Jacobs Honored with National Heritage Fellowship

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY OCT 5, 2015

The National Heritage Fellowship award since 1982 has been given to folk musicians, potters, tailors, welders and more. But never had the award gone to a circus performer until Friday night. Dolly Jacobs, legendary aerialist and co-founder of The Circus Arts Conservatory, now bears the distinction of being the first circus artist to earn this recognition for work done in the big top, but as she accepted the award, she felt it was the circus arts themselves that earned the accolade. 

“I accepted on behalf of all those that came before me,” said Jacobs. Of course, the circus played a particularly important role in Jacobs’ own heritage. Her father was famed circus clown Lou Jacobs, and her godmother Margie Geiger was an accomplished aerialist who taught Jacobs her craft.

Jacobs’ work as an artist has won recognition before; she was given a place on the Circus Ring of Fame in 1998, and in 2013 was inducted into The Gallery of Acrobatic Legends. But these days, her greatest accomplishments come not just from spinning in the air but in broadening the recognition of circus heritage. She and husband Pedro Reis made that a part of the mission of The Circus Arts Conservatory, which in addition to training young performers also champions circus as an art form. The work earned Jacobs the Florida Folk Heritage award for the Florida Department of State in 2012, and to win the National Heritage Fellowship is now chief accomplishment in her career. "This is one of the highest awards you can get in the field,” she said.

The award was given by National Endowment of the Arts chairwoman Jane Chu during a ceremony at the Library of Congress on Thursday, and on Friday, Jacobs performed at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. Other recipients included Rahim AlHaj, an accomplished composer and oud player; Michael Alpert, Yiddish singer and instrumentalist; and to Mary Lee Bendolph, Lucy Mingo and Loretta Pettway, chief quilters from the oldest generation of quilters in Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

Of course, the award could also be important to the Conservatory as it seeks funding from the state this year. Board members from the Conservatory noted Jacobs’ award during a meeting of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation in Sarasota on Friday. “It’s an accomplishment to have recognized the circus arts as part of the traditional arts,” noted board member Colleen Thayer. The Legislature has budgeted funding for the conservatory the last two years only to see the funding vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott. 

Regardless, Jacobs will hold the distinction of being the first circus performer with this award, perhaps opening the door to wider recognition for performers in years to come. “It’s incredible to get an award for your passion, for something you do because this is something that you love,” she said. “To receive an award for that is mind-blowing.”

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