LEH Humanities Awards

Since 1985, the LEH has honored Louisianans who have made outstanding contributions to the study and understanding of the humanities. Awardees will be honored at the May 2018 Bright Lights Awards Dinner in New Orleans.


About the 2018 Awards

On May 10, 2018, the Bright Lights Awards Dinner will bring guests from around the state to the Arbor Room at Popp Fountain in City Park in New Orleans for a celebration of the LEH’s annual humanities awards. In partnership with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, we will honor culinary giant and civil rights icon Leah Chase as the 2018 Humanist of the Year.

2018 Humanist of the Year

Leah Chase, known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” served as Executive Chef of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, she has fed presidents and young activists, world leaders and famous musicians. The restaurant served as a hive of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and remains a landmark for visiting dignitaries. She has testified before Congress to lobby for greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and authored several popular cookbooks, including The Dooky Chase CookbookAnd Still I Cook, and Leah Chase: Listen, I Say Like This. Chase has received many awards, including multiple awards from the NAACP, the New Orleans Times‐Picayune 1997 Loving Cup Award, the Weiss Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women. She also serves on many boards, including the Arts Council of New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Urban League.

In addition to Chase, the LEH named these individuals and organizations as 2018 awardees:

Chair’s Institutional Award

Rosemary and Randy Ewing are pillars of long‐term support for the humanities in Louisiana. Rosemary served on the Board of the LEH for more than two decades and Randy served in the state legislature from 1988–2000, the last four years as the President of the Senate. Not only generous with their time, effort, and advocacy, the Ewings have been staunch financial supporters of numerous charities, including major support for the LEH. Louisiana has benefited from their passion and focus on early childhood intervention in education and health.

Champion of Culture Award

Roger Ogden has made a monumental mark on the cultural landscape of Louisiana. Among his major efforts are the construction of the Aquarium of the Americas and the Woldenberg Park; the restoration of the state Supreme Court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in the French Quarter; and establishment of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art as well as the Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College at LSU.

Humanities Books Award

The LEH recognizes two outstanding works of history as 2018 Books of the Year. Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in White and Black (Harper) by Michael Tisserand masterfully traces Herriman’s remarkable rise as a comic genius. The Thibodeaux Massacre: Racial Violence and the 1887 Sugar Cane Labor Strike (The History Press) by John DeSantis uses correspondence, interviews and federal records to detail this harrowing true story.

Humanities Documentary Film Award

Produced by Christina Melton, Deeply Rooted: John Coykendall’s Journey to Save our Seeds and Stories presents the story of a renowned heirloom seed saver and his passion for preserving the seeds and stories of a small Louisiana farming community in Washington Parish. www.lpb.org

Michael P. Smith Memorial Award for Documentary Photography

A dedicated and accomplished photographer, LSU Professor Jeremiah Ariaz’s work reflects an artist profoundly committed to an authentic vision, one influenced by and, in many ways, led by the indigenous power of Louisiana’s distinct cultural and historical attributes.

Light Up for Literacy Award

Sisters of the Holy Family have dedicated themselves to educating under-served and under-privileged populations since the order’s inception 175 years ago.

Lifetime Contribution to the Humanities

Mary Lou Christovich was a tireless preservationist, author, historian and philanthropist who played a leading role in founding and nurturing many local preservation groups.

Ben Sandmel has devoted his career to championing Louisiana’s traditional music and culture. Sandmel has written books about New Orleans R&B, and zydeco, contributed articles to leading magazines and academic anthologies, produced and played drums on a Grammy-nominated Cajun/country album, and conducted extensive fieldwork around the state, researching both Louisiana’s indigenous music and the folklore of riverboats. Since 1996 Sandmel has produced the oral history and interview venue, known as the Music Heritage Stage, at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Museum Exhibition of the Year

Storyville: Madams and Music, an exhibition of The Historic New Orleans Collection, revives the sights and sounds of New Orleans’s former red-light district a century after its closing. The exhibition encourages a better understanding of the music, people, and businesses that shaped the complicated legacies of Storyville. This is the inaugural Museum of the Year award.



Nominations for 2019

Individuals, institutions or organizations may submit nominations. Individuals, however, may not nominate themselves. Letters of nomination should not exceed two pages and should detail specific accomplishments that qualify the nominee for the award, in particular, their contributions to our understanding of the state and the humanities. Whenever possible, curriculum vitae for the nominee and other letters of support should accompany the letter of nomination

Nominations must be received in the LEH office no later than 5 p.m. December 15, and should be addressed to: Humanities Awards Committee, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 938 Lafayette St., Suite 300, New Orleans, LA  70113. Nominations also may be faxed to LEH (attention to Chair, Humanities Awards Committee) at 504-529-2358 or emailed to restovic@leh.org.

Award categories include:
  • Lifetime Contribution to the Humanities
  • Humanities Documentary Film of the Year
  • Michael P. Smith Documentary Photography
  • Humanities Book of the Year
  • Museum Exhibition of the Year, a new category for 2018
  • “Light Up for Literacy”
The “humanities,” as defined by Congress, include the study of literature, history, philosophy, modern and classical languages, linguistics, archaeology, jurisprudence, art history and criticism, ethics, comparative religion, and those disciplines of the social sciences employing historical or philosophical approaches such as cultural anthropology or social theory.

The Humanities Awards Committee will select nominees who best exemplify one or more of the above categories. No single humanities area will receive primary consideration, but the nominees’ activities must reflect one or more disciplines in the humanities.

Awards criteria include:

  • Lifetime Contributions: Honors citizens who have supported and been involved in public appreciation of issues central to the humanities.
  • Michael P. Smith Documentary Photography: Honors documentary photographers whose subject matter exemplifies Louisiana topics and aesthetics. Nominations may be for a complete body of work or for a single project.
  • Humanities Documentary Film of the Year: Awarded to the documentary film that best exemplifies scholarship on Louisiana topics or by Louisiana documentary filmmakers.
  • Humanities Book of the Year: Awarded to the book that best exemplifies scholarship on Louisiana topics or by Louisiana writers.
  • Light Up for Literacy: Honors individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to literacy efforts in the state. The award is presented in partnership with the Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana and the Library of Congress.
  • Museum Exhibition of the Year. 2018 is the first year for this award, which recognizes an exhibition held during the prior calendar year that brought new insights to our understanding of the state, its artists, and/or its history.

For additional information about the annual humanities awards, contact LEH President Miranda Restovic at restovic@leh.org or visit the LEH website www.leh.org.

View a list of awardees since 1985


View photos from the 2017 Bright Lights Event


Honorary Host:

Billy Nungesser
Lieutenant Governor


Master of Ceremonies:

Miranda Restovic
LEH President


2018 Host Committee:

Liz Ary, New Orleans
Dorian Bennett, New Orleans
Ty Bromell, Baton Rouge
Tom Clark, Baton Rouge
Elaine Garvey, New Orleans
Mark Gremillion, Lafayette
Deborah Harkins, New Orleans
Mary Shaddock Jones, Lake Charles
Liz Mangham, Baton Rouge
Jody Montelaro, Baton Rouge
Mary Ann Sternberg, Baton Rouge
Drew Tessier, Baton Rouge
Sharonda Williams, New Orleans