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Arts Services Initiative of WNY announces 2nd annual 'Spark' Cultural Awards

by jmaloni


Mon, Mar 30th 2015 11:25 am

Event "Celebrating Those Who Ignite Arts & Culture" is May 20 at The Hotel @ The Lafayette

Arts Services Initiative of Western New York announced details of its second annual "Spark" Cultural Awards, presented by M&T Bank. The awards party, "Celebrating Those Who Ignite Arts & Culture," will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday May 20, at the Hotel @The Lafayette.

The event will feature the awards, live performances, a gallery featuring the works of the winners and finalists, open bar, and food. Tickets are $75, with patron tickets, patron tables and sponsorships available at www.asiwny.org. A limited number of free tickets are available through ASI's Arts Access program at www.arts-access.org.

Following more than 100 nominations from the field, a panel of cultural representatives from throughout Western New York selected the 2014-15 winners. They are:

  • Lifetime Achievement - Jonathan Rogers
  • Advocate for the Cultural Sector - Paul Hogan
  • DEC Program of the Year - Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Fine Arts Program
  • Rising Star - Danceability
  • Supporter of the Cultural Sector - Rigidized Metals Corp. (Silo City)
  • Unsung Hero - Gerald Mead

Two new categories were added this year. The Arts Integration award honors a non-arts project that has incorporated arts and culture in a meaningful way, while the Cultural Ambassador award recognizes a Western New Yorker who has achieved success elsewhere, but continues to promote and work with this region. Those winners are:

  • Arts Integration - Dr. Timothy Murphy and the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center
  • Cultural Ambassador - Tom Calderone (president of VH1)

The panel also selected finalists in the following categories, with the winners to be announced at the event:

•Artist of the Year:

  • Sarah Fonzi
  • Ntare Ali Gault
  • David Michael Miller

•Cultural Organization of the Year:

  • Albright Knox Art Gallery
  • Lucy Desi Center for Comedy
  • Niagara Arts & Cultural Center

"Our inaugural event was both an awards event worthy of these important individuals and organizations, as well as a great party worthy of the cultural sector and our supporters," ASI Executive Director Tod A. Kniazuk said. "This year will be even better, so get your tickets before they sell out like they did last year."

Proceeds of the Spark Awards will benefit ASI's capacity building, collaboration and advocacy efforts for the cultural sector in five counties - all of which is provided free of charge.

Cultural Ambassador: Tom Calderone, president of Video Hits One (VH1)

Calderone has been the president of VH1 for MTV Networks Co. since October 2008. He serves as chairman of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.

Originally from the New York City area, he came to Buffalo to attend Buffalo State College and it was here that he began his career in the music industry. He has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Buffalo State College.

Lifetime Achievement: Jonathan Rogers

Rogers is a fine artist in Niagara Falls and has been crafting his work for more than 70 years. He has an extensive impact on the arts and cultural sector, including an extensive animation history (including the creation and production of "Witch's Night Out," a primetime animated Halloween special that premiered on NBC). That has recently been re-released in stores such as Walmart, Kmart, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. His work has appeared on "Sesame Street" and he's contributed to Disney Studios and Marvel Productions.

Locally, Rogers had seven major paintings featured in the first Western New York show at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; two shows at the Castellani Art Museum; and three solo shows at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center. He also served as the advertising agency art director for companies such as Mercedes Benz and Levi Jeans.

Rising Star: Danceability

Founded by two Buffalo women - special education teacher Christine Dwyer and social worker Robin Bishop - Danceability is a nonprofit dance and movement program for children and adults with special needs and their families.

Danceability started from nothing more than an idea between friends. The idea was to create a place where those with special needs could learn the art of dance for fun, but also reap all of its secondary benefits. It has now expanded to a national presence and directors recently were interviewed for Dance Studio Life Magazine.

Supporter of the Cultural Sector: Rigidized Metals Corp./Silo City

For the past several years, Rigidized Metals has been a supporter of the arts through the many opportunities offered to events and activities at Silo City, owned by Rick Smith and Rigidized Metals. Smith and Rigidized have re-invented the Silo City site "from a post-industrial wasteland into a laboratory for art, architecture and culture."

Advocate for the Cultural Sector: Paul Hogan

Hogan, executive vice president of The John R. Oishei Foundation, is a vocal advocate for arts and culture, both in promoting its intrinsic value as well as its role and importance in revitalizing the region. From a recent "viewpoint" authored by Hogan in The Buffalo News: "The arts are equally integral to place, and can't - shouldn't - be separated from it."

Hogan also is a poet with two published books.

Volunteer of the Year: Gerald Mead

Mead is a highly regarded community leader who, through his volunteerism, has contributed to, promoted, supported and fostered the arts sector in Western New York in virtually every way imaginable. For over 25 years, he has given of his time, talent and resources to enhance the cultural life of this region.

Mead has devoted his life to the art and artists of this region through making broad-reaching efforts in many facets of the community. Throughout his professional career, he has continually gone beyond the duties of his job (former longtime curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and current adjunct lecturer at Buffalo State College) to provide a contribution whenever and wherever he can.

Arts Integration: Dr. Timothy Murphy and the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center

Murphy is the senior associate dean of the Clinical and Translational Research Center, part of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine. He was a great advocate for adding artwork to the atrium of the new building connected to Buffalo General Hospital. Murphy cited the need to have artwork within the four-story atrium of the building to help raise the spirits of the researchers, doctors and staff who would inhabit the building.

DEC Program of the Year: Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Fine Arts Program

Marcia Ross coordinates the fine arts program at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. This program provides individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities numerous workshops on a variety of artistic mediums, including music, visual arts and theater.

Organization of the Year Finalists

Albright-Knox Art Gallery

In 2014, the Albright Knox Art Gallery mounted "Sincerely Yours: Treasures of the Queen City," an exhibition of more than 70 of its greatest works. That exhibit was not only shown locally, but toured the nation in cities including Denver, San Diego and Milwaukee.

Additionally, 2014 saw the Public Art Initiative, a collaboration of the Albright Knox, Erie County and the City of Buffalo launched in 2013, bring in "Shark Girl," "You Are Beautiful" and the "Buffalo Caverns Tape Art" project. This led to public art being discussed and accessed in the community at a level not seen in decades.

Finally, the Albright Knox began a process that will lead to an expansion of its campus by engaging stakeholders in a series of community forums.

Lucy Desi Center for Comedy

The Lucy Desi Center for Comedy consistently brings live entertainment, comedy, workshops, classes, world famous comedians (Bob Newhart, Jay Leno, Joe Machi, Caroline Rhea, Tom Cotter, Joan Rivers and Martin Short), world record contests (grape stomping, most people dressed as Lucy), and a Lucy 5k race. Not only do these events bring attention to Jamestown, but they also highlight the unique, fun and friendly atmosphere that is Western New York.

In 2014, the center announced major plans to bring a new national comedy center to Jamestown, a multimillion dollar investment that is sure to bring positive attention, culture, capital and notoriety to Western New York for many years to come.

Niagara Arts and Cultural Center

The NACC's mission has always gone beyond the bricks and mortar of its neoclassical building, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. From the start, the NACC has worked to create a sense of place for the communities it serves.

Two projects launched in 2014 combined history, culture and the arts to nurture a growing pride of place among the people of the City of Niagara Falls. On May 1, the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission launched its app for an interactive driving or walking tour of Underground Railroad sites in the Niagara Falls area with a reception at the NACC. In conjunction with this project, intended for both local users and tourists, the NACC created a new summer program for local children: the Discover Niagara Jr. Ranger Program.

The NACC's partnership with the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and the City of Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission resulted in a program designed to increase cultural awareness and stimulate creative thinking while instilling a sense of regional pride in area youth.

Artist of the Year Finalists

Sarah Fonzi

Fonzi produced two major works in 2014. "The Spirit of Transportation Sculpture" at The Hub (149 Swan St., Buffalo) was made with about 1,000 pounds of stainless steel, cut and welded together into a 12-foot-high statue, celebrating the future of transportation in Buffalo.

The statue is an accompaniment to the new building, The Hub, which is an old awning factory and warehouse converted into a bicycle-themed retail space, bicycle shop, bar (The Handle Bar) and bicycle shop. The statue celebrates Buffalo's resurgence as a great city.

"Whitewash," at the Buffalo & Erie County Downtown Public Library, is a work comprising 1,500 individually cast pieces of plaster.

Ntare Ali Gault

In 2014, Gault's co-written production of "Ain't She Brave" received rave reviews as part of the off-off Broadway production in the New International Fringe Festival. Gault was instrumental in the late '90s-early millennial development of spoken word in the City of Buffalo.

Gault is best known for cultivating the talent of a number of emerging poets through Njozi Poets. Over the past decade, his work with teens and young adults has inspired and developed hundreds of new artists.

In an effort to increase awareness of youth art and provide artistic outlets for poets across the region, Ntare Gault began establishing connections with individual poets, poetry venues and slam teams in Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, New York City and Colden, as well as throughout Ohio and Ontario. His efforts produced a wider network of slam poetry in the region and led to the founding of the QEW Poetry Slam and the Empire State Poetry Slam, annual events hosted in a different city each year.

David Michael Miller

Miller is a Buffalo-based singer/songwriter. His music is anchored deeply in a roots gospel, blues and soul foundation.

In 2014, he released a solo album called "Poisons Sipped." The album features collaborations with members of the world-renowned sacred steel band The Campbell Brothers (who themselves are based in Rochester), and has led to airplay on approximately 100 radio stations worldwide, including Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Montreal, Vancouver and across the U.S. (from Maine to Hawaii). He was a featured performer along with the Campbell Brothers at the Blues Society of WNY's first blues festival at Silo City, and has now performed repeatedly with another of the festival's acts, the Selwyn Birchwood Band out of Florida.

Miller's album has received critical praise both locally and nationally.

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