Cactus meets creativity

Artist Ed Mell, who most recently designed the Arizona Centennial Postage Stamp, was named Artist of the Year and ASU Gammage Executive Director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and Museum of Northern Arizona Director Robert Breunig shared the Individual Award at tonight’s 31st annual Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards at the Herberger Theater Center.

Several additional awards were presented as well, all after remarks by Governor Jan Brewer and others who spoke in unison about the importance of arts to Arizona’s economy, quality of life, education landscape and more. Here’s the rundown:

Arts in Education-Individual Award: Beth Lessard, Tempe, former chair of the Arizona State University Department of Dance

Arts in Education-Organization Award: Arizona School for the Arts

Community Award: Arizona Cowboy Poet Gathering, Prescott

Business Award: JP Morgan Chase

Arts advocate and leader Darryl Dobras of Tucson received the 2012 Shelley Award for advancing the arts through strategic and innovative work in creating or supporting public policy beneficial to the arts in Arizona.

SRP was the Presenting Sponsor of the 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards. Other sponsors for the event included Boeing, Arts Entertainment Sponsor; Resolution Copper Mining, Commemorative Program Sponsor; Southwest Ambulance, Artist Award Sponsor; and Herberger Theater Center, Venue Sponsor. Nicely done, one and all.

Honorees received specially created awards reflecting Arizona’s beauty and diversity — by Arizona artists Joe Ray of Scottsdale, Fausto Fernandez of Phoenix, George Gaines-Averbeck of  Flagstaff, Gennaro Garcia of Ahwatukee, Judith Walsh of Oracle, Catherine Nash of Tucson, Emily Costello of Superior and Julius Forzano of Scottsdale.

Nearly 500 arts supporters, advocates, business leaders and elected officials attended the annual event — which featured entertainment by Desert Dance and Friends (think percussion a la Samsonite), Childsplay, (think rap meets American history) and the Bad Cactus Brass Band (think Arizona with a twist of New Orleans). Also a silent auction beforehand and swanky dessert reception after. Think dainty little red velvet whoopie pies, coconut cupcakes and such.

More than 80 individuals, artists, businesses, arts education programs and community programs from about two dozen communities around the state were nominated for this year’s awards.

Here’s the scoop on 2012 honorees, provided by the fine folks who present the Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards…

Ed Mell. Born and raised in Phoenix, Mell has been a working artist in Arizona for more than 40 years. His work elevates the public profile of arts in the state through his unique blend of cubist forms that capture Arizona landscapes and depicts the brilliance of the Arizona sky. Mell left a prestigious career as an art director and illustrator in New York to accept a teaching position on the Hopi reservation in 1970 that reconnected him with the land he loved and that set his artistic course. He has produced oils, print series and bronze sculptures and has donated his work to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, the Arizona Cancer Society, to name only a few. His works are found in major public and private collections. Mell’s painting of Cathedral Rock in Sedona was selected as the artwork for the first-class stamp commemorating Arizona’s centennial this year.

Robert Breunig, Flagstaff. When Robert Breunig arrived as director in late 2003, the Museum of Northern Arizona was in imminent danger of closing. The museum had lost its American Association of Museums accreditation and its severe financial condition required that 20 items its collection be sold to pay for operating expenses and cover the deficit. Since those dark days, Dr. Breunig has guided the museum back on a path of financial stability and organizational credibility. The museum collection has grown to 3,200 fine art pieces and 15,000 ethnographic objects and its cultural anthropology collection totals 225,000 artifacts and research collections from 28,000 sites representing 12,000 years of native occupation. Before taking on the responsibilities at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Breunig had served as director of the Desert Botanical Garden from 1984 to 1995 and was deputy director at chief curator at the Heard Museum from 1982 to 1985.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, Tempe. Colleen Jennings-Roggensack has been presenting the performing arts for 33 years and will celebrate her 20th anniversary as Executive Director for ASU Gammage and Assistant Vice President for Cultural Affairs in June. Her leadership and her mission at ASU has been to “Connect Communities” by enabling patrons, artists and the entire community to discover new avenues of intercultural communication through the arts. Under her leadership, the Broadway series has grown into one of the top touring markets in the nation producing an annual economic impact of $40 million in the Valley. Jennings-Roggensack was nominated by President Clinton and served on the National Council on the Arts from 1994 to 1997. Since 2007, she has served on The Broadway League’s Board of Governors and she is Arizona’s only Tony Award voter.

Beth Lessard, Tempe. The chair of the ASU Dance Department from 1977 to 1993 and professor until her retirement in 1999, Dr. Lessard elevated the dual degree path for dancers interested in both teaching and creating and performing dance. Under her guidance, the Arizona Dance Education Organization was formed to provide resources, scholarships and educational support for Arizona teachers and schools to provide quality dance curriculum.  She also established the artist-in-residence program at ASU to bring national dance artists and companies to Tempe to teach, collaborate and perform with students and faculty.

Arizona School for the Arts. ASA is a high-achieving school for students who want to work with professional artists as part of the core school experience. Now in its 16th year, students and the non-profit college preparatory/performing arts school spend their mornings immersed in core academic studies and their afternoons in the performing arts. The Arizona School for the Arts has been recognized by the US Department of Education, the state of Arizona Department of Education and the Kennedy Center.

Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, Prescott. The Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the oldest in Arizona, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August to support its mission to educate, promote and preserve cowboy poetry, music and western heritage culture and history. The Gathering not only provides entertainment, but an opportunity for poets and bearers of cowboy oral traditions to assemble in a spirit of mutual appreciation and support and to strengthen ties with the ranching community and general public. In recent years, the organization has brought poetry into fourth-grade classrooms in the Prescott area to introduce students to poetry, the ranching heritage of Yavapai County and the music of the cowboy.

JP Morgan Chase Bank. JP Morgan Chase strives to increase community access to rich cultural resources that foster creativity, promote self-expression, celebrate diversity and strengthen the environment. An active supporter of the arts for more than 20 years, the company’s recent funding of Arizona Theatre Company offset expenses of producing a statewide education program connected to ATC’s America Plays! Celebrating Great American Stories Initiative. JP Morgan Chase also has been a consistent supporter of Childsplay, Ballet Arizona, Phoenix Symphony, Alliance for Audience and the Desert Botanical Garden, to name only a few.

The Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards are presented by the Office of the Governor, Arizona Citizens for the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. It’s lovely when cactus meets creativity.

– Lynn

Coming up: Celebrating National Poetry Month, Broadway trends

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