Arts & Sciences Cities of Distinction Award


The liberal arts & sciences make cities key places to live, work and play, and we want to make sure that people know it. 

The Arts & Sciences Cities of Distinction event series was designed to shine a spotlight on cities that recognize the value of the arts and sciences to their communities. The series: 

  Worked with municipal leaders to recognize four local organizations with $5,000 prizes for their successful efforts to engage broader audiences with the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, or mathematics. 

  Connected new audiences to notable arts and sciences scholars in their communities through public (En)Lightning Talks where several presenters conveyed key ideas in fun, accessible, and quick presentations.


Houston, Texas 

Houston-Circle-EditPhi Beta Kappa recognized the City of Houston as an Arts & Sciences City of Distinction on April 17, 2018. The Society recognized the innovative efforts of the The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA), led by Deborah McNulty, which develops policies and initiatives that expand access to arts and cultural programs in the community, attract visitors, and leverage private investment. The office helps the public and City departments realize cultural projects that advance their goals and benefit the city’s 2.2 million residents and nearly 17 million annual visitors. The Society also recognized four exemplary local organizations: 


  • Harvey Arts Recovery Fund (HARF) supports the disaster recovery needs of the Greater Houston arts, culture, and creative community in a 10-county region. As a collaborative effort of Houston's arts services sector, its focus is rebuilding and restoring smaller arts and culture nonprofits and aiding individual artists by providing them with recovery and funding information. 
  • Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts (MECA) is committed to the healthy development of individuals through arts and cultural programming, academic excellence, support services and community building. MECA provides arts education, support services, and multicultural artistic performances and events to over 4,000 students and their families each year, helping to build discipline, self-esteem, and cultural pride.
  • Cougars and Houston Area Math Program (CHAMP) is a mathematics outreach program for middle and high school students from underserved communities surrounding the University of Houston. CHAMP puts students from the local community into direct contact with faculty and students from the University of Houston to create pathways for success in mathematics and address the critical issue of underrepresentation. 
  • Houston Asian American Archive (HAAA) is a research archive at Rice University’s Chao Center for Asian Studies that fosters a deeper understanding of Houston’s immigrant history by conducting oral histories and preserving materials. HAAA also facilitates grassroots engagement by offering tools and resources for investigating community histories and works to interrogate critically what race, ethnicity, identity, and community mean. 
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Los Angeles, California


Phi Beta Kappa recognized the City of Los Angeles as an Arts & Sciences City of Distinction on October 17, 2017. The Society recognized the innovative efforts of the Department of Cultural Affairs, led by Danielle Brazell, which  promotes arts and culture as a way to ignite powerful dialogue, engage residents and visitors, and ensure that LA’s varied cultures are recognized, acknowledged, and experienced. The Society also recognized four exemplary local organizations: 


  • WriteGirl is a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes self-expression through creative writing among underserved teen girls to help them become positive change agents in their communities through monthly writing intensives, public readings, mentoring, and collegiate preparation and attainment.
  • Citizen Science Program at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County engages local communities to better understand biodiversity through the tracking and surveying of wildlife in the Los Angeles area and through projects and programs that connect scientists with the community to foster authentic experiences in nature.
  • United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance provides opportunities for veterans to work and thrive in the arts and humanities. It highlights the power of the arts and humanities to help address critical issues that veterans face today including the transition to civilian life, education, employment, and the effects of wartime and service injuries. 
  • TOPS Science Outreach Program at Occidental College is a 20 year-long collaboration between Los Angeles area teachers and Occidental faculty that provides over 7,000 students each year with student-centered laboratory learning experiences that foster scientific inquiry and curiosity. 
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Atlanta, Georgia 

Phi Beta Kappa recognized the City of Atlanta as an Arts & Sciences City of Distinction on April 6, 2017. The Society recognized the innovative efforts of the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs, led by Camille Russell Love, which aims to enhance the quality of life through arts and culture, and to contribute positively to the social and economic health of Atlanta and the region. The Society also recognized four exemplary local organizations:


  • ELEVATE aims to promote city-wide cultural and economic growth among residents by exhibiting large-scale public art installations, visual performances, and educational opportunities. Their goal is to ensure Atlanta residents feel a strong sense of pride in their city and the cultural resources and experiences it offers to the world. 
  • Atlanta Science Festival explores the science and technology of the region, expands the local community of science enthusiasts, and inspires a new generation of curious thinkers. Collaborations with 100-plus community partners, including school districts, post-secondary institutions, museums, businesses, civic and community groups facilitate the festival’s success.
  • Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection contains an unparalleled gathering of more than 13,000 primary documents representing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and work. The Office of the King Collection dedicates itself to engaging students, as well as educators and community leaders by promoting King’s teachings and nonviolent philosophy as a critical resource for civic engagement.
  • Center for Collaborative & International Arts at Georgia State University (CENCIA) provides meaningful opportunities for artists of diverse disciplines to collaborate and connect with local, national, and international communities through accessible arts programming. CENCIA connects Atlanta to global communities and helps to position the city as an international center for artistic expression.
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Portland, Oregon 

Phi Beta Kappa recognized the City of Portland as an Arts & Sciences City of Distinction on October 19, 2016. The Society recognized the innovative efforts of the Regional Arts & Culture Council, led by Eloise Damrosch, which  provides grants and support for local artists, nonprofit organizations and schools in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties. The Society also recognized four local exemplary organizations: 

  • The Regional Arts & Cultural Council’s Right Brain Initiative is a sustainable arts education partnership of public schools, government, foundations, businesses and the cultural community bringing creativity to all 110,000 K-8 students in the Portland metro region.
  • Literary Arts  is a is a community-based nonprofit literary center with a 32-year history of building a community around literature by engaging more than 13,500 writers, readers, teachers, and students across Oregon each year. 
  • Lewis & Clark College's Community Engagement and Leadership in Science strengthens pathways into math and science education for students from underrepresented backgrounds while preparing Lewis & Clark College of Arts & Sciences students to pursue careers as future educators in a diverse and changing society. 
  • Portland State University and the Oregon Heritage Commission’s Archaeology Roadshow  brings together community partners including universities, tribes, agencies, companies, historical societies, and students to introduce the public to the science of archaeology and instill a sense of stewardship for cultural resources.
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Chicago, Illinois 

Chicago-CirclePhi Beta Kappa recognized the City of Chicago as an Arts & Sciences City of Distinction on May 10, 2016. The Society recognized the innovative efforts of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, led by Michelle Boone, which  is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy by fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses. The Society also recognized four local exemplary organizations: 

  • The University of Chicago Arts and Public Life Initiative engages artists, South Side community organizations, youth, adults, and University of Chicago students, faculty and staff in conversation and exchange around the arts.
  • Math Circles of Chicago provides free, after school math enrichment programs for students in grades 5-12 in all Chicago communities, offering opportunities to experience mathematics in novel ways and develop a lifelong love of mathematics learning.
  • Northwestern University’s Science in Society shares scientific discoveries and engages the public with science in wide-ranging, community-centered ways, including a Science Club mentoring program, Helix Magazine of scientific research, and Science Explorers tutoring program. 
  •  The Odyssey Project is a free, 36-week college-credit granting humanities program for income-eligible Chicagoans with limited access to higher education, offered in conjunction with the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities.


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