University of Illinois Scholar Cynthia Oliver Named a Doris Duke Artist

Cynthia Oliver is an award-winning dancemaker, performer, and a professor of dance at the University of Illinois. She also serves as associate vice chancellor for research and innovation in the humanities at the university. Dr. Oliver was recently named one of the seven 2021 Doris Duke Artists by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Each Doris Duke Artist receives an award of $275,000 intended as an investment in their artistic potential and celebration of their ongoing contributions to the fields of contemporary dance, jazz, and theater. Signifying the largest national award to individuals in the performing arts, the prize consists of $250,000 in completely unrestricted funding and an additional $25,000 dedicated to encouraging savings for retirement.

“I’m honored that my peers think me worthy of this award and attention, and I’m grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. I stand on some amazing shoulders. My mom was denied the opportunity to do her art because of her race,” Dr. Oliver said.

Born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in the Virgin Islands, Professor Oliver holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from New York University. She joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 2000. Dr. Oliver is the author of Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean (University Press of Mississippi, 2009). 

“What this award is affording me is a minute to reconsider what I want to do in the next chapter of my life,” Professor Oliver said. She said she plans to write, spend time at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and return to the U.S. Virgin Islands for an extended stay to reconnect with her home. She plans to write a second book about the involvement of Black artists in avant-garde and postmodern dance and experimental work.


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