As a talented actress and arts philanthropist, Princess Grace intimately understood the power of uplifting extraordinary artists. Throughout her tenure as Her Serene Highness of Monaco, Princess Grace supported artists in the United States and in her adopted principality. The Princess Grace Foundation, established by Prince Rainier III after her untimely death in 1982, has carried on her legacy by awarding life-changing grants to emerging artists in theater, dance, and film. As the Foundation prepares to celebrate the 2022 Princess Grace Award winners, let’s look back on just a few of the incredible artists who have been recognized by the Foundation and exemplify its mission in their artistry and activism alike.
SpongeBob SquarePants may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Princess Grace and a prestigious arts grant. However, one of the most famous Princess Grace Award winners is none other than the creator and animator of the worldwide smash. Hillenburg devoted his artistic life to work that was beloved by kids and kids-at-heart all across the world–and he has used the Foundation to give back to other up and coming animators. Hillenburg studied marine biology with the intention of using it to inform his artistic endeavors and worked in the field before pursuing studies in animation. During his time at California Institute of the Arts, Hillenburg received a Princess Grace Award that propelled his artistic career forward. Armed with a unique perspective by his studies in art and marine science, Hillenburg created Spongebob Squarepants, one of the most popular animated shows in history. He also served as showrunner for the first three seasons of the Nickelodeon hit that has inspired many a young artist. Hillenburg and his family decided to use the power of the Foundation to give back each year; he made plans with the Foundation to provide an animation scholarship. After his passing in 2018, his family endowed the Foundation with a generous gift that sponsors an annual grant specifically for animators. Now, Hillenburg’s legacy through the Foundation ensures that the next generation of animators can receive the same support and community that helped his own career take off.
Camille A. Brown
Brown, a powerhouse choreographer and director, has been recognized by the Foundation on numerous occasions for her artistry and visionary projects. The multi-hyphenate has worked not only in the dance world, but has choreographed for film, theater, and even opera. She recently directed the first Broadway revival of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, a production that net rapturous praise and seven Tony nominations. She also co-directed and choreographed The Met’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, the trailblazing opera that was the company’s first with Black directors and composers. Outside of her incredible artistry, Brown exemplifies the values of the Foundation through several projects through her dance company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Brown organized free online dance classes and lectures for dancers and dance enthusiasts. Every Body Move, her company’s community engagement platform, offers various initiatives to foster art-making and kinship, especially among the Black community in her native New York City. Brown’s impact is hard to quantify, but easy to celebrate. Just look to the recently unveiled Queens Icons mural in the St. Albans neighborhood, where her portrait pays homage to a life of inspiration and giving back.
As proven by her numerous memorable ensembles, Princess Grace intimately understood the power of clothes and storytelling. Costume designer Paul Tazewell has done the same, using inventive designs to evoke past eras in modern and striking ways. His work on Hamilton, for which he won a Tony Award, cleverly used colonial-era design elements to tell a story that felt made for the modern era. Though Tazewell was recognized by the Foundation for his work in theater, he has also taken his skills to the worlds of opera (he designed the costumes for Fire Shut Up In My Bones) and film, where he recently became the first Black man to be nominated for an Academy Award in costume design for his work on West Side Story (2021). No matter the medium, Tazewell chooses projects that amplify the voices and stories of marginalized people, and he is one of today’s foremost costumers for these powerful stories. Tazewell spoke to Monaco Life in 2020, describing the ways in which his Princess Grace awards have helped propel his career forward at pivotal moments. He describes feeling “so supported” by the Foundation, especially as he struck out from institutions to freelance work. Since then, he has given back and supported the industry and Foundation that have nurtured his talents. In 2021, in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, Tazewell partnered with PGF to design a series of face masks inspired in part by Grace Kelly’s iconic roles in Alfred Hitchcock films. These protective masks were produced by theater artists while Broadway was shut down. This melding of art and activism is just one example in Tazewell’s career that exemplifies what PGF stands for.
A more recent winner, Chukwu is an exciting voice in film whose star only continues to rise. Her 2019 film, Clemency, garnered near-unanimous praise and earned her the Dramatic Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival–the first Black woman to receive the honor. Her next film, Till, follows Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, and her activism in the wake of her son’s murder. Slated for an October release, Till is already generating awards season buzz thanks to the talent of its director. Chukwu’s work outside the film set is even more impressive. In an effort to increase access in the film industry, she launched Pens to Pictures in 2016, an initiative that guides and mentors incarcerated women as they make their own films. These women’s films have been screened at prestigious venues such as the Museum of Modern Art, and this work helped inspire Clemency. The Foundation also took note of her work in this sphere. Chukwu also speaks passionately to the ways in which the Foundation has made this trailblazing activism possible. In discussing her incredible trajectory, Chukwu names her Princess Grace award and subsequent recognition from PGF as “one of the most impactful things” that propelled her career forward. The Foundation is honored to have been a part of Chukwu’s journey so far.
Leslie Odom Jr.
Long before he became a household name for his performance as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, Odom Jr. was a college student grappling with the financial pressures of a university education. It was then that he discovered the Foundation, and the “life-changing” grant he won as a student helped lessen this burden and jumpstart his acting career. He already had begun to make a name for himself on Broadway, making his debut in Rent at just 17, the support of the Foundation helped to open new doors. With his role in Hamilton, a show he was involved in nearly from the beginning, Odom Jr.’s star ascended even further, but he never lost his connection to PGF; he won a Statue Award in 2016 (alongside Camille A. Brown!), the same year he won a Tony for Hamilton. Outside of his work in the theater, Odom Jr. has left his mark on music and film as well, from an acclaimed turn as Sam Cook in Regina King’s One Night In Miami to a leading role in the upcoming and much-anticipated Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. He has characterized his Princess Grace Award as one of the first votes of confidence he received that he could make a career as an actor, and the world is certainly better for his having followed that passion. Odom Jr. now serves on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and continues Princess Grace’s legacy of giving back to artists through his involvement on the Board.
For more on Princess Grace Award winners, check out the Sunday Spotlight series.