The Brandeis Creative Arts Award recognizes excellence in the arts and the lives and works of distinguished, active American artists. The award was established in 1956, just eight years after the University’s founding, at a time when there was no comparable award in higher education. The first recipients were Stuart Davis, for painting; Hallie Flanagan Davis, for theater; and William Carlos Williams, for poetry. Subsequent recipients included Aaron Copland, Gunther Schuller, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Sam Shepard and Twyla Tharp.

Two types of awards were given: medals acknowledged those who had “left an enduring mark upon their times” and citations to emerging artists, many of whom went on to achieve preeminence, such as composer and Professor Emeritus Yehudi Wyner, who in 2014 was elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Occasionally, an individual's contributions to the creative arts exceeded his or her contemporaries beyond the boundaries of the medal and citation. The Creative Arts Award Commission then bestowed the Notable Achievement Award. Recipients of this high honor include Leonard Bernstein (1973), Martha Graham (1968) and Wallace Shawn (1985).

The award was given until 1994. In 1995, the Creative Arts Award evolved into The Poses Institute of the Arts at Brandeis University, which honored extraordinary artistic achievement by awarding annual residencies for artists in diverse artistic disciplines. Honorees include Richard Corley, Dawn Upshaw and Chantal Akerman.

In 2015, the Creative Arts Award was revived, marking the university’s commitment to engaging with the arts as an opportunity for discovery, creativity and innovation across traditional disciplinary boundaries.