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Biden Announces Kamilah Forbes, Jake Shimabukuro & More as Nominees for National Council on the Arts


In total, Biden announced 17 key nominations for Member of the Federal Maritime Commission, Vice Chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board of Directors & more.

Biden Announces Kamilah Forbes, Jake Shimabukuro & More as Nominees for National Council on the Arts

President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to serve as members of the National Council on the Arts: Kamilah Forbes, Christopher Morgan, Ismael Ahmed, Kinan Azmeh, Huascar Medina, Jake Shimabukuro, Constance Williams, and Fiona Whelan Prine.

Kamilah Forbes, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Kamilah Forbes is an esteemed award-winning director and producer for theater and television who currently serves as the Executive Producer at the world-famous Apollo Theater. Forbes is noted for having a strong commitment to the development of creative works by, for, and about the Hip-Hop generation. In addition to her work at the Apollo, Forbes' directing credits include By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, written by two-time Pulitzer prize-winning writer Lynn Nottage; The Blood Quilt, written by Katori Hall; and Sunset Baby, by MacArthur Genius recipient Dominique Morisseau. She has also worked as associate director on the Tony Award-winning A Raisin in the Sun, and Emmy Award-winning "The Wiz Live" for NBC. Other Broadway credits include The Mountaintop and Stick Fly.

Forbes' most recent directorial work, "Between the World and Me" aired as a special event on HBO and HBO Max in November 2020. Her directorial work on "Between the World and Me" has brought her a host of acclaim and recognition, including a nomination for Best Direction for an NAACP Image Award and a Critics Choice Award nomination.

Throughout her career Forbes has won numerous awards for both directing and producing, including the 2019 NBTF Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award, a Root 100 Award, an NAACP Image Award, a Helen Hayes and Barrymore Award, and an Audelco. Forbes' recent projects include directing the sold-out world premiere, tour, and theatrical adaption of Ta-Nehisi Coates' New York Times best-selling novel Between the World and Me, which premiered at the Apollo Theater in 2018 and returned for encore performances in 2019. In addition to her work at the Apollo Theater, Forbes is set to direct the Broadway premiere of Soul Train alongside producer Questlove, playwright Dominique Morisseau, and choreographer Camille A. Brown.

Christopher Morgan, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Christopher K. Morgan is a choreographer, educator, facilitator, curator, and arts administrator. Known as a thoughtful advocate for cultural integrity, inclusivity, and diverse representation in the studio and on stage, his Native Hawaiian ancestry and wide-ranging international performance career influence all aspects of his work. As Executive Artistic Director of Dance Place in Washington, D.C., Morgan stewarded the organization through the triple pandemics of 2020 maintaining the entire staff with no layoffs or furloughs, while continuing to pay artists and teachers.

Since 2006 Morgan has directed Art Omi: Dance, an annual collaborative residency for international choreographers in New York, where he created an utterly unique international cultural exchange program. Frequently sought as a speaker and grants reviewer, he has been at the forefront of national discussions on equity in the arts. He currently serves on the board of the National Performance Network, is a member of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals' Equitable Partnership Working Group, and on the Association of Performing Arts Professionals 2022 Conference Planning Committee. Born in Orange County, CA, he resides in Takoma Park, MD with his husband, opera director Kyle Lang.

Ismael Ahmed, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Ismael Ahmed most recently served as the Associate Provost for Metropolitan Impact at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In this position, Ahmed was responsible for connecting academic initiatives for 9,000 students and 540 full and part-time faculty with over 500 community, business, and governmental partners. Prior to that, he served in Governor Jennifer M. Granholm's administration as Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, the state's second-largest department. He co-founded the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in 1971 and was appointed executive director in 1983, growing it into a national human service and advocacy agency with affiliates in 24 cities.

The son of first-generation immigrants, Ahmed is co-founder of The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and serves as an executive member of its advisory board. Since 1984, he has lead Detroit's Concert of Colors - one of the largest world music festivals in the United States - which he co-curates and co-chairs. He also produces and hosts "This Island Earth" on WDET Public Radio Detroit, where he conducts multi-cultural music & arts programs with music and guests that represent culture from across the planet.

Kinan Azmeh, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Originally from Damascus, Syria, Kinan Azmeh brings his music to all corners of the world as a soloist, composer and improviser. Notable appearances include the Opera Bastille, Paris; Tchaikovsky Grand Hall, Moscow; Carnegie Hall and the UN General Assembly, New York; the Royal Albert Hall, London; Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires; Der Philharmonie, Berlin; the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, Washington DC; the Mozarteum, Salzburg, Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie; and in his native Syria at the opening concert of the Damascus Opera House.

He has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Qatar Philharmonic and the Syrian Symphony Orchestra among others, and has shared the stage with such musical luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim, Marcel Khalife, John McLaughlin, Francois Rabbath Aynur and Jivan Gasparian.

Azmeh serves as artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Players, a pan-Arab ensemble dedicated to contemporary music form the Arab world. He has also been playing with the Silkroad Ensemble since 2012, whose 2017 Grammy Award-winning album "Sing Me Home" features Azmeh as a clarinetist and composer. Azmeh is a graduate of New York's Juilliard School as a student of Charles Neidich, and of both the Damascus High institute of Music where he studied with Shukry Sahwki, Nicolay Viovanof and Anatoly Moratof, and Damascus University's School of Electrical Engineering. Azmeh earned his doctorate degree in music from the City University of New York in 2013.

Huascar Medina, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Huascar Medina is the 7th Poet Laureate of Kansas. He currently works with the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission reimagining and developing innovative programming for the poet laureateship. He is a peer facilitator for Mid-America Arts Alliance's Artist INC program. Artist INC is dedicated to the professional development of artists of all disciplines in the Midwestern region and connects them to the resources, tools, and opportunities necessary to build entrepreneurial skills and strengthen their artistic practice. As Literary Editor for seveneightfive magazine, he provides a platform for Kansas writers by reviewing and spotlighting their work. He is the host and creator of Kansas is Lit on KSEF-DB, an online radio show specifically created to increase the visibility and reach of Kansas writers. He serves as a Staff Editor at South Broadway Press out of Denver, Colorado. He is also an Op-Ed writer at Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news organization providing in-depth reporting and diverse opinions to all Kansans. Medina proudly serves on the ArtsConnect board and Kansas Book Festival council. He takes pride in the rise of Midwest artists and has dedicated himself to the emergence of "The Prairie Renaissance".

Jake Shimabukuro, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Jake Shimabukuro is a career ukulele player who wide experience in the arts. Hefirst gained notice in the late 19902 with the popular musical group Pure Heart . After the group dissolved, his fame as a solo artist spread throughout Hawaii and eventually to Japan. There, in 2001, Shimabukuro signed a historic deal with Epic Records/Sony Music, which formed the basis of a career punctuated by a string of hit albums and standing room audiences.

Shimabukuro has also played with world-renowned orchestras and at prestigious venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center, and Sydney Opera House, and at music festivals including Bonnaroo, SXSW and Fuji Rock Festival. He has also performed for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Shimabukuro continues to write and record, while maintaining an international concert schedule of 140 live performances a year. He is a loving husband and proud father of two boys. In addition to balancing his career with family, Shimabukuro also remains firmly rooted in his commitment to community, frequently performing at schools in Hawaii and overseas to urge kids to "say no to drugs" and inspire them to find their passion. In the process, Shimabukuro has served as a Pied Piper in the booming popularity of the ukulele, spreading his belief that the world would be a better place if everyone played the ukulele.

Constance Williams, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Constance Hess Williams has deep and varied experience as an entrepreneur and consultant in the private sector and as an elected official in the public sector. She graduated from Barnard College with a B.A. in English and earned her M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Following graduation from college, Williams worked in New York as an editorial assistant at Doubleday & Company, answered viewer mail at NBC, and began a photographic stock house. After she married and moved to Philadelphia, Williams worked for Running Press, as a consultant for the Wharton Small Business Development Center and as a program officer for the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships. With a background in publishing, marketing, and small business and financial consulting, Williams was the economic development and small business coordinator for Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional District

Williams is widely known throughout her community for her strong record of involvement with a special focus on education, the arts, and economic development across broadly diverse regional organizations. She served as the Chair of the Board of The Philadelphia Museum of Art and is now Chair Emerita. She was also a trustee of the National Museum of American Jewish History, Steppingstone Scholars Inc. Barnard College, The Episcopal Academy, The Baldwin School, and Pine Manor College and The Kimmel Center of Performing Arts in Philadelphia. She is a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.

Williams resides in Haverford, Pennsylvania with her husband, Sankey Williams. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

Fiona Whelan Prine, Nominee for Member of the National Council on the Arts

Fiona Whelan Prine brings an expansive viewpoint to the American roots music community as President of Oh Boy Records, the country's second-oldest independent record label still in operation. In that role, she oversees the multiple Grammy Award-winning recordings and publishing copyrights of her late husband, American songwriter John Prine. She also serves as Founder and President of the newly established Hello in There Foundation. As one of Nashville's most prominent and dedicated philanthropists, Whelan Prine has volunteered countless hours on behalf of Thistle Farms, a global nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to helping women survivors recover and heal from poverty, prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. Through unique annual fundraising events, often with an appearance by John Prine, her initiatives have helped raise more than $3 million for the organization. In the last year alone, her community involvement has raised more than $1 million for important social causes, including those related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Born and raised in Ireland, Whelan Prine is the eldest of six daughters born to Donal and Mary Whelan. She served as Business Manager for Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, considered Ireland's premiere recording studio. Whelan Prine met John while working there with artists such as U2, Van Morrison and many others, and they later married in Nashville, Tennessee, where together they raised their three sons. Whelan Prine received her U.S. citizenship in 2004.

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