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2015 Honorary Degree Citation

Ella Baff
Doctor of Fine Arts

Like dance itself, you never stand still. Your creative vision, generous embrace of dance in all forms and willingness to move forward have defined your nearly two decades of leadership at Jacob’s Pillow, America’s cultural treasure. You have choreographed the evolution of the nation’s oldest dance festival into a renowned mecca for creative movement, cross-cultural collaboration, and world-class performances.

As the inspiring executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow as an international Festival, you have marshaled the power of dance to shine a remarkably bright beacon in the forests of The Berkshires. The caliber, energy and diversity of expression that distinguish the Pillow’s litany of more than 350 free and ticketed performances, talks and films attract thousands to your venues each summer.

A wise steward, you have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure Jacob Pillow’s mission and resources by encouraging collaboration, building your audiences and giving back to the Western Massachusetts community. During your tenure, the Pillow has been declared a 225-acre national historic landmark. You have established an endowment, greatly expanded  an internship program as a national educational program, expanded public access to your growing dance archives, maintained and improved your facilities, and developed an ambitious program of events and artist residencies that extend beyond your traditional summer season.

The arts-enriched backdrop of your New York City childhood shaped your cultural vision, imprinting the importance of access to dance and music for performers and audience members of all ages. After graduating with honors from the University of California at Berkeley, you taught theater on an Aleutian Island. 

You went on to develop arts programs for social service and community organizations, and taught in juvenile prisons in the Bay area. As a literacy instructor, you taught grandparents and their grandchildren how to read. Those early professional experiences, and your years directing Cal Performances programs at Berkeley, inform your cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural outreach efforts. Under your leadership, Jacob’s Pillow and Holy Cross share many values as mission-driven enterprises of higher purpose.

Your extensive service as a consultant and advisor in the cultural field has taken you to foundations and arts organizations worldwide. You were named one of the “Top 25 Most Influential and Powerful People in the Arts” by Inside Arts Magazine and serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. You received France’s Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2004, among other well-deserved honors. You were invited to the White House in 2011 to accept a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama on behalf of Jacob’s Pillow.  

That all may know of our esteem for you and your efforts to increase dance literacy and extend the reach of this performing arts treasure, the College of the Holy Cross confers upon you this day the degree,Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa.