APPLETON, WIS. — Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor and a renowned New York City contemporary arts curator will be awarded honorary degrees Sunday, June 15 by Lawrence University at the college’s 159th commencement. Graduation exercises begin at 10:30 a.m. on the Main Hall green.
In recognition of professional achievements and civic contributions, Barbara Lawton, Wisconsin’s first elected female lieutenant governor, will receive an honorary doctor of laws. Alanna Heiss, founder and director of P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters. Lawton and Heiss are 1987 and 1966 Lawrence graduates, respectively.
Lawrence is expected to confer 295 bachelor of arts and/or music degrees to 285 seniors from 32 states and 14 foreign countries.
In addition to honorary doctorates, Lawrence also will recognize John Brandenberger, Alice G. Chapman Professor of Physics and David Cook, Philetus E. Sawyer Professor of Science, for 83 years of combined teaching service with honorary master’s degrees.
David Ross, a social sciences teacher at Madison West High School, and Kathy Sager, an English teacher at New Berlin Eisenhower High School, will receive Lawrence’s annual Outstanding Teaching in Wisconsin Award.
Associate Professor of Statistics Joy Jordan presents the address “Connect, Listen, and Be Kind” at a baccalaureate service Saturday, June 14 at 11 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The baccalaureate service and commencement ceremony are free and open to the public.
During commencement, Lawton and Heiss will join President Jill Beck, Lawrence Board of Trustees Chair Harry Jansen Kraemer Jr. and student Melanie Heindl, a senior from Kaukauna, in addressing the graduates.
Since the age of 16, when she campaigned door-to-door on behalf of Senator Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential bid, Lawton has been active in civic engagement and public service. She made state history in 2002 by becoming the first woman elected lieutenant governor in Wisconsin. She was re-elected in 2006.
Throughout her career, Lawton has been a strong advocate of opportunities for women, economic development and promotion of the arts. She was instrumental in the creation of Wisconsin Women = Prosperity, a nationally recognized economic development initiative between the public and private sectors designed to empower women to make their best contributions in corporate, political and civic life. In 1999, the Wisconsin chapter of NOW honored Lawton with its Feminist of the Year Award.
In 2007, she authored a resolution to combat global warming and promote the development of renewable energy and fuel-efficient technologies that was passed by the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association last summer. As a member of the National Leadership Council for the American Association of Colleges and Universities, she promotes the value of liberal arts education as a national resource for economic creativity and democratic vitality.
Lawton serves as the current chair of the 15-member Wisconsin Arts Board and has led efforts to develop strong arts and cultural programming in all areas of the state. She also was instrumental in helping to pass legislation that provides tax incentives to the film and video game industry in Wisconsin.
A native of Milwaukee, Lawton spent 30 years living in Green Bay, where she was one of the founders of the Greater Green Bay Area Community Foundation, the Education Resource Foundation and the Green Bay Multicultural Center. The Fort Howard Foundation recognized her efforts in 1985 with its Humanitarian Award.
In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in Spanish from Lawrence, Lawton earned a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Heiss, once New York City’s first female parole officer for male offenders, is widely recognized as one of the visionary founders of the alternative space movement in the United States and one of the most influential curators in the world. She has been instrumental in advancing the careers of thousands of artists through the use of nontraditional exhibition spaces.
A one-time aspiring concert pianist, after earning a degree in music from Lawrence, the Louisville, Ky., native spent several years in London before moving to New York City in 1970.
Recognizing the city’s world-wide appeal to contemporary artists, she set out to provide invigorating alternatives beyond galleries and museums to showcase their work. A year later she organized her first exhibition in unused spaces beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. She founded the Institute for Art and Urban Resources in 1971 and focused on turning abandoned and underutilized New York City buildings into artists’ studios and exhibition spaces.
In 1976, she transformed a deserted, decaying public school in Queens into the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, which the New York Times once described as “a place in touch with developments around the world and able to bring them here in record time.” With 125,000 square feet of exhibition space, it is the largest contemporary art institution in the United States and among the largest in the world.
Heiss also converted a double-decker clock tower atop a 13-story building near city hall into the Clocktower Gallery, turning it into one of New York City’s most distinctive spaces for innovative exhibitions.
During her career, Heiss has organized or curated more than 700 exhibitions in New York and abroad, edited three books, wrote a fourth and contributed dozens of articles and essays for art catalogs and anthologies.
Her efforts on behalf of contemporary art have been recognized with honors from around the world, including the Mayor’s Award for Contributions to the Artistic Viability of New York City, France’s prestigious Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in the legion d’Honneur, membership in the Royal Order of the Polar Star for contributions to promoting the arts in Sweden and the Skowhegan Award for Outstanding Work in the Arts from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.