Governor Dan McKee, Mayor David Holt, Mayor Jon Mitchell, and Artists Louis “Eric B” Barrier and Kool DJ Red Alert Understand the Important Role That Arts and Culture Play in Society

WASHINGTON, DC—Americans for the Arts and The United States Conference of Mayors today presented the 2023 Public Leadership in the Arts Awards to three elected officials, and Legendary Artist Awards to two artists, at The U.S. Conference of Mayors 91st Winter Meeting in Washington, DC. The honorees include:

  • Dan McKee, Governor of Rhode Island, was awarded the National Award for State Arts Leadership;
  • David Holt, Mayor of Oklahoma City, received the National Award for Local Arts Leadership for cities with a population of 100,000 or more;
  • Jon Mitchell, Mayor of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was awarded the National Award for Local Arts Leadership for cities with a population fewer than 100,000;
  • Louis “Eric B” Barrier, hip-hop artist and pioneer in the rap genre and Kool DJ Red Alert, hip-hop DJ, were awarded with Legendary Artist Awards. The award honors an individual or group that has used their position to consistently advocate and support the arts and culture and/or arts education in the United States.

“The leadership of Governor McKee, Mayor Holt, and Mayor Mitchell should inspire all those serving in public office. Their belief in the power of the arts to connect people and drive civic engagement, and their unparalleled commitment to supporting arts programs exemplify how investment in the arts translates into community growth, economic prosperity, and increased cultural funding,” said Nolen V. Bivens, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “We are also proud to recognize Eric B and Kool DJ Red Alert, who have contributed enormously to America’s artistic and cultural legacy, and whose achievements have no doubt helped change the future of the arts in America for the better.”

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors is pleased to recognize the exemplary work of Mayor Holt, Mayor Mitchell, and Governor McKee as they use the arts and culture to not only promote their city/state, but to grow their economies,” remarked Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of The U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Mayors understand the inherent value of the arts to bring people together, promote cultural understanding, and make cities safer places to live, work and play.”

About the 2023 Public Leadership in the Arts Awardees

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee

Governor McKee understands that arts and culture are strong catalysts for economic and social change in Rhode Island. He has demonstrated his commitment to utilizing arts and cultural strategies across government though a wide-ranging list of programs that have been developed or strengthened since he took office, first as lieutenant governor and now as governor. As lieutenant governor, he was a founding partner of the State Military and Veterans Arts Initiative forged by Americans for the Arts and the National Lieutenant Governors Association to advance the policy, practice, and quality use of arts and creativity as tools for health in the military and for veterans. As governor, he has continued to be a champion for the integration of arts and healing. He has supported an innovative partnership between the RI Department of Health and RI State Council on the Arts (RISCA), which has been held up as a national model.

Governor McKee believes that arts are integral to economic development and a place-based approach. Under his leadership, RI Commerce has distributed $3 million in ARPA funds for place-based economic rebound initiatives that include arts and cultural strategies. Governor McKee’s focus on small business has included artists, designers, and makers in its outreach and assistance programs through RISCA and RI Commerce.

Governor McKee understands the importance of the creative economy to the state, but even more so, that arts and culture can be utilized in service of moving us forward when we intentionally integrate arts strategies into in health, economic development, tourism, and housing. He understands that by centering artists, culture bearers and creatives in our work to rebuild our economy and re-connect us, we will have better outcomes in all aspects of our state’s ecosystem.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt

Mayor Holt has been an advocate for the arts in Oklahoma City dating back two decades. As a child, he spent 10 years appearing in at least one production a year for Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park. In 2005, he became president of the board for Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park and led the organization’s relocation from a suburb to the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. After his three years as president, he was named an honorary lifetime member of the board.

Mayor Holt has served on the board of Allied Arts, the community’s umbrella fundraising agency for arts, since 2010. He joined the board of the Cultural Development Corporation in 2010 and served as co-chair of a committee that led to the hiring of the city’s first arts and cultural liaison position. As a state senator from 2010 to 2018, Mayor Holt worked to protect the state’s public art funding. Upon his election to the mayor’s office in 2018, Mayor Holt has continued his leadership in the arts, recognizing that arts and culture are vital elements to the future Oklahoma City wishes to have. He is known as a stalwart supporter of all arts organizations and events in the city, using his platform to highlight their contributions to the city’s cultural fabric.

Mayor Holt is Oklahoma City’s first Native American mayor and was honored to cut the ribbon on the $200-million First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, a place where Native art and culture is now celebrated. Mayor Holt’s active support and advocacy for the arts and culture in all forms has made Oklahoma City a national destination for the arts.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell

From the first day of his administration in 2012, Mayor Mitchell has prioritized the cultivation of the city’s creative sector as an integral component of economic, social, and cultural development that enhances the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. Over the past decade, he has helped advance New Bedford as one of the most culturally unique and creative cities in America.

In 2016, he proposed a public fund dedicated to the promotion of the city’s artistic and cultural assets. With City Council and local legislative support, Mayor Mitchell established the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ first-ever special revenue fund for the promotion of arts, culture, and tourism. During this past fiscal year alone, the $107,600 from the fund leveraged an additional total amount of $1,173,816 from private and public sources, such as Barr Foundation, Bristol County Savings Bank, MassDevelopment, Mass Cultural Council, New England Foundation for the Arts, and more. The establishment of the Fund led to the creation of the City’s first-ever strategic arts and culture plan published in December 2018.

As the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the region, Mayor Mitchell draws strength from all the cultures that are reflected in the region’s citizenry. Through his ongoing support of the initiatives of the arts and culture plan, and his thoughtful leadership, Mayor Mitchell has provided the foundation to bring New Bedford to a position as one of the leading creative cities in America.

Mayor Mitchell said, “A reverence for artistic expression was first woven into New Bedford’s identity in the whaling era when the City was a global focal point for new ideas and creativity. And that sensibility has endured, thanks to a foundation of thriving cultural institutions, a beehive of working artists, and broad civic support for the arts. This award is a validation of our city’s long legacy of excellence in creative endeavor and of the hard work and ingenuity of our creative sector. I’m proud to accept this award on behalf of all the people that make New Bedford a thriving cultural hub.”

Louis “Eric B” Barrier

Eric B is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-nominated record producer, DJ, actor, entrepreneur, and community activist. Born in Queens, New York, he first rose to fame as one half of the iconic hip-hop duo Eric B and Rakim who, over the release of four full-length albums and multiple collaborative projects, transformed the musical genre into the complex sample and lyrical-driven form of today. His debut, “Paid In Full,” is often referred to as the greatest hip-hop album of all time and Rolling Stone Magazine listed them as a Top 5 Duo in all of recorded music.

Expanding his talents into executive roles, Eric B has worked across the spectrum of the entertainment industry including in-house for BMG’s Street Life Records and CBS Radio, as a consulting producer to The Source Awards, and his current position on the board of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum in New York City. When not acting or performing on stage, he remains forever active within his community serving as an honorary deputy sheriff, Federal Gang Outreach Coordinator, advisor and fundraiser to numerous political groups and candidates, project manager for the First Baptist Church of Elmhurst, and as an official chaplain with the State of New York Chaplain Federation.

Eric B said, “It’s a blessing my success as an artist has provided me a platform in the public eye to achieve a greater good. Across all generations, entertainment and the arts are foundational elements in human communication, emotional connection and shared experience, the importance of which can be overstated.”

Kool DJ Red Alert

A pioneering hip-hop DJ, Red Alert is heavily responsible for the emergence of rap music on the radio airwaves during the early eighties. As a radio personality, he rose to fame on his mix show “Red Alert Goes Baserk” on New York’s KISS 98.7 FM (formerly WRKS), which first aired in 1983. Red Alert is of West Indian descent by way of Antigua and is credited as the first DJ to spin dancehall music on his FM radio.

Born as Frederick Crute in Harlem in 1956, Red Alert has been a member of the Universal Zulu Nation for almost 40 years. He has broken several legendary hip-hop acts including KRS One’s collective Boogie Down Productions, Native Tongue crew acts Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, and Monie Love on his radio show. Red Alert’s management company Red Alert Productions once represented several of the Native Tongue acts. He was also widely responsible for helping burgeon the career of late rap industry impresario Chris Lighty.

Accolades and awards in Red Alert’s honor include appointment as an Ambassador to Music by the United Nations; 1997 Mixshow DJ of the Year by Gavin Magazine; Lifetime Achievement Award from music trade publication Impact in 1998; one of the 50 most influential people in music by Rolling Stone magazine; the only hip hop deejay honored with a display in the Radio Section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; an honorary location on the Bronx Walk of Fame, a series of street signs recognizing prominent natives of the borough.

A list of previous award winners is available on Americans for the Arts’ awards page.