Two prominent Twin Cities artists, playwright Carlyle Brown and sculptor Siah Armajani, have won national fellowships from United States Artists. The awards, announced Tuesday at a ceremony at New York's Lincoln Center, each come with $50,000 in cash.

Armajani, an international artist known for bridges and gardens in Europe and America, designed the pale blue and yellow pedestrian bridge that connects the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Loring Park. He also won the 2010 Distinguished Artist award from the McKnight Foundation.

"I couldn't make it to the ceremony out there today, but I appreciate the recognition," Armajani said. "I don't think of my work as metaphorical but existential. The bridges connect points for people to get from one place to another. The gardens are places of reading and of peace."

Brown, whose plays include "Pure Confidence" and "The African Company Presents Richard III," flew to New York for the festivities. "The money will pay some bills and buy time to write at a time when everybody is hurting in their pocketbooks," he said. "But more important than the money is the national recognition. I'm at a place in my life where I know my craft and crave time to make work."

Brown, 63, and Armajani, born in Iran in 1939, are the latest Twin Cities-based artists to be recognized with the awards, which are based in Southern California and were created to celebrate artists at a time when such support is on the decline nationally. Theater artists Michael Sommers and Dominique Serrand previously won fellowships.

On Tuesday, those sharing in the $2.5 million in awards were visual artist Glenn Ligon of New York, Ohio-based choreographer Bebe Miller and New York-based playwright and screenwriter Doug Wright, whose play, "I Am My Own Wife," won a Pulitzer Prize. Fellowships are also given in music, crafts and media.

"This provides strong national validation for artists and puts money into their hands," said Katharine DeShaw, founding executive director of the 5-year-old program and a former development director at Walker Art Center. "The overwhelming majority of Americans say they like art, but only a small number say they like artists. We've invested $12.5 million in artists over these five years and hope to do more."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390