On June 20, 2019, Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, awarded Joe Melillo with the insignia of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in a ceremony held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in New York.
I am Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, and it is my great pleasure to honor Joe Melillo with the insignia of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, the highest of the ranks of this distinction.
This Order was establish in 1957 by the French Ministry of Culture to reward those who have made significant contributions to furthering the arts, literature and culture in France and throughout the world. As we are here at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, after the opening performance of Espæce by Aurélien Bory and Compagnie 111, it is a great occasion to acknowledge how much Joe Melillo has done for BAM and for international cultural cooperation.
As one of your friends summed up, there’s only one answer to the question: “What do two French movie stars, a nouveau cirque performer, a legendary French Opera Director, an Equestrian Theater Director, 27 horses, the Sun KING, and Antigone all have in common?” – it’s you.
For over thirty-five years, you have been a major figure of BAM, serving most recently as its Executive Producer, and your leadership has largely contributed to a major expansion in the institution’s programming. In 1983, Harvey Lichtenstein recruited you to be the Founding Director of the Next Wave Festival intended to spotlight a new generation of bold and groundbreaking artists. With a name playing on the French film tradition of the New Wave, it comes as no surprise that about every seminal artist from France has found a home at BAM–or, as the French say, la BAM– since the creation of this festival.
You then took on the role of Executive Producer in 1999 – a position in which you continued to display your passion for innovation and originality. This passion took you to every corner of the world, where you found the best performances to bring to American audiences. You have always welcomed international artists with open arms into the renowned institution that BAM is. This openness leads you to support original works that are not only high-quality but also challenging since they push back the boundaries of the arts and the everyday assumptions of our culture. Under your leadership, the addition of a smaller new space in 2012, BAM Fisher, enabled emerging artists to perform on a world-class stage, in front of the passionate and knowledgeable audience of BAM.
You have done so much for succeeding younger generations while also showing a profound loyalty to all these artists, including many hailing from France. Zingaro/Bartabas, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, Olivier Py, Anjelin Preljocaj, Patrice Chéreau, Isabelle Huppert, Les Arts Florissants-William Christie, Maguy Marin, James Thierrée, Ariane Mnouchkine, Philippe Decouflé, Peter Brook, Lyon Opera Ballet, Yoann Bourgeois and, of course, Aurélien Bory as we saw tonight – these artists and many more have benefited from your dedication to the arts, and your belief that culture transcends borders. You have made BAM a special place for international artists.
You have teamed up with the Cultural Services on numerous occasions, sharing with us your professional and personal qualities. Those who had the chance to work with you have emphasized how eloquent and charming you are, but also how much you contributed to strengthen the ties between France and the New York cultural scene. It was a pleasure working with you, and we are looking forward to the next chapter of our collaboration with the team at BAM and its new Artistic Director, David Binder.
Even if you are leaving your position as BAM’s Executive Producer, you are now Executive Producer Emeritus, and the imprint you have made on this institution will stay. You have shaped it with the elegance that defines you so well. In 1999, you were named Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. Then, in 2004, Officier. Throughout your career, you have continually supported the arts, relentlessly expanding cultural horizons and supporting new generations of artists. Your dedication to this mission has only grown with time. For all of your contributions, we are truly honored to present you with the insignia of Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Joseph Melillo, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.