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(Image courtesy of ASI)
(Image courtesy of ASI)

ASI announces 8th annual Spark Awards finalists & honorees


Wed, May 19th 2021 03:15 pm

To be recognized virtually May 26

Arts Services Inc. will recognize 17 individual and organizational creative leaders in the Western New York arts industry at the eighth annual Spark Awards presented by M&T Bank on May 26.

ASI’s annual Spark Awards celebrates and honors outstanding individuals and organizations from across Western New York for their dedication, talent and impact on the arts and cultural sector. The honorees and finalists are selected every year through an open nomination process by a panel of peers in the field.

ASI said, “This year’s awardees were selected because of their activities and successes despite the challenges of a global pandemic and in the face of social unrest. Their accomplishments exemplify how to be an outstanding and engaged citizen through the lens of arts and culture.”

The 2021 Spark Awards ceremony will be presented virtually at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 26, through ASI’s YouTube Channel.

2021 Spark Awards Honorees

Artist of the Year: Finalists

  • Chantal Calato
  • Jalen A. Law
  • Stephen Solook

Arts Organization of the Year: Finalists

  • Buffalo Opera Unlimited
  • CEPA Gallery
  • Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes

Arts Integration

  • Thembi Duncan, Shea’s PAC, and the Buffalo Police Department’s Body Language Competency Training for New Recruits

DEC Program of the Year

  • Defiant Monkey Improv’s “The Brain of Dr. Delgado”

Leading Where You Are

  • Nancy Clarke Mariani
  • Michael Quinniey
  • Jose Rodriguez
  • Gaitrie Subryan

Lifetime Achievement

  • Patrick Fagan

Rising Star

  • Nicole Cooke, WNY Book Arts Center

Supporter of the Cultural Sector

  • Cullen Foundation

Trailblazer of the Arts

  • Aitina Fareed-Cooke

Unsung Hero

  • Joan Fishburn

About the Honorees

•Calato is an American artist raised in Niagara Falls, near the infamous Love Canal. Her personal experiences exploring the underbelly of Niagara Falls has inspired her work as a painter, sculptor, photographer and installation artist. In 2018, she received the Global Warming Art Project grant to help fund “UNSEEN.” It was her first solo museum show, held last year at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo.

•Born in Buffalo, Law’s first sketches were circles at the age of 2. By the age of 5, he was creating his own comic books and children stories, selling them to kids in elementary school for Lunchables and extra computer time. The theme of his artwork involves visually powerful images that attempt to force the viewer think about uncomfortable issues without deflecting their own feelings.

• “Outstanding” percussionist Solook (Robert Bush, SoundDiego) is a new music specialist who regularly performs as an orchestral and world musician. Looking to connect the past with the future, he highlights the possibilities of sound, beyond traditional notation. Throughout Buffalo, he can be found performing as an extra percussionist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Slee Sinfonietta at University at Buffalo, or Masti Ensemble, giving a solo performance, or collaborating in one of the city’s many chamber music series.

•Founded in 1985 by artistic director Tim Kennedy, Buffalo Opera Unlimited (BOU) is dedicated to producing professional opera and a variety of other musical forms with an emphasis on regional artists. BOU is also committed to making opera more accessible to a broader audience and to providing education to develop future audiences.

•The Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts is one of the nation’s foremost presenters of contemporary, photo-related art. Established in 1974, CEPA’s mission is to foster the exploration of photography and contemporary visual art to nurture creativity and encourage active learning. 

•Since 1959, Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes has made it a priority to ensure everyone has access to engage in the visual arts – especially youth, low-income and minority individuals. It has provided free, inclusive, high-quality art classes (drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, animation) for anyone interested in the visual arts – from age 4 to seniors.

•Duncan is a director, actor, playwright and teaching artist who has been developing and executing theater-based body language training for nearly two years in the City of Buffalo. She is also the director of arts engagement and education at Shea's Performing Arts Center. Capt. Steven J. Nichols has been a Buffalo police officer for 24 years. He oversees the department’s community police officers and Citizen Police Academy. Lt. Craig Macy has served as a community police officer for the BPD housing unit and has worked as part of the department’s neighborhood engagement team.

•Defiant Monkey Improv is a two-person improvisational group that creates on-the-spot theater based on audience suggestions and participation. Performers Karen L. Eichler and Andrew M. Spragge are experienced improvisers, actors, professional development specialists, and teaching artists who love to have as much fun as possible.

•Mariani is an exhibiting member of the Buffalo Society of Artists, a signature member of the Pastel Society of America (since 2012), a founding member of the Pastel Society of WNY, president of the Fine Arts League of Buffalo, and broad president of the Lancaster Opera House. She has also taught art at Lancaster High School for the past 31 years.

•In 1998, Quinniey co-founded the Western New York Minority Media Professionals Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to educating/mentoring and informing the public through the use of multimedia. He is the chair of restoration of the Historic Sattler "Broadway" Theatre, built in 1914 and located at 512 Broadway (near Mortimer). He was instrumental in founding Upfront Business Magazine, The Queen City Black Film Festival, and The Great Day in Jazz Buffalo Event.

•Rodriguez is the team supervisor for the environmental services department at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. In this position, he manages handles the ins and outs of making sure his staff and the building are ready for events, such as Broadway shows, concerts, weddings and fundraisers.

•Choreographer, dancer, yoga instructor and podcast host Subryan's training with Indian dance consists of kathak, bharatanatyam, garba, bhangra and semi-classical dance. She is a company member for the Sa Dance Co., and choreographer and founder of Devi Bollywood Performing Arts – Buffalo's first Bollywood dance class and performance troupe.

•Fagan is a well-respected leader in the arts and entertainment field. As president of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, he successfully led the growth and renaissance of this venerable institution, transforming it into one of the premier stops on the Broadway touring circuit. He served on the faculties of the University at Buffalo, Trocaire College and Erie Community College, serving as an adjunct professor in business management, theater management, history, and arts administration.

•Cooke is the executive director at the WNY Book Arts Center, an arts education and cultural nonprofit dedicated to printing and book-related arts. She is passionate about artistic engagement and professional development; experimentation with process-based media; educating WNY’s diverse populace; and promoting the democratic sharing of ideas and information.

•Cullen Foundation serves the residents of Erie County by providing funding and support that significantly enhances the education of students in grades pre-K through 12 while advancing theater and the performing arts. In 2020, it granted $1,123,690 out among 39 performing arts grantees in Erie and Niagara counties.

•Fareed-Cooke is an award-winning photographer, teaching artist, creative director and lyricist earning recognition through 43North’s Ignite Buffalo People’s Choice Award. Fareed-Cooke developed Get Fokus’d Productions, a creative media arts company dedicated to capturing project-based stories; designing curriculums to teach youth soft skills through the implementation of photography, film and creative writing programs; and giving back to the next generation of creatives through a movement called Young & Fokus’d.

Fareed-Cooke Originally from Philadelphia, Fishburn moved to Buffalo in 1959 with her family and immediately joined the Amherst Symphony Orchestra with whom she has performed for the past 60 years. During that time, she also served as president of ASO’s women’s/friends committee and president of the Amherst Symphony Association’s board. 

For more information about the Spark Awards and this year’s honorees, including full bios and photos, visit www.asiwny.org/spark-awards/.

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