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Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts

Sydney Lea seen from the chest up, outside in snowy woods.

Sydney Lea—poet, novelist, essayist, editor, and professor—received the Governor's Arts Award in 2021. Photo courtesy of Vermont Arts Council.

This award is the most distinguished recognition bestowed by the State of Vermont. Accordingly, it is reserved for Vermont artists who have had a profound impact on their field within the state of Vermont and beyond. The Governor selects the recipient from a list of nominations compiled from across the state and vetted by the Arts Council.


The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts is awarded to a person (or persons) of distinction in the arts who meets one or more of these criteria:

  • currently resides in Vermont

  • has a regional (New England), national, or international reputation in their chosen field as evidenced by third-party acclaim or reviews from independent sources

  • has a significant public following as well as peer recognition/acclaim in Vermont

  • has a significant body of work revealing his/her talent and skill available for review by the Council

  • shows evidence of having a strong commitment to Vermont and the role that the arts plays in its quality of life

  • is nominated by three or more individuals, only one of whom may be a member of the nominee’s immediate family


2021 - Sydney Lea, author
2020 - John Fusco, writer, filmmaker, and musician - award video
2019 - François Clemmons, singer, composer, playwright, author, and activist
2018 - Chris Miller and Jerry Williams, sculptors
2017 - David Macaulay, author/illustrator
2016 - Eric Aho, visual artist
2015 - Grace Potter, singer/songwriter
2014 - Galway Kinnell, poet
2013 - Warren Kimball, visual artist
2012 - Karen Hesse, author
2012 - Archer Mayor, author
2012 - Sharon Robinson, cellist
2012 - Stephen Stearns, professional clown/teacher
2011 - Julia Alvarez, writer
2010 - Eric Bass and Ines Zeller Bass - photos | award ceremony video
2008 - Rob Mermin, Circus Smirkus founder - award ceremony video
2007 - Ed Koren, illustrator
2006 - Jaime Laredo, musician
2005 - Howard Frank Mosher, author
2004 - Jane Beck, founder Vermont Folklife Center
2003 - Frank Gaylord, sculptor
2002 - Robert DeCormier, conductor/arranger/composer
2001 - Katherine Paterson, writer
2000 - Ernest Kinoy, screenwriter
1999 - Sabra Field, printmaker
1998 - Jay Craven, filmmaker
1997 - Karen Karnes, potter
1996 - Michael Singer, landscape architect
1995 - Pat Adams, painter
1994 - Steve Paxton, dancer/choreographer
1993 - Grace Paley, writer
1992 - Louis Calabro, musician/conductor
1991 - Daniel Urban Kiley, landscape architect
1989 - Efrain Guigui, conductor
1988 - David Mamet, writer
1986 - Ralph Steiner, photographer/cinematographer
1985 - Elsa Hilger, musician
1984 - Marcel Moyse, composer/musician
1983 - George Tooker, painter
1982 - Julius Held, Meyer Schapiro, and John Kouwenhoven, art historians and writers
1979 - Bernard Malamud, writer
1978 - Peter Schumann, actor/founder of Bread and Puppet Theatre
1977 - Blanche Honegger Moyse, conductor/ co-founder of Brattleboro Music Center
1975 - Ivan Albright, painter
1974 - Clara Sipprell, photographer
1973 - Hayden Carruth, poet
1972 - Alan Carter, conductor/founder of Vermont Symphony Orchestra
1971 - Walter Piston, composer
1970 - Aileen Osborn Webb, crafts administrator
1969 - Luigi Lucioni, painter
1968 - Carl Ruggles, composer
1967 - Rudolf Serkin, musician

Submit a Nomination

  • complete this online form
  • send a letter of recommendation to 136 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05633, or
  • send an email to the Council with "Award Nomination" in the subject line. Include your name and contact information. Also list three to five achievements, based on awards criteria, that qualify this nominee for the award and provide one to three links to information about the nominee that support this nomination

Recommendations are welcome throughout the year. To be considered for the 2021 awards, candidate names must have been submitted by June 1, 2021.