Joan Myers Brown

2022 Honoree

Color photo of Joan Myers Brown sitting in a chair framed by the barres and mirrors of a dance studio.

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Image: Joan Myers Brown. Credit: Julieanne Harris.

Joan Myers Brown is the founder of The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) / The Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. She serves as honorary chairperson for the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), an organization she established in 1991. She also founded the International Conference of Black Dance Companies in 1988. She is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which bestowed upon her an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts; is a member of the dance faculty at Howard University in Washington, DC; and has been awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA. Listed in Who’s Who in America  and described as an “innovator and communicator,” Ms. Brown has made significant contributions to the national and international arts communities. 

Regionally and nationally, Ms. Brown has served a broad range of organizations, including the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project; the United States Information Agency; Arts America; the National Endowment for the Arts; the state arts councils of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio; and the National Forum for Female Executives. Locally, she has been a part of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance; the Minority Arts Resource Council, Inc.; the Philadelphia Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council; the Philadelphia Dance Alliance; the Women’s Heritage Society; and Dance/USA. Ms. Brown was appointed to the choreographer’s panel of the Rockefeller Foundation Arts & Humanities Program and served as vice president (and co-founder) of the Coalition of African American Cultural Organizations. 

In 1997, Ms. Brown was honored as one of the “Dance Women: Living Legends” during a four-day series sponsored by New York-area presenters, in tribute to five African-American pioneer women who founded distinguished modern dance companies with deep roots in black communities around the country. In 2005, the Kennedy Center honored her as a Master of African American Choreography. In 2009 she received the prestigious Philadelphia Award, and November 7, 2010 was declared Joan Myers Brown Living Legacy Day. Ms. Brown was chosen as one of the 2013 Dance/USA honorees “for her extraordinary artistic guidance, her nurturance of many dancers and choreographers, visionary leadership, and grace under fire in the dance field.” 

She has also received a host of other accolades throughout her lifetime, including awards from The Philadelphia Tribune and the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and membership to the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania in 2012. She was designated as one of The Ten Best Philadelphians by Philadelphia magazine in 2012, in addition to recognition as an Outstanding Alumni of West Philadelphia High School, her alma mater. Her legacy has been documented in the 2011 publication of Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Biohistory of American Performance (Palgrave), written by dance scholar and critic Brenda Dixon Gottschild, author of several books on dance. 

Joan Myers Brown’s undisputed status as a leader in the national and international arts communities was acknowledged when she was selected to receive the 2012 National Medal of the Arts, the nation’s highest civic honor for excellence in the arts. President Barack Obama presented the prestigious honor at a ceremony that took place in July 2013 at the White House. President Obama cited Ms. Brown for carving out “an artistic haven for African American dancers and choreographers to innovate, create, and share their unique visions with the national and global dance communities.”