SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County’s best dancers, musicians, actors, writers and artists of all kinds gathered to recognize eight of their best and brightest at the 13th annual County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities on Oct. 20.
The late Richard Jaeggi, who died in May, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award for his founding and leadership of the Gandhi Brigade, a community group that teaches youth to advocate through film. His wife, Yoshiko Zenfuku, accepted the award on his behalf.
“It was important for him to let the youth imagine what kind of community they desired,” Zenfuku said. “I’m also grateful to the young people who always gave their energy and passion for him to go forward.”
Bonnie Fogel, the founder and executive director of Imagination Stage, received the Lifetime Impact Award for her youth arts education programs. She founded Imagination Stage at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts in 1979 and it has grown since then.
Fogel said she appreciated the award, but she preferred to think of it as the “Most Likely to Succeed” award, because she’s not done yet: after the event Fogel said they have just formed a branch of Imagination Stage in Washington, D.C. to bring her programs to youth who cannot get to Montgomery County.
“I mean to stay. I believe my best work is yet to come and the best work of Imagination Stage,” Fogel said.
She, like many of the award recipients, thanked the county for its support of the arts, but said afterward schools have less art than they used to.
“We have much more to do and none of us can rest until every school system, every principal, every teacher, every parent, every politician, every businessperson, every philanthropist, and yes, every child, understands the importance of the arts and humanities,” she said in her acceptance speech.
One recipient who did not technically have an artist’s background was Paula Ross, executive director of the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy (MBT), who was given the Emerging Leader award. Ross has been at MBT for about two years and became executive director in July.
Previously a communications consultant, Ross got involved with MBT as a volunteer at the request of a dancer friend. She then got increasingly embedded in the organization and helped coordinate a move to a new facility in Gaithersburg. MBT provides free and low-cost classes for youth in the community in addition to partnering with schools or organizations to bring the dance to them.
Ross said after the awards presentation she felt lucky to have found MBT and her passion in life.
“It’s been very rewarding. I know that’s cliché but it’s very true,” she said. “I like to think the universe has a way of working things out and I didn’t choose this, it chose me.”
The other award recipients were Ricardo Loaiza of the After School Dance Fund, who won the Community Award; Jeff Struewing of Lumina Studio Theatre, who won the Volunteer Award; Kenny O’Brien, who won the Patron Award; Carien Quiroga, a visual artist who won Outstanding Artist or Scholar Award; and Adrienne Clancy of ClancyWorks Dance Company, who won the Education Award.
Many of the recipients also highlighted the support the arts has received in County Council funding, particularly with the advocacy of George Leventhal (D-At Large), who chairs the Health and Human Services committee, and County Executive Ike Leggett.
“I’m so proud that my husband, our county executive, gets it,” said first lady Catherine Leggett. “Arts education is vital to close the achievement gap between students and essential to preparing them for a…global economy.”
Councilmember Cherri Branson (D-5) said she attended to show the council’s support for the arts with “not just our money, but also our time.”
“(Art) tends to draw the kind of development that we as a community say we want,” Branson said after the awards.
The county approved about $4.4 million for the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, which organized the event, as part of the fiscal 2015 budget – up from about $3.8 million the year before, according to the county budget website.
Performances dotted the program between award presentations. The Arts and Humanities Council also recognized their grantees. This year, the council awarded 91 grants totaling more than $3.5 million.
The County Executive’s Awards started as part of the County Executive’s Ball, which was started by county first lady Betty Mae Kramer in 1986. Each year, the Arts and Humanities Council puts out a public call for nominees in the eight categories. Catherine Leggett then identifies a group of leaders from many sectors in the county to select the final recipients.