Cornell will honor actor Jimmy Smits for his artistic achievements with the 2011 Alumni Artist Award at a ceremony Dec. 6 at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.
Smits, MFA '82, will meet with students while on campus and participate in a public question-and-answer session with Professor Bruce Levitt and students in the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance, 2-3:30 p.m. in the Schwartz Center's Flex Theatre. Smits will accept his award at an invitation-only ceremony that evening.
Smits is best known for his character portrayals in long-running starring roles in the television series "L.A. Law" (1986-91), "NYPD Blue" (1993-98) and "The West Wing" (2004-06), and for films including "My Family (Mia Familia)," "Old Gringo" and two "Star Wars" prequels. More recently, he starred in the 2007 CBS drama "Cane" and 2010 NBC series "Outlaw" and appeared in the Showtime series "Dexter." Smits earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1990 and a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Drama in 1995.
He appeared in several Cornell productions as a student, from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman." Before his television and film career, he also had major roles in the early 1980s at the Ithaca Repertory Theatre (now Hangar Theatre).
His stage career also includes the Public Theater's New York Shakespeare Festival and a 2009-10 co-starring role on Broadway in the critically acclaimed "God of Carnage."
Smits is a co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, which advances the presence of Latinos in the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries, both in front of and behind the camera. In 1997, the U.S. Congress Congressional Award Program honored Smits with its Horizon Award for his efforts to expand opportunities for all Americans.
The Alumni Artist Award honors alumni who have achieved national or international success in the arts. Artists who are emerging as leaders in their disciplines are considered, along with those with more fully developed careers. Innovation and experimentation, artistic rigor, the influential nature of the work and commitment to engaging diverse audiences are considered in the selection of the award recipient.
The award was established in 1997 by the Cornell Council for the Arts and the Committee on the Arts of the University Council. Past recipients include fiction writer Junot Diaz, MFA '95, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"; pioneering minimalist composer Steven Reich '57, also a Pulitzer Prize winner; and architect Peter Eisenman '54, B.Arch. '55, known for his contributions to modern architecture and his relationship and collaborations with philosopher Jacques Derrida.