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Kennedy Center to review Honors process after group says Latinos excluded

The 35th annual Kennedy Honors aired on Dec. 26, 2012 on CBS.
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The Kennedy Center is reviewing the way it selects artists who receive one of the highest arts prizes in the U.S., the Kennedy Center Honors, after a group said Latinos have been largely excluded.

The formal review announced Monday includes Kennedy Center board members and an 11-member artist advisory panel. The panel includes actress Debbie Allen, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Broadway actor Raul Esparza and Joseph Polisi, president of The Juilliard School in New York. It also will include representatives of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture.

The center also will form a Latino advisory committee to foster engagement with the Hispanic community.

The 35-year-old Kennedy Center Honors have become a major cultural prize. The honor comes with a salute from the president and secretary of state each year in December, along with performances by A-list entertainers.

In September, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts criticized the Kennedy Center, saying it has long excluded Latinos. Two of the more than 180 past honorees have been Hispanics -- Placido Domingo, the acclaimed Spanish tenor, in 2000, and Chita Rivera, the actress and singer of Puerto Rican descent, in 2002.

Chairman Felix Sanchez said the foundation focused on the Kennedy Center Honors rather than other entertainment prizes because the center receives federal funding and is in the nation's capital. He suggested potential Latino honorees could include Carlos Santana, Rita Moreno, Joan Baez, Gloria Estefan and others.

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser has said the honorees should reflect the nation's diversity.

"While the center has a strong track record of diversity throughout its other performance, education and arts education programs, it is important to undertake this review process to ensure the Honors reflect the diversity of those who have contributed to American culture," Kaiser said Monday in announcing the review process.

Filmmaker George Stevens Jr. has produced the honors show since its creation. He helps narrow a list of potential honorees nominated each year by an artist committee with Kaiser and Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein. The Kennedy Center board's executive committee makes the final selections each year.

In December, Stevens said he didn't know whether changes were necessary in the selection process.

"We should be conscious of diversity insofar as it doesn't compromise excellence because without excellence, we're not fulfilling President Kennedy's mandate," he said. "And I think we can do both."

The Kennedy Center recently recognized musician Buddy Guy, actor Dustin Hoffman, CBS late-night talk show host David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova and English rock band Led Zeppelin. CBS aired the event in late December, showing President Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama and several stars on hand to help pay tribute to this year's recipients.