The Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation has announced playwright, director, producer, theater artist, and musician Rick Shiomi as its 2015 McKnight Distinguished Artist.
Now in its eighteenth year, the foundation's Distinguished Artists program honors an individual Minnesota artist who has made significant contributions to the state's cultural life and includes a $50,000 cash award. The foundation plans to honor Shiomi at a private reception later this year.
Born in Toronto, Shiomi's perspective as a Japanese Canadian figures prominently in his art and life. His parents were among the many Canadians of Japanese descent forced into internment camps during World War II, and their experiences in the camp are a strong theme in many of his works. Shiomi graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in history in 1970, received a teaching diploma from Simon Fraser University, and subsequently traveled the world, teaching in Japan and Hong Kong before returning to Canada and settling in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he helped organize the Powell Street Festival, edited a film designed to teach children about Japanese-Canadian history, and became an active member of the Japanese Canadian Citizen's Association.
A seminal leader of the Asian-American theater movement since the 1980s, Shiomi has written, produced, or directed more than fifty plays during his career. He is perhaps best known as co-founder of St. Paul's Theater Mu, which he later renamed Mu Performing Arts and served as its artistic director through 2013. Dedicated to bringing Asian-American voices to the stage, Mu grew from a small start-up to a nationally recognized company.
"Given the breadth, scope, and importance of Rick Shiomi's artistic legacy, there is no single yardstick by which to measure his impact," said McKnight president Kate Wolford. "It is multifaceted, trailblazing, and extends well beyond his commitment to Asian American theater in the Twin Cities, and we at McKnight are honored to celebrate his accomplishments with this award."