Santa Fe’s Finest: The Mayor’s Arts Awards and Spread

- October 31, 2011

"...this event is always an occasion to celebrate those who have done so much for the arts..."

Last Thursday and Friday were occasions to celebrate the best of the arts in Santa Fe.

Thursday brought the annual Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts – commonly known as The Mayor’s Arts Awards, at the Santa Fe Convention Center. Presented at a gala dinner hosted by the Santa Fe Arts Commission, this event is always an occasion to celebrate those who have done so much for the arts as performers, visual artists, arts organizations and supporters.

And the winners are:
Carol Anthony’s evocative still life paintings have, in a way, been a part of our collective consciousness here in Santa Fe for decades. It is not just that Carol has been prolific as an artist, she has also been an avid supporter of organizations and causes in our community and has never failed to generously donate a painting for a worthy cause, when asked to. I was delighted to see Carol honored for her career-long artistic journey.

Known for her serene landscape and still-life paintings and monotypes, Anthony is a dedicated artist and an active member of the Santa Fe community who has mentored many other artists.

Actually, I will have the opportunity to see several of Carol’s works when I go to Pranzo’s this evening for dinner. My dinner will be with Adam McKinney,  director of the dance department at the New Mexico School for the Arts and Rochelle Zide-Booth, a legendary dancer from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo – but, more on that in my next blog.

Since 2002, Jaun Siddi has been a growing presence in Santa Fe’s dance community and, in 2008, Siddi founded Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Company. Juan has brought some of flamenco’s most unique and creative musicians, singers and dancers from Spain and the United States to Santa Fe for performances during the summer season. Committed to maintaining, preserving and innovating flamenco’s unique ethnic and cultural art form, Siddi is a sought-after teacher who instills the passion of flamenco tradition in his students. Siddi has, in recent years, seemed to achieve the impossible; to fill the shoes of the legendary Maria Benitez at the Lodge at Santa Fe in the cabaret room named after La Maria. Though I will always be a fan of Maria, my dear friend of 30 years; I am proud of the work that has done to perpetuate the art of flamenco in Santa Fe. I knew Juan when I was managing director for Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco many years ago and have watched Juanito grow into manhood as an artist.

The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry has been a vital presence in the city since 1972 when, through a bequest from Santa Fe poet Witter Bynner, it was founded to perpetuate the art of poetry. Through local grant-making, the foundation has supported numerous city-wide poetry programs. Witter Bynner and the artistic milieu he inhabited so many years ago have always maintained a great fascination for me. Like Paris before 1920; I wish I had been there – perhaps I was.

As co-owner, since 1996, of Collected Works, Santa Fe’s oldest independent bookstore, Dorothy Massey has encouraged and supported poets, writers and readers. Massey has demonstrated a sustained commitment to literary excellence by making Collected Works a center for literature and the exchange of ideas. It is my personal feeling that Dorothy has created a “center of community” with her literary center, disguised as a bookstore. I was particularly pleased to see the Mayor’s Arts Awards recognize the literary arts this year, with both Dorothy and Witter Bynner’s foundation singled out for honors.

The Melissa Engestrom Youth Award is a very special award given each year to a young artist, or, as was the case this year, to a group of young artists: The Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Program and Team. The award is presented in honor of Melissa Engestrom, a Santa Fe Arts Commissioner, who passed away in the 90’s and who had a passion for nurturing young artists.

The Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Program and Team received the Melissa Engestrom Youth Artist Award for their accomplishments empowering students to create original poetry—which incorporates Native languages and philosophies—and then performing that poetry for diverse audiences. Named after an arts commissioner who passed away 

A great addition to the evening was music provided my Nacha Mendez and a couple of her usual cohorts – quite wonderful, if a bit loud for “background” music. Also, two members of the Spoken Word Team performed for the evening’s attendees; breaking up the evening into a more palatable procession of videos celebrating the honorees and acceptance speeches, which were, mercifully, short – though, often quite emotional. 

Saturday evening brought our arts community Spread 2.0, a unique crowd-sourcing approach to arts funding. Begun by SITE Santa Fe in March of this year, it brings together a large group of arts enthusiasts and turns them into arts supporters and funders, at a level they can handle at this stage of their lives. I believe it also is developing arts donors for the future.

Here’s how it works: Individual artists and organizations are invited to apply for a grant through SITE and its Spread committee. A slate of finalists is chosen – eight for this fall grant period. On Thursday evening, each artist or organization got to make a pitch to the attendees about their project. It was a five-minute time slot on the stage – not quite Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame”, but more than a three-minute “elevator speech” type of pitch a young entrepreneur might give to Steve Jobs if enclosed with that late genius in an elevator.

And the money? This consisted of the entire ticket revenue paid by attendees, a sliding-scale of $15-$50. Attendees got to vote for their favorite project after the pitches were made. To ensure a fair voting process and to avoid a single artist or organization packing the audience at the Farmers Market building with supporters; one had to purchase tickets in-person at SITE the evening before (only two tickets could be purchased per person).

Last March’s winner was the artist collective Meow Wolf, which brought the extraordinary Due Return steam punk installation to CCA this past summer. In March, the group received a pot of $7,500 at the Spread event to get their project, literally, off the ground. Meow Wolf was present at Spread 2.0 to open the envelope to reveal the winner of the bundle of cash this year.

And the winner is…

Jason Jaacks won for his project The Reel Youth Stories Project and took home $8,015 for his project at De Vargas Middle School. In Jason’s words, “The…project empowers youth to tell their stories through “Tabletop Filmmaking,” an innovative approach that adapts the filmmaking process to fit the size of a table. The Project combines technical filmmaking skills with developing a social conscience and an appreciation of the arts.”

Bravo! Jason and Bravo! SITE for a great idea and great follow-through.