Arts Council Honors Those Who Make An Impact in Roanoke

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Jason Garnett (left, from Shadowbox Microcinema) and Ernie Zulia (Hollins theater department) were among the Kendig recipients.

Jason Garnett (left, from Shadowbox Microcinema) and Ernie Zulia (Hollins theater department) were among the Kendig recipients.

by Gene Marrano

The 26th annual Perry F. Kendig Awards, held for the first time at the Taubman Museum of Art, recognized a handful of local artists and supporters last week during a reception entitled A Toast to the Arts.

“The significance of the event is the awareness it brings of the excellence in the arts we have here in the valley,” said Rhonda Morgan, executive director for the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge. “It was so evident through the words of the recipients, the comments of the attendees and everyone involved what an impact the arts has on this community in both personal and social ways.”

Arts Council Board President Phil Sparks mentioned the “impact of the arts,” in his opening remarks, before the awards were handed out. Best selling author Sharyn McCrumb, Hollins University theater department chair Ernie Zulia, Shadowbox Community Microcinema coordinator Jason Garnett, Roanoke resident George Kegley, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the Woods Rogers law firm, artist Nancy Dahlstrom, young professional Douglas Jackson and Roanoke City Schools music teacher Joanne Steele were among those honored.

“Several of the recipients settled in Roanoke because of the unique opportunity it offers to work, share and get involved in the arts in a way which is lost in bigger cities and not afforded in smaller ones,” said Morgan, who assumed the top spot at the Arts Council last winter.

Dahlstrom, a multi-media artist and Hollins professor, said she was “not so interested in road kill and expressing negativity through her work.”  The arts, added Dahlstrom, “give people more awareness and a perspective on the world.” McCrumb, called one of the leaders in detailing regional culture through her books, said she saw herself “as a kind of ambassador for this region.”

Too often, McCrumb observed, the South has been treated as “a kind of theme park,” by others who see it through stereotypes. “The people from the region need to take control of our own story.”

Zulia, who came to Roanoke from Chicago initially to work at Mill Mountain Theatre, said he felt like “the arts community in Roanoke is my family. It’s the kind of community that truly can be connected through the arts.”  Zulia appreciates the atmosphere of encouragement he senses among local artists in the Roanoke area.

RSO executive director Beth Pline spoke about the Symphony’s educational programs: “when kids are exposed to classical music … they embrace [it]. They truly enjoy it.” Garnett, who created the Open Projector Night project at the Grandin Theatre before coming to Kirk Avenue Music Hall to launch Shadowbox, said that now, through digital technology, “anybody can make a movie.” He called it, “the great democratization [of film making]. I think we’ve had an impact on the community as a whole.”

Steele, who teaches music at James Madison middle school and at Fishburn Elementary, said young students “don’t always know what’s inside them [creatively]. We all have our niche in the arts community.”  Once many children start playing instruments in city schools said Steele, “they realize it’s really fun stuff. It’s really cool to get them into it.”

Many gravitate towards classical music over pop tunes Steele noted, once they begin playing. “What we’re working towards is a long term goal … beauty and expression, and sharing what they have with other people.”  Steele wants to see those young people who learn to play venture out, exposing others to the musical arts.

“I think everyone left with a sense of pride for living here and being part of such an ‘art centered’ region,” added Morgan. “It makes sense to celebrate that which affects and defines us as individuals and as a community and this event is the highlight of what the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge is about.”