Established by Teresa Heinz to honor the memory of her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz Awards celebrates his accomplishments and spirit by recognizing the extraordinary achievements of individuals in the areas of importance to him.
This year’s recipients include a conceptual artist whose powerful, multifaceted work grapples with ways in which culture and history interplay with our modern society; a visual artist who blends contemporary craft, sculpture and performance to address issues of migration, gender and identity; an environmental justice advocate who builds the capacity of Black communities to be vocal champions for environmental and social justice; a pioneer in regenerative agriculture and soil health who is catalyzing the movement to improve sustainable farming practices; two lawyers who use the power of advocacy and the law to advance justice for workers; and a community development leader who founded a family of financial institutions serving economically distressed areas of the Deep South.
Collectively, they represent the vision, creativity and determination that produce achievements of lasting good and meaningful impact, which the Heinz Awards hopes to inspire.
26th Heinz Award for the Arts
Tanya Aguiñiga, a visual artist, is recognized for blending contemporary craft, sculpture and performance to address issues of migration, gender and identity.
Born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, she draws on her life experience as a binational citizen, who as a child crossed the border daily from Tijuana to San Diego to attend school. Ms. Aguiñiga’s work speaks of the artist’s experience of her divided identity and aspires to tell the larger and often invisible stories of the transnational community.
Ms. Aguiñiga blends traditional Indigenous weaving practices and materials and contemporary design into elaborate and colorful works that hang on walls, form immersive performance installations, incorporate film and more. In 2016, Ms. Aguiñiga created AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides), an ongoing series of projects that provides a platform for binational artists. Noted works include AMBOS: Border Quipu/Quipu Fronterizo, which captures reflections gathered from interviews with thousands of individuals crossing the border between the United States and Mexico. Travelers were also asked to tie a knot between pieces of fabric — the knotted fabrics reminiscent of quipu, an Incan method for recording information that included variously colored threads knotted in different ways — as a documentation of their crossing, together creating a large, colorful cascading installation.
In creating Metabolizing the Border (2020), a reflection and reckoning with the pain experienced by those seeking to cross the border wall, Ms. Aguiñiga designed and fabricated an intricate bodysuit that has remnant pieces of the wall incorporated into brittle, clear blown-glass wearables designed to shatter and break. A video recording of her wearing the suit while walking along the familiar portion of the wall that extends into the Pacific Ocean symbolizes the struggle of the migrant experience.
Ms. Aguiñiga’s artwork is exhibited extensively across the United States in museums, cultural centers and galleries, where she often engages with community members as an extension of her shows.
26th Heinz Award for the Arts
Sanford Biggers, a conceptual artist, is recognized for creating powerful, multifaceted work, which grapples with ways in which culture and history interplay with our modern society.
His body of work encompasses painting, sculpture, film, textiles, installation and performance, employing a wide variety of media such as antique quilts, bronze, marble, sequins, vinyl and sound. His diverse practice positions him as a collaborator with the past by exploring often overlooked cultural and political narratives from American history.
Mr. Biggers' Codex series is his signature textile work project that includes mixed-media paintings and sculptures done directly on or made from pre-1900 antique quilts. In 2020, Mr. Biggers' largest museum survey of the Codex series entitled Codeswitch opened at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The exhibition's title refers to the idea of code-switching: shifting from one linguistic or behavioral code to another depending on the social context.
Following a residency as a 2017 American Academy Fellow in Rome, he began working in marble. Working in this traditional medium, Mr. Biggers’ series entitled Chimeras creates hybridized forms that transpose, combine and juxtapose classical and historical subjects to create alternative meanings and produce what he calls "future ethnographies." In 2021, Mr. Biggers’ debuted his largest Chimera to date entitled Oracle (2021), a 25-foot bronze sculpture commissioned by Rockefeller Center and Art Production Fund.
In his BAM series, Mr. Biggers seeks to memorialize and honor victims of police violence in the U.S., pointing towards recent transgressions and elevating the stories of specific individuals to combat historical amnesia. This series is composed of fragments of wooden African statues dipped and veiled with thick wax and then ballistically “resculpted.” Mr. Biggers then cast the remnants into bronze, a historically noble and weighty medium. Each sculpture is named and dedicated after unarmed victims who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
26th Heinz Award for the Economy
Dina Bakst and Sherry Leiwant, co-founders of A Better Balance, are recognized for using the power of advocacy and the law to advance justice for workers so they can care for themselves and their loved ones without jeopardizing their economic security.
Through policy work, direct legal services and public education, A Better Balance advances worker protections on issues such as paid family and medical leave, paid sick time, fair and flexible scheduling, protections for pregnant and breastfeeding workers, affordable quality childcare and eldercare, and equal pay. The organization’s work has impacted millions of families across the country and helped to elevate the importance of support for caregiving workers in the national conversation as a key cornerstone of advancing economic justice.
Ms. Bakst and Ms. Leiwant have successfully driven the passage of paid family and medical leave programs in 10 states, paid sick time laws in 15 states and dozens of localities, and pregnancy accommodations laws in 30 states and localities, among other work-family policies. Ms. Bakst is credited with launching a national movement for the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) through her 2012 op-ed in The New York Times, “Pregnant and Pushed Out of a Job.”
As a result of the pandemic, demands for their expertise have exploded. Coupled with Ms. Bakst’s and Ms. Leiwant’s leadership, A Better Balance has expanded its capacity and redoubled its efforts to urgently advocate for protections to support working families and to educate workers about existing laws that can help as they navigate the crisis, including by developing model legislation for COVID-19 paid leave and building out a database of pandemic-specific know-your-rights fact sheets and resources.
26th Heinz Award for the Economy
William (Bill) Bynum, founding CEO of HOPE, is recognized for combating the extent to which factors such as race, gender, birthplace and wealth limit one’s ability to prosper.
HOPE is a family of organizations composed of Hope Credit Union, Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Policy Institute, which provides financial services, aggregates resources and engages in advocacy.
HOPE works in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, a region where indicators of economic mobility, such as employment, housing, education and healthcare are among the worst in the United States. Entrenched poverty and racial disparities have exacerbated these conditions, as have the lack of access to traditional banking services for the region’s most economically distressed people and places, most notably in the Mississippi Delta and Alabama Black Belt.
Since 1994, HOPE has attacked these challenges by providing affordable, responsibly structured financial services, and advocated for policies and practices that bridge opportunity gaps and close the wealth divide in the Deep South These efforts have generated more than $3 billion in financing that has benefited nearly 2 million people across the Deep South, while influencing policies that helped shape the nations’ community development finance sector into a force for diversity and inclusion. Eight out of 10 people served by the credit union are people of color and 60% are women; over one-third were unbanked or underbanked prior to joining HOPE and 75% of HOPE’s member households earned incomes of less than $50,000 last year. Among the homeowners reached by HOPE, nine out of 10 are first time homebuyers – supported by products designed to directly address the consequences of the racial wealth gap.
HOPE’s impact has been greatest during times of crisis. This was the case after Hurricane Katrina devastated lives, homes and businesses in the region. HOPE’s advocacy resulted in policy changes that doubled the amount of public funds available to individuals without flood or property insurance.
26th Heinz Award for the Environment
Gabe Brown, a pioneer in regenerative agriculture and soil health, is recognized for catalyzing the movement to improve sustainable farming practices.
The results he achieves at his highly productive 5,000-acre farm, Brown’s Ranch, together with his first-hand farming experience and passion for sharing his journey are inspiring farmers to shift from conventional to regenerative methods, transforming farmland from an environmental problem to a solution.
Mr. Brown began experimenting with new farming practices after a series of weather-related crop disasters at his North Dakota farm put his family in desperate financial straits. In 1993, he adopted no-till practices for moisture conservation, and went on to implement other soil-building practices, including diverse cover cropping, complex crop rotation and the incorporation of perennials. In 2001, he ceased the application of synthetic pesticides and fungicides and stopped using synthetic fertilizers in 2007. He is a leader in rotational grazing approaches that maintain plant diversity and soil health, while lowering disease risk for livestock.
The resulting improvements in soil fertility, drought resistance and crop nutrition have transformed his land into a highly profitable farm ecosystem that sequesters carbon, supports wildlife and grows an abundance of high-quality food. Mr. Brown’s farm realizes crop yields that are equal or higher than neighboring farms while improving stability during intense rain events and droughts.
Recognizing that adoption of more ecologically based agricultural practices requires farmer-to-farmer training, better networking and a culture of ideas exchange, Mr. Brown is dedicated to sharing what he has learned. He reaches thousands of farmers annually through speaking and consulting engagements and soil health training sessions. Additionally, his book, Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, has become a key resource for both novice and seasoned farmers.
26th Heinz Award for the Environment
Jacqueline Patterson, M.S.W., M.P.H., environmental justice advocate and founder of the Chisholm Legacy Project, is recognized for building the capacity of marginalized Black communities to be strong, vocal advocates for environmental and social justice.
Ms. Patterson served as the Founding Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program (ECJP) from 2009-21, organizing frontline communities and NAACP chapters around issues such as clean water, carbon impacts, land equity, the local impacts of climate change and more. She also shaped the program to address the ways communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by the placement of toxic facilities such as coal-fired power plants and landfills, which emit mercury, arsenic, lead and other contaminants into water, food and air.
During her tenure as director, in conjunction with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Indigenous Environmental Network, the NAACP released a report analyzing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions of 378 coal-fired power plants in the United States in conjunction with the demographic factors of populations living within three miles of those plants, including race, median income and population density. The report, titled “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” focused on the role that these power plants have in the inequitable health outcomes of communities of color and was accompanied by the Coal Blooded Action Toolkit to spur grassroots action, produced by ECJP, with Ms. Patterson as a contributing author.
Ms. Patterson recently founded and serves as the executive director of the Chisholm Legacy Project, a resource hub for Black frontline climate justice leadership. The project, which is named after Shirley Chisholm, a champion of gender and racial justice and the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, is rooted in the Just Transition Framework, which advocates for a movement led by workers and communities impacted “first and worst” to advance systems change.