The History of the Grawemeyer Awards

Grawemeyer Hall, named after H. Charles Grawemeyer, is located at the University of Louisville Belknap campus.

The Grawemeyer Awards are five annual prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education and religion. They were founded by H. Charles Grawemeyer to help make the world a better place.

H. Charles Grawemeyer, industrialist, entrepreneur, astute investor and philanthropist, created the Grawemeyer Awards at the University of Louisville in 1984. An initial endowment of $9 million funded the awards, which have drawn nominations from around the world. Although the University of Louisville graduate was a chemical engineer by schooling, Grawemeyer cherished the liberal arts and chose to honor powerful ideas in five fields in performing arts, the humanities, and the social sciences.

The first award, Music Composition, was presented in 1985. The award for Ideas Improving World Order was added in 1988 and Education in 1989. In 1990, a fourth award, Religion, was added as a joint prize with the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Psychology was added in 2000, with the first award to be given in 2001.

Grawemeyer distinguished the awards by honoring ideas rather than life-long or publicized personal achievement. He also insisted that the selection process for each of the five awards–though dominated by professionals-include one step involving a lay committee knowledgeable in each field. As Grawemeyer saw it, great ideas should be understandable to someone with general knowledge and not be the private treasure of academics.

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