Ragamala Dance founder Ranee Ramaswamy was in Banana Republic at the Mall of America when she got the call that she had been awarded $275,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York.
Choreographer Emily Johnson, who founded Catalyst Dance, was about to give her dog a bath when she was informed of a grant in the same amount.
“I cried,” said Johnson, 38. “I was just stunned.”
Ramaswamy, 62, had a similar reaction. “I walked out of the store and sat on a bench for God knows how long,” she said. “You know, you do your work out of love, and then a blessing like that comes.”
The Twin Cities scored big in the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards, announced Tuesday. In addition to Johnson and Ramaswamy, Twin Cities puppetmaker and theater artist Michael Sommers won $80,000 from the Duke Foundation, named for the famous arts-loving philanthropist and tobacco heiress. Sommers was among 20 winners in a new Impact Awards category.
Golden Valley-bred composer and pianist Craig Taborn, who lives in New York, also was awarded $275,000.
The Twin Cities-connected performers were part of a national roster of 39 artists in theater, dance and jazz who were honored this year. This list includes choreographers Bill T. Jones, Joanna Haigood and John Jasperse, playwrights David Henry Hwang, Lisa Kron and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and jazz greats Roscoe Mitchell and Randy Weston.
In the past three years, the Duke foundation has granted more than $18 million to artists, funds that are delivered over years and that include a portion for retirement savings.
Ramaswamy founded Ragamala 22 years ago. She and her daughter, Aparna, were the Star Tribune’s Artist of the Year in 2011. In 2012, President Obama appointed her to the National Arts Council.
“You know, as an artist, you’re working your little thread,” Ramaswamy said. “When it gets noticed, that gives you encouragement to continue doing what you do. This is a gift like that. And to be mentioned in the same breath with Bill T. Jones, that’s a high honor.”