, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Eliot (before his emigration to England disqualified him for full membership). The former President of Harvard, Charles William Eliot declined election to the Academy, "because he was already in so many societies that he didn't want to add to the number."
Although never explicitly excluded, women were simply not elected to membership in the early years. The admission of Julia Ward Howe in January 1908 (at the age of 88) as the first woman in the Academy was only one incident in the intense debate about the very consideration of female members. In 1926, the election of four women — Edith Wharton, Margaret Deland, Agnes Repplier and Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman — was said to have "marked the letting down of the bars to women."
Below is a partial list of past members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and its successor institution, the National Institute and Academy of Arts and Letters:
- Henry Brooks Adams
- Herbert Adams
- Henry Mills Alden
- Nelson Algren
- Hannah Arendt
- Newton Arvin
- Wystan Hugh Auden
- Paul Wayland Bartlett
- Chester Beach
- Stephen Vincent Benét
- William Rose Benét
- Edwin Howland Blashfield
- William Brownell
- George de Forest Brush
- John Burroughs
- William S. Burroughs
- Nicholas Murray Butler
- George Washington Cable
- Hortense Calisher
- Joseph Campbell
- George Whitefield Chadwick
- William Merritt Chase
- Chou Wen-chung
- Timothy Cole
- Billy Collins
- Kenyon Cox
- John Dos Passos
- Bob Dylan
- Thomas Harlan Ellett
- Stanley Elkin
- Duke Ellington
- Ralph Ellison
- Daniel Chester French
- William Gaddis
- Hamlin Garland
- Charles Dana Gibson
- Cass Gilbert
- Richard Watson Gilder
- Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve
- Brendan Gill
- William Gillette
- Daniel Coit Gilman
- Allen Ginsberg
- Bertram G. Goodhue
- Robert Grant
- William Elliot Griffis
- Arthur Twining Hadley
- Childe Hassam
- Thomas Hastings
- David Jayne Hill
- Ripley Hitchcock
- Cecil de Blaquiere Howard
- Julia Ward Howe
- William Henry Howe
- William Dean Howells
- Archer Milton Huntington
- Charles Ives
- Henry James
- Robert Underwood Johnson
- Louis I. Kahn
- Kenneth Koch
- Maxine Kumin
- Sinclair Lewis
- Roy Lichtenstein
- Henry Cabot Lodge
- Abbott Lawrence Lowell
- Mary McCarthy
- Hamilton Wright Mabie
- Archibald MacLeish
- Frederick William MacMonnies
- Brander Matthews
- William Keepers Maxwell Jr.
- William Rutherford Mead
- Gari Melchers
- Willard Metcalf
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
- Charles Moore
- Douglas Moore
- Paul Elmer More
- Robert Motherwell
- Georgia O'Keeffe
- Thomas N. Page
- Horatio Parker
- Joseph Pennell
- Bliss Perry
- William Lyon Phelps
- Charles Adams Platt
- Ezra Pound
- James Ford Rhodes
- James Whitcomb Riley
- George Lockhart Rives
- Elihu Root
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Mark Rothko
- Eero Saarinen
- Carl Sandburg
- John Singer Sargent
- Meyer Schapiro
- Arnold Schoenberg
- Harry Rowe Shelley
- Stuart Sherman
- Robert E. Sherwood
- Paul Shorey
- William Milligan Sloane
- Wallace Stevens
- Meryl Streep
- Lorado Taft
- Josef Tal
- Booth Tarkington
- Abbott Handerson Thayer
- William Roscoe Thayer
- Augustus Thomas
- Virgil Thomson
- Lionel Trilling
- Henry van Dyke
- John Charles Van Dyke
- Elihu Vedder
- Kurt Vonnegut
- Julian Alden Weir
- Barrett Wendell
- Edith Wharton
- Andrew Dickson White
- Thornton Wilder
- Brand Whitlock
- William Carlos Williams
- Woodrow Wilson
- Owen Wister
- George Edward Woodberry
- Frank Lloyd Wright
- James A. Wright
Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts
The award, a certificate, and $1,000 goes to a United States resident who has "rendered notable service to the arts".
The academy gives out numerous awards, with recipients chosen by committees made up of Academy members. Candidates for all awards must be nominated by Academy members, except for the Richard Rodgers awards, for which an application may be submitted.
- Academy Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters— In 1941 the Academy established awards to encourage creative work in the arts. Now $10,000 each, Academy Awards are given annually: five to artists, eight to writers, four to composers, and three to architects.
- Marc Blitzstein Award — The $5,000 award is given periodically to a composer, lyricist, or librettist, "to encourage the creation of works of merit for musical theater and opera". The award was established in 1965 by the friends of Marc Blitzstein, an Academy member.
- Michael Braude Award for Light Verse — The $5,000 biennial award is given "for light verse written in English regardless of the country of origin of the writer".
- Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize — The annual prize of $5,000 goes to an architect of any nationality who has "made a contribution to architecture as an art".
- Benjamin H. Danks Award — The $20,000 award is given in rotation to a composer of ensemble works, a playwright, and a writer (fiction, non-fiction, poetry). Since 2002 the Academy has administered the prize established by Roy Lyndon Danks in honor of his father, Benjamin Hadley Danks.
- Jimmy Ernst Award — Established by Dallas Ernst in memory of her husband, the Jimmy Ernst Award of $5,000 is given to a painter or sculptor "whose lifetime contribution to his or her vision has been both consistent and dedicated". The award has been presented annually since 1990.
- E. M. Forster Award — E.M. Forster, a foreign honorary member of the Academy, bequeathed the U.S. royalties of his posthumous novel Maurice to Christopher Isherwood, who transferred them to the Academy to establish this $15,000 award. It is given to a young English writer for an extended visit to the United States.
- American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medals — Each year the Academy awards Gold Medals for distinguished achievement in two categories in rotation. The Gold Medal is given for the entire work of the recipient.
- Walter Hinrichsen Award — The Walter Hinrichsen Award is given for the publication of "a work by a mid-career American composer."
- William Dean Howells Medal — This award is given once every five years in recognition of the most distinguished American novel published during that period. It was established in 1925.
- The Charles Ives Prize — Six scholarships of $7,500 and two fellowships of $15,000 are now given annually to young composers. In 1998, the Academy established the Charles Ives Living, an award of $75,000 a year for a period of three years given to an American composer. The award's purpose is to free "a promising talent from the need to devote his or her time to any employment other than music composition" during that period.
- Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction — The $5,000 prize is given for the best published first novel or collection of short stories in the preceding year.
- Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Award — an annual award of $5,000 "given either to a composition student or an experienced composer".
- Goddard Lieberson Fellowships — Two Goddard Lieberson Fellowships of $15,000 are given annually to young composers of extraordinary gifts. The CBS Foundation endowed the fellowships in memory of the late president of CBS Records.
- Russell Loines Award for Poetry
- American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit — The Award of Merit, a medal and $10,000, is given each year, in rotation, to an outstanding person in America representing one of the following arts: Painting, the Short Story, Sculpture, the Novel, Poetry, and Drama.
- Metcalf Awards — In 1986, the Academy received a bequest from Addison M. Metcalf, son of the late member Willard L. Metcalf, for two awards to honor young writers and artists of great promise. The Willard L. Metcalf Award in Art and the Addison M. Metcalf Award in Literature are biennial awards of $10,000.
- Katherine Anne Porter Award — This biennial award of $20,000 goes to a prose writer who has demonstrated achievements and dedication to the literary profession.
- Arthur Rense Prize — In 1998, the $20,000 award was established to honor "an exceptional poet" once every third year.
- Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater — These awards subsidize full productions, studio productions, and staged readings of musicals put on by nonprofit theaters in New York City. The plays are by composers and writers not already established in this field. These are the only awards for which the Academy accepts applications.
- Rome Prize in Literature — Every year the Academy selects and partly subsidizes two young writers for a one-year residence at the American Academy in Rome.
- Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Awards — Each of these two awards are for $5,000. The first, established in 1956, is for a fiction work of "considerable literary achievement" published in the previous year. The second, created in 1959, is for a young painter "who has not yet been accorded due recognition".
- Medal for Spoken Language — This medal, awarded from time to time, recognizes individuals who set a standard of excellence in the use of spoken language.
- The Mildred and Harold Strauss Livings — These Livings provide an annual stipend of $50,000 a year for five years, awarded to two writers of English prose literature to enable them to devote their time exclusively to writing.
- Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award — This $10,000 award is given each year to honor a writer of "recent prose that merits recognition for the quality of its style".
- Morton Dauwen Zabel Award — This $10,000 biennial award is given in rotation to a poet, writer of fiction, or critic, "of progressive, original, and experimental tendencies".
- "The American Academy Of Arts And Letters Announces The Opening Of The Charles Ives Studio". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
- John Updike, ed. A Century of Arts & Letters, Columbia University Press (1998), p. 263.
- Barbara S. Christen and Steven Flanders, eds. Cass Gilbert, Life and Work: Architect of the Public Domain, W. W. Norton and Company (2001), p. 12.
- "Aims of National Academy; Organization Formed to Promote Art, Music, and Literature", The New York Times. January 23, 1909.
- First woman elected to American Academy of Arts and Letters, Jan. 28, 1908.
- Moe, Ronald C. "Congressionally Chartered Nonprofit Organizations ("Title 36 Corporations"): What They Are and How Congress Treats Them," Archived October 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Congressional Research Service, CRS Report to Congress. Order Code RL30340 (April 8, 2004).
- "What is a congressional charter?", Knight Ridder Newspapers, December 12, 2007.
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- "Slur on the 'Immortals'; Lodge's Proposed Institutions Shorn of Glory", The New York Times. January 19, 1909.
- "Official Action Just Taken Contemplates American Federation.; The Movement to Advance Arts and Letters in America", The New York Times. January 24, 1909.
- "A Charterless Academy", The New York Times. February 28, 1910.
- "Two New Art Societies; Senator Lodge Introduces Bills Providing for Their Incorporation", The New York Times. January 19, 1913.
- "Arts Academy Chartered; Membership Never to Exceed 50 — William Dean Howells President", The New York Times. June 11, 1914.
- Walnerth, Charles et al. "Greetings to the American Academy of Arts and Letters", The New York Times. August 25, 1916.
- New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission "Audubon Terrace Historic District Designation Report" (January 9, 1979).
- White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot & Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 558–561. ISBN 978-0-19538-386-7.
- "Rival to the Great French Academy Limited to 50 Members, Receives Official Recognition From the U.S. Senate; Something About Those on the Original List", The New York Times. January 26, 1913.
- "Editorial Review" of Updike's A Century of Arts and Letters: "Editorial Reviews": Amazon.com.
- "Editorial Review" of John Updike's A Century of Arts and Letters: Alan Weakland, writing in Booklist.
- "Eliot not in Academy; Harvard's President Emeritus Said He Was in Too Many Societies", The New York Times. January 21, 1913.
- "Immortals' Plan Hall of Fame Here; Women Would Be Eligible- But "Better Form a Hall of Their Own", The New York Times. November 16, 1913.
- Google Books summary: John Updike's A Century of Arts and Letters.
- "First Women Elected to Institute of Arts; Edith Wharton Among the Four Chosen — American Academy Makes Two Men Members", The New York Times. November 12, 1926.
- The history of the National Institute of Arts & Letters and the American Academy of Arts & Letters as Told, Decade by Decade, by Eleven Members: Louis Auchincloss, Jack Beeson, Hortense Calisher, Ada Louise Huxtable, Wolf Kahn, R. W. B. Lewis, Richard Lippold, Norman Mailer, Cynthia Ozick, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.- John Updike, Editor, Columbia University Press, New York, 1998.
- "Academicians Meet Here This Week; Members of Institute Will Join Them in Sessions at the Ritz-Carlton. France to send Greeting; Concert Wherein All Works Are by American Composers Will Be Heard", The New York Times. November 12, 1916.
- "Two New Members for the Academy; Dr. Barrett Wendell and Garl Melchers, the Painter, Honored at Meeting", The New York Times. November 16, 1916.
- American Academy of Arts and Letters: Deceased Members Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
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- "Hortense Calisher | Jewish Women's Archive". Jwa.org. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
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- "Dr. Griffis, Friend of Japan, Dies; Educator Who Helped Japanese Adapt Themselves to Western Civilization", The New York Times. February 6, 1928.
- "Hitchcock, Ripley", in Stanley Wertheim, A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 155.
- "Huntington Gives Site for Academy; Men of Arts and Letters to Erect Building Near Riverside Drive and 155th St. Next to Hispanic Museum; National Institute and American Academy Accept Offer of Eight City Lots for Site", The New York Times. January 25, 1915.
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- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 26, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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- Joseph Pennell, Noted Artist, Dead; Won High Honors as Etcher and Illustrator — Later Taught Art and Wrote Books", The New York Times. April 24, 1926.
- "Academy Elects Gay and Lippman; Artist and Journalist Named to Vacancies Left by Deaths of Platt and Shorey", The New York Times. November 9, 1934.
- Schoenberg, Arnold (1987). Stern, Erwin (ed.). Arnold Schoenberg Letters. University of California Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780520060098.
- "Would Encourage Study of Classics; Academy of Arts and Letters Suggests Courses for Schools and Colleges; Sees Aid to Civilization; Resolution Says Opposite Policy Would Lower the Culture of the American People", The New York Times. December 16, 1918.
- "Streep would like to thank the (arts) academy" "DesMoines Register." April 12, 2010.
- "Mr. Lorado Taft Dies; Leading Sculptor; Creator of Some of Country's Outstanding Monuments is Stricken at 76; Was Teacher in Chicago; Fountain of Time and Columbus Memorial in Washington Among Chief Works", The New York Times. October 31, 1936.
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- van Gelder, Lawrence. "Arts Briefing: American Academy Honors", The New York Times. May 19, 2003.
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- "Jimmy Ernst Award". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Archived from the original on September 14, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
- Hetrick, Adam."Richard Rodgers Awards Honor Cheer Wars and Rosa Parks Musicals", Playbill, March 12, 2009.
- Lewis, Richard W. B. (1998). "1898–1907: The Founder's Story," in A Century of Arts & Letters (John Updike, ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-10248-3 (cloth)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to American Academy of Arts and Letters.|
- American Academy of Arts & Letters — official website
- Cornell Legal Institute: Title 36 > Subtitle II > Part B > Chapter 203 > § 20301 et seq. — easiest to read
- United States House of Representatives: 36 USC Chapter 203
- American Academy of Arts and Letters records, 1864–1942 from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art