The Michael Merritt Awards and Endowment Fund honor the memory of Joseph Jefferson Award-winning scenic designer and Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department faculty member Michael Merritt, noted for his designs for Chicago’s Goodman and Steppenwolf theatres as well as for Broadway and motion pictures. The Michael Merritt Award, a national award unique in its emphasis on excellence in both design and collaboration, is presented annually to outstanding professional theatrical designers. The Endowment Fund recognizes and encourages the work of young professionals and students through a national design exposition and prizes to promising theatrical design students. One of these prizes, the John Murbach Prize, is given annually to a graduating Theatre Design student at Columbia College.
The Michael Merritt Awards and Endowment Fund focuses on supporting collaborative work, citing a statement by famed musical theatre writer-director-producer Oscar Hammerstein II:
Collaboration is the biggest word in the theater. It is the most important element in theatrical success. Not just the collaboration between an author and a composer, but the total collaboration in every play, the convergence and co-ordination of all the different talents, producing, writing, directing, choreography, acting, scene designing, costume designing, lighting, orchestration, theater management, company management, public relations–the mixture of all these ingredients is essential to every theatrical meal that seeks to make itself palatable to the public. To get along in the theater you must enjoy working side by side with other people. You must be willing not only to give your best to them but to accept their best and give them the opportunity of adding their efforts to yours to their full capacities.