The Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College

Elizabeth Coleman Visionary Leadership Award

This annual award recognizes a distinguished Bennington alum, faculty or staff member, or an individual from the larger Bennington College community whose innovative and inspirational leadership is advancing civic and cultural life and improving the lives of others.

The Elizabeth Coleman Visionary Leadership Award was established in honor of Bennington’s ninth president and former director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) to recognize a living member of the Bennington College community.

The selected individual will be an engaged citizen who has successfully demonstrated the willingness to step forward and take risks in order to solve problems and achieve results in the areas of education, government, the arts and sciences, or industry. Established by the parents of a Bennington College graduate, the annual $6,000 award has no restrictions on how it may be used. 

We are collecting nominations through April 16, 2021 for this year’s award, and ask you to please nominate a classmate, faculty member, or other member of the larger Bennington College community who embodies the spirit of creative leadership by completing this form.

    Previous Recipients

    Dr. Jennifer Mieres '82
    Dr. Jennifer Mieres '82

    2020 Recipient

    Dr. Jennifer H. Mieres '82 is a leading expert in the fields of nuclear cardiology, cardiovascular disease in women, and patient centered healthcare advocacy. She has produced documentary films and written books on women's cardiovascular health, is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, and an advocate for health equity for diverse populations.

    John Bertles: a man with greying hair and mustache wearing a pink shirt
    John Bertles ’81

    2019 Recipient

    A Co-founder of Bash the Trash, John Bertles has combined music, science and environmental awareness since 1988. Bash the Trash builds, performs, and educates with musical instruments made from reused and repurposed materials.


    Gay Johnson McDougall ’69
    Gay Johnson McDougall ’69

    2018 Recipient

    A lawyer who has dedicated her work to addressing international human rights and ending racial discrimination, Gay Johnson McDougall ’69 served as the first United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues (2005-2011). Among McDougall’s many other honors, in 2015 the Government of South Africa bestowed on her the Order of O.R. Tamo Award for her contributions to ending apartheid.

    Ben Hall
    Ben Hall ’04

    2017 Recipient

    Chef, artist, musician, and activist Ben Hall '04 owns the Russell Street Deli, a Detroit heritage restaurant and soup manufacturer, which provides free soups to 55,000 students in Detroit Public Schools and has made national news for paying its employees a living wage. Ben has presented congressional briefings on the challenges facing minimum wage workers in the foodservice industry. 

    Sheila Lewandowski
    Sheila Lewandowski '97

    2016 Recipient

    Sheila Lewandowski is a long-time arts advocate and cofounder of The Chocolate Factory, an award-winning incubator of experimental performance in Queens, NY. Lewandowski has long recognized that cultural development goes hand in hand with community development, and that the arts are an integral part of the community fabric.

    Victoria Sammartino
    Victoria Sammartino ’99

    2015 Recipient

    Victoria Sammartino is the founder of Voices UnBroken. Inspired by her experience teaching poetry readings at Rikers Island, a NYC prison, while a student, she began the nonprofit dedicated to giving vulnerable young people opportunity for creative self-expression, one year after graduating from Bennington.

    Holly Block
    Holly Block ’80

    2014 Inaugural Recipient

    Holly Block is the Executive Director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts and recently served as the co-commissioner of the United States Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. Under her leadership, the museum has not only earned international acclaim but become an engine for community revitalization.

    interview with dr. mieres play video
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    Dr. Jennifer Mieres '82: Elizabeth Coleman Visionary Leadership Award

    Gay Johnson McDougall '69 play video
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    Gay Johnson McDougall '69

    Ben Hall Video play video
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    Entrepreneurship, Activism, and Art

    Mariko Silver Presents the 2016 Award to Sheila Lewandowski play video
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    Mariko Silver Presents the 2016 Award to Sheila Lewandowski