A Look Back at 2016

A Busy Year for Vilcek Prizewinners in Theatre

The honorees of the 2016 Vilcek Prizes for the Arts wasted no time demonstrating the impact immigrants have on American theatre. After accepting the Vilcek Prize, Blanka Zizka directed a production of Andrew Bovell's moving play When the Rain Stops Falling at the Wilma Theater.

But the Czechoslovakian-born director didn’t stop there: She is currently in the process of developing her debut as a playwright, a semi-autobiographical work entitled ADAPT!, which is set to premiere at the Wilma on March 22, 2017.

Desdemona Chiang, Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Theatre winner.

Creative Promise Prizewinner Desdemona Chiang directed plays on both sides of the country this year. Her production of The Winter's Tale, which reimagined Shakespeare’s classic in Dynastic China and the American Old West, had a four-month run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Then, the Taiwanese-born theatre-maker returned to her hometown of Seattle to direct a stage adaptation of Ruth Ozeki's popular novel A Tale for the Time Being at the Book-It Reparatory Theater. Desdemona also made her way to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to direct Jackie Sibblies Drury's We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 and an in-the-round production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Playmakers Reparatory Theatre.

Chinese-born lighting designer Yi Zhao teamed up with fellow Vilcek Prize honorees Blanka and Desdemona to do lighting for When the Rains Stops Falling and The Winter’s Tale. He also did the lighting design for four other productions, including the critically acclaimed Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. at SOHO Rep and The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World at the Signature Theatre.

Creative Promise Prizewinner and creative director Sarah Benson, born in the UK, oversaw several performances at her home theatre, SOHO Rep—including Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. and Duat. She is also preparing to direct the debut of Richard Maxwell's play Samara next April.

Watch videos with all 2016 Vilcek Prizewinners >


Huge Paydays for Two Vilcek Prize Honorees

We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed the extraordinary achievements of immigrant scientists in the biomedical sciences—this year, two of our past Vilcek Prize and Creative Promise Prize Honorees received significant accolades and funding support for their research.

2009 Vilcek Prizewinner Huda Zoghbi was awarded a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the largest individual monetary award given in the sciences. Based at the Baylor College of Medicine, Huda was honored by the Breakthrough Foundation for her discoveries related to the genetic causes of Rett syndrome “that have provided insight into the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative and neurological diseases.”

Creative Promise Prize finalist (also in 2009) Katerina Akassoglou received generous funding for her research in the form of a $5.8 million career grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Administered over the next eight years, the grant will provide support for Katerina’s lab at the University of California, San Francisco to continue its research “on the role of the brain's vascular and immune systems in neurological diseases.”


Film Spotlight: A Stray

New American filmmaker Musa Syeed's latest feature, A Stray, screened in festivals around the country. Supported by a grant from the Vilcek Foundation, the film was praised by critics and audiences alike for its humanizing portrayal of a Somalian refugee making his way on the streets of Minneapolis. A Stray wasn’t a documentary, but it wasn’t all fiction either: The film was the culmination, on Musa’s part, of months of volunteer work and civic involvement with Minneapolis’s thriving Somali-American community, and it included the feedback of several community members. A Stray was commended by IndieWire for its ability to “depict universal, relatable truths about the plight of those newly arrived in the country” and was shot locally in the Cedar-Riverside area (sometimes called Little-Mogadishu), with many residents as actors and extras. You can learn more in our interview with Musa, and follow A Stray on Facebook to see when it’s coming to your city.


Culinary Arts Alumni Make Headlines in 2016

Vilcek Prizewinner José Andrés has received some much-deserved recognition. In the Michelin Guide's first-ever DC edition, the esteemed travel guide awarded José’s inventive eatery, Minibar, two stars. The Spanish-born chef was also given of one of this year's 12 National Humanities Medals; presented by President Barack Obama, the National Endowment for the Humanities honored José for bringing “new and vibrant ingredients to our Nation whether through his innovative techniques in the kitchen, his work on clean cooking technology and access to education, or the inspiration he provides to new Americans.”

Creative Promise Prizewinner Varin Keokitvon was named the head chef of the Seattle-based Heartland Provisions, which opened its doors on February 8th. The restaurant quickly became a local hit by combining Varin's mouthwatering dishes with specially crafted cocktails to complement each one.


Jan Vilcek's memoir, Love and Science

Literary Spotlight: Love and Science by Jan Vilcek

If you haven't checked out our founder Jan Vilcek's memoir, Love and Science, be sure to add it to your 2017 reading list. Published this February by Seven Stories Press, Love and Science tells the remarkable story of Jan's life—from hiding in a farmhouse to escape Nazis during WWII to making groundbreaking discoveries in the labs of New York University. Described by Poet Laurate Charles Simic as “a marvelous book, as interesting about science as it is about the adventures of this extraordinary man,” it’s a memoir sure to educate and entertain. You can get your copy now on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, your local bookstore, or on janvilcek.com.



Creative Promise Prize Honorees Named Faculty Scholars by Howard Hughes Medical Institute

This year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute launched the Faculty Scholars Program, a new initiative to support “top researchers during an early phase of their career.” Five Creative Promise Prize honorees were named to the inaugural class, including Peruvian-born Fernando Camargo, Spanish-born Antonio Giraldez, Russian-born Ekaterina Heldwein, Greek-born Stavros Lomvardas, and Chinese-born Songhai Shi. Chosen “based on their vision and potential for unique contributions to science,” each recipient will receive a five-year grant, ranging from $500,000 to $1.8 million, to support their research.


Top Clicks of 2016

Vilcek Prizewinner Pardis Sabeti gave a fascinating TED Talk titled “How We’ll Fight the Next Deadly Virus”.

Creative Promise Prizewinner Dinaw Mengestu wrote a beautiful profile of an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington, DC, for The Atlantic.

Vilcek Prizewinner Peter Walter has discovered a molecule that makes mice smarter, and he thinks it may hold the key to treating degenerative brain conditions.

A insightful article about Georgia O'Keeffe was published in the Wall Street Journal to coincide with her retrospective at the Tate Modern, which included three pieces from the Vilcek Foundation Collection.

Lessons on “first-gen life” from actress Yvonne Orji of HBO’s Insecure.

Vilcek Prizewinner Yo-Yo Ma answered the famed Proust Questionnaire for Vanity Fair.

Ruslan Medzhitov put the old wives’ tale “feed a fever and starve a cold” to rest for good.

Neri Oxman was featured in Surface magazine for her innovative approach to design.

We made an awesome video about the design and fabrication of the Vilcek Prize trophy.

Read the transcript of Danai Gurira’s inspiring speech at the Theater Communications Group’s 2016 gala, which also honored the Vilcek Foundation and its president, Rick Kinsel.

  • Announcing the 2018 Vilcek Prizewinners

    Congratulations to the remarkable biomedical scientists and professionals in the architecture field who have been awarded the 2018 Vilcek Prizes. Learn more about their incredible accomplishments:


    Read more >

  • In Support of DACA

    2017 was a tumultuous year for immigration policy in the United States, with several controversial restrictions issued by the new administration. As former refugees and green card holders, our founders Jan and Marica Vilcek share their thoughts on these policies.