Two UCLA professors share an honor given this year to two former U.S. presidents, a Nobel laureate, a former U.S. poet laureate and five Pulitzer Prize winners. The leading American theater and opera director Peter Sellars and archaeologist Charles Stanish have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In all, 195 new fellows were elected to the honorary society that recognizes achievement in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities and public service.
Renowned theater, opera and film director Peter Sellars has been a professor in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures - part of the School of the Arts and Architecture at UCLA - since 1998. One of the most visionary and powerful forces in the performing arts, he is known for his innovative reinterpretations of classic works, be it Mozart, Shakespeare, Aeschylus or Sophocles. He is able to strike a universal chord with audiences, engaging contemporary social and political issues.
A graduate of Harvard University, Sellars was selected at age 26 to lead the American National Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Since then, he has directed more than 100 productions all over the world, and has guided numerous arts festivals. Among his many honors are the MacArthur Prize and the Erasmus Prize.
Sellars has brought 20th-century operas to the stage, including works by Olivier Messiaen, Paul Hindemith, Gy├Ârgy Ligeti and Kaija Saariaho. Sellars has been the guiding force in the creation of new works that have expanded the repertoire of modern opera. Among them are works with longtime collaborator John Adams, such as "Nixon in China," "The Death of Klinghoffer," "El Ni├▒o" and, most recently, "Doctor Atomic," about Robert Oppenheimer and the birth of the atomic age. Sellars created the "Doctor Atomic" libretto from a variety of historical sources including declassified government and military documents, personal letters, correspondence and poetry.
Projects in recent years have included a Chicano version of Stravinsky's "The Story of a Soldier"; a new production of Euripides' play "The Children of Herakles," focusing on contemporary immigration and refugee issues and experiences; and Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," in collaboration with video artist Bill Viola and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Sellars is currently the artistic director of the New Crowned Hope Festival in Austria. He has invited to Vienna many contemporary international artists from diverse cultural backgrounds in the fields of music and opera, architecture, the visual arts, and film to create new projects as part of the Vienna Mozart Year celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.
Sellars joins four other professors in the School of the Arts and Architecture as fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: John Baldessari, art; Thomas S. Hines, architecture and urban design, emeritus; Robert Israel, design | media arts; and Anthony Seeger, ethnomusicology.
A professional archaeologist since 1985 and holder of UCLA's Lloyd Cotsen Chair in Archaeology, Charles Stanish and his students from UCLA have helped rewrite our understanding of the prehistory of the Titicaca Basin, one of the great areas of civilization in the ancient world.
As one of the world's leading authorities on Andean archeology, Stanish has surveyed more than 1,400 square miles in Peru and Bolivia and discovered more than 3,000 new archaeological sites, including more than 200 major monuments. The primary focus of his research is the Lake Titicaca Basin from about 1,000 B.C. to the Inca civilization in A.D. 1438. The period is characterized by the rise of complex societies in one of the few areas in the world where ancient civilizations developed independently.
Stanish came eight years ago to UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he served as an associate curator and chair of the anthropology department. In 2001, he was named director of the Cotsen Institute, which is home to the world's largest collection of active archaeologists with 35 affiliated faculty and 17 research projects. Under his leadership, funding has tripled at the Cotsen Institute and the institute's prestige has risen commensurately.
In addition to these administrative and archaeological achievements, Stanish's record includes significant philanthropic contributions. Mostly by tapping international funding sources, he collaborated with local communities to establish three ethnographic and archaeological museums - one in Bolivia and two in Peru - near important excavation sites. He also spearheaded the establishment of a library in a Peruvian community where he has worked as an archaeologist.
Also an anthropology professor, Stanish joins four other members of UCLA's Anthropology Department as fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Christopher B. Donnan, Robert B. Edgerton, Elinor Ochs and Sherry B. Ortner.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar patriots, the academy aims to select "the finest minds and most influential leaders" from each generation. Fellows have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill. Current membership includes more than 170 Nobel laureates and 50 Pulitzer Prize winners. An independent policy research center, the academy undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Election to the academy, which is for life, is one of the highest honors a scholar or scientist can receive.