Spark Awards, Winners and Finalists Announced

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Spark Awards, Winners and Finalists Announced

Arts Services Initiative of WNY Announces 4th Annual “Spark” Cultural Awards Winners & Finalists

Event “Celebrating Those Who Ignite Arts & Culture” is May 10 at Hotel Henry

Arts Services Initiative of Western New York (ASI) announced details of their 4th Annual “Spark” Cultural Awards.  The awards party, “Celebrating Those Who Ignite Arts & Culture”, will take place Wednesday May 10, 2017 from 6 pm to 9 pm at the Hotel Henry with WKBW’s Mike Randall serving as MC for the evening.  The event will feature the awards, live performances and live art creation, open bar, and food.  Tickets are $100, with sponsorships and program book ads also available at  A limited number of free tickets are available through ASI’s Arts Access program at

Following over 70 nominations from the field, a panel of cultural representatives from throughout Western New York selected the 2016-17 winners.  They are:

  • Lifetime Achievement – Anthony C. Conte
  • Arts Integration – Roswell Park Cancer Institute
  • Advocate for the Cultural Sector – WNED|WBFO
  • DEC Program of the Year – University District Community Development Association for “Bailey Fights Blight” Program
  • Legacy Award – M. Jacquie Lodico
  • Rising Star – Jon Lehrer
  • Supporter of the Cultural Sector – M&T Bank
  • Unsung Hero – Rita Argen Auerbach

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

Artist of the Year:

  • Drea d’Nur
  • David Moog
  • Gary Sczerbaniewicz

Cultural Organization of the Year:

  • 1891 Fredonia Opera House
  • Kenan Center
  • Springville Center for the Arts

“What an incredible group of winners and finalists, who really show just how powerful the arts are in impacting everything from wellness to business throughout the entire Western New York region,” ASI Executive Director Tod A. Kniazuk said.  “We’re looking forward to celebrating these great organizations and individuals in an exciting new space, the Hotel Henry.”

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 are provided free of charge.  Spark is made possible thanks to Partner Sponsor Rigidized Metals, and Patron Sponsors Buffalo Building Trades and Buffalo Spree Magazine.

Lifetime Achievement – Anthony C. Conte

Anthony C. Conte recently retired after serving as President of Shea’s Performing Arts Center since March 2001. A former banker, Tony began his long association with Shea’s as a volunteer in the 1970s, when it was under the threat of demolition. Tony’s passion has always been to restore and maintain Shea’s Buffalo Theatre for present and future generations to enjoy as a working historic theatre. He was responsible for the operation and growth of Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, presenting Touring Broadway productions with Albert Nocciolino, with whom he built Shea’s into one of the most sought-after venues for one-week Broadway touring engagements in the United States. When Tony began his tenure, Shea’s had 5,248 season ticket-holders. Today, there are 13,326 subscribers, its debt is eliminated, it continues to generate a profit, and it has undergone a massive restoration effort. Additionally, Tony continues to bring outstanding entertainment to Shea’s Smith Theatre, a 230-seat black box theatre presenting off-Broadway musicals and musical comedies as well as the 710 Main Theatre (formerly Studio Arena), a 625-seat theatre that serves as a resource for many other theatres in the community including MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions and Buffalo Laboratory Theatre with which Shea’s collaborates.


Arts Integration – Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Roswell Park is well known for its integration of art into the hospital. Most recently in 2016, they added artwork to their new building, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center which consists of 11 floors. This thoughtful art program is the work of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation Art Committee, made up of staff and community volunteers who conducted dozens of studio visits and curated the art program in four months. Established in 2001 under the leadership of Nancy Jewett, the Roswell Park Alliance Art Committee built upon the art collection developed by Jean Knox, a longtime Roswell Park benefactor. Since that time, more than 900 works of art have been installed in the hospital. “Knowing that the purpose of our committee is the healing of the patients,” said art committee member and designer Elaine Jarzynka, “the reason why we do this is to make their stay here a little less focused on that and more on something a little more pleasant.” The integration of art into the building speaks to a shared desire from the institution and local artists to soften the psychological challenges of diagnosing, treating and curing cancer.


Advocate for the Cultural Sector – WNED|WBFO

WNED|WBFO takes its commitment to arts and culture very seriously, utilizing its airwaves to promote the region’s cultural assets locally and nationally. WNED original productions such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo, Shaw Festival: Behind the Curtain, and Buffalo Houses of Worship have introduced and showcased our cultural assets to regional and national audiences. WBFO has aired Theater Talk for 25 years, offering the only weekly on-air exposure for Buffalo thriving theater scene and encouraging listeners to enjoy local theater. The station regularly features local arts organizations and recently enhanced its arts coverage by introducing the Arts & Culture News Desk through which a dedicated reporter will bring 50 more local arts stories to listeners. WNED-FM, Buffalo’s 24/7 classical music station, is celebrating 40 years on the air in 2017. By making classical music more available and accessible, the station is creating new classical music fans every day who also support the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and other cultural organizations. By previewing concerts and featuring interviews with JoAnn Falletta, WNED 94.5 has been proud to have played a supporting role in the BPO’s success for four decades.


DEC Program of the Year – University District Community Development Association for “Bailey Fights Blight” Program

Bailey Fights Blight is a collaborative project being spearheaded by the University District Community Development Association and involving over 200 volunteers from the community, area schools and universities, and businesses that worked to board up and secure blighted and vacant storefronts along Bailey Avenue, while incorporating public art as a way to beautify the neighborhood and help redevelop the commercial corridor’s identity and sense of place.  This project is done in partnership with artist Nicholas Miller.


Legacy Award – M. Jacquie Lodico

During the 31 years that she served as Executive Director of the Niagara Council of the Arts (NCA), M. Jacquie Lodico’s philosophy was that all of the residents of Niagara County, regardless of age or socio economic status should have the opportunity to experience art in all of its many forms. She believed that artists and their work, although not always understood, should always be respected and that artists and those who serve artists should be valued and paid a fair fee or wage. She began the NCA with a budget of $0 built an organization with an annual budget of over $750,000. During her tenure at the NCA she launched the ArtWheels arts education program, served as the NYSCA decentralization grant site for Niagara County, organized that county’s culturals for local and statewide advocacy, and assisted countless cultural organizations and artists. Her work has been recognized with awards too numerous to list, however the two that she is most proud of are the NYS Alliance for Arts Education award for Meritorious Service and the Distinguished Service in the Arts Award given by the Alliance of NYS Arts Councils, which is now given annually as the M. Jacquie Lodico Award.


Rising Star – Jon Lehrer 

Jon Lehrer , Lehrer Dance, is celebrating their 10th Anniversary Season this year. In that short period of time, he has created a professional dance company that tours around the world and proudly carries the Buffalo flag. The company sells out the 1,800 seat UB Center for the Arts every year (an accomplishment no other dance company has been able to do) and creates amazing programming throughout the year. At home in Buffalo, Lehrer Dance is committed to producing new original works through collaboration and partnership with the area’s finest cultural organizations including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Irish Classical Theatre Company, MusicalFare Theatre, Torn Space Theater, and many others. In addition to proudly directing Buffalo’s very own internationally touring professional dance company, Jon has devoted himself to curating and inspiring fledgling choreographers and dance companies here. Two years ago, Jon was asked to become the Dance Curator at Burchfield Penney Art Center. In that time he has curated several dance performances by Buffalo artists, including “Gallery Dances” in November 2016. This four day event featured the area’s finest cultural and modern dancers and choreographers and drew over 1,000 people to the BPAC. Jon’s goal is to help make Buffalo a destination city for dance artists, not a departure city.


Supporter of the Cultural Sector – M&T Bank

M&T Bank honors what they modestly voice; that “supporting the arts is good business.” M&T’s belief that “healthy, vibrant arts and cultural organizations help create healthy vibrant communities” is a testament to their dedication and commitment to cultural organizations of all sizes in the area. The bank, through its charitable arm, The M&T Charitable Foundation, has donated over $34.5 million to hundreds of arts and cultural organizations across its footprint over the last 10 years. The bank has deployed its talent to leadership positions on numerous arts organizations’ boards and provided not only their time, but the bank’s resources and in-kind services to help advance the missions of those organizations.


Unsung Hero – Rita Argen Auerbach

Rita Argen Auerbach has been a highly regarded and respected artist, art educator, volunteer/patron of the arts and leader in cultural organizations in Western New York for over 40 years. She is considered by many to be one of our most iconic artists and her influence and involvement in so many arenas of the arts community has benefitted thousands. While she has achieved extraordinary success in her field as an artist and educator, she has consistently reflected these successes back to the community through private and public initiatives. Rita’s 40-year spanning career as an artist was celebrated with three simultaneous exhibitions at the Kenan Center in Lockport, Meibohm Fine Arts in East Aurora and Studio Hart in Buffalo. Rita presently serves as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council and Trustee at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, member of the Buffalo State College Alumni Board, and Trustee of the Buffalo Society of Artists. Her previous community service includes the Board of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute Art Alliance, Vice President and charter member of the Niagara Frontier Watercolor Society, twice President of the Buffalo Society of Artists, and Board members of Buffalo Arts Studio and Big Orbit Gallery.


Artist of the Year Finalists:

Drea d’Nur

Drea d’Nur is a Buffalo singer and songwriter whose work has reached national and international acclaim but has localized her work to highlight the rich history of African American music and art in Buffalo. During 2016, Drea d’Nur toured Montreal and various cities throughout Europe to perform at the House of Jazz while also using her time at home in Buffalo to design and create a poignant celebration of Nina Simone at Kleinhan’s Music Hall on February 25, 2017. The “Spirit of Nina Simone” was based on the history of Nina Simone in Buffalo and her 1964 performance at Kleinhans. To begin the process she hired a local filmmaker and set out to speak with musical and dance performers in Buffalo who had performed with Ms. Simone. She was able to speak with more than four artists who shared the stage with Nina while acknowledging the powerful history of the Black Dance Workshop which provided a space and place for black Buffalo dancers to explore a rich history through dance. The film, which also pays homage to Emily Latimer, features a performance in which Latimer and Simone collaborate on “Black is the Color of My True Love’e Hair,” a right that was granted to very few by the stage owning Simone. Drea’s celebration of Simone was not limited to film and stage, but also sought out local artists to connect to Nina through visual arts which were displayed at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Included in these pieces were paintings by accomplished artists as well as children from the City of Buffalo. By working with organizations that serve youth in the arts, Ms. D’Nur was able to introduce a whole new generation to the strength found in the voice and words of Nina Simone.

David Moog

David Moog has been a photographer since the 1970s, although he never showed his work in public or in any show or gallery until recently. In February 2015, he began work on his first large-scale photographic series entitled, Artists Seen: Photographs of Artists in the 21st Century. Since this time, Moog has taken over 650 photos of local artists. “My goal is to create a portrait of every visual artist and many of the musicians who live in, work in, or are somehow connected to Western New York,” Moog states. He teamed up with the Burchfield Penney and set the museum as his venue for taking, printing , displaying and archiving the photos. His project became well known in the WNY area and artists flocked to meet him. Moog puts the artists face to the name and it makes sense at the Burchfield, a museum that focuses on local artwork. Every time Moog takes a photo, he adds to a collection that will be archived and available for years to come. Not only is he pausing moments in time to record the history of artists in WNY, but he is also building relationships and teaching artists about his life and experience.

Gary Sczerbaniewicz

Gary is a well-known artist in the Buffalo community due to his strong work ethic, his scope of work over several years and the immense thought put into the aesthetic and detail of his work. Primarily focused on building and sculpture, his work varied from small miniature models to large structures that individuals can actually climb into. His work allows the spectator to inhabitant a new space and explore what they feel within that space. Gary has been an instructor for visual studies at the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State which shows his desire to teach others throughout his career. In 2016 he was honored with a Fellow in Architecture/ Environmental Structures / Design through the New York Foundation for the Arts.  Last year he also participated in echo art fair and Hallwalls as part of group exhibitions in addition to having his own show at BT&C Gallery, and participated in a residency through the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts in Ithaca, NY.


Cultural Organization of the Year Finalists:

1891 Fredonia Opera House

The 1891 Fredonia Opera House has been enhancing the cultural landscape of Chautauqua County since its grand reopening in November 1994; and in 2016 – its 22nd year – it continued to do so by expanding its program offerings with the addition of a new Art & Architecture On Screen series and by initiating a variety of new collaborative programs with other area cultural and non-profit organizations.  In 2016, The Opera House played host 133 events including live performances, movies, lectures, dance recitals, weddings, workshops and even political debates. They expanded their programming with the addition of a new series of events: Art & Architecture On Screen. A combination of high definition satellite transmission events and live “Meet the Filmmaker” presentations, Art & Architecture On Screen brings the world’s greatest works of art, and their environs, to the Opera House. It offers access into the lives of renowned artists and their art, and the fabulous museums and galleries that are not only the custodians of such masterpieces, but works of art in their own right. Some of the cinematic works come with their filmmakers for live in-person examination, not only of the incredible art featured in the films, but of the process of producing such cinematic explorations itself.

Kenan Center

During the past five decades, the Kenan Center in Lockport has made the visual and performing arts accessible to thousands of children and adults through classes, gallery exhibits, on-school-time programs, concerts, and live theater performances by regional, national and even international artists. 2016 saw the formation of a new performing arts group at the Kenan Center called The Carriage House Players who along with the Center co-produced the first of a new jazz concert series in December. The KidQuest Summer Youth program introduced seven new programs in 2016 along with special family day events including the return of our Whimsical Sculpture Project—renamed the Whimsical Art Project—which gave middle school participants the opportunity to work with poured metal from their original designs. Two sessions of a Theatre Enrichment program geared to elementary grade students culminated in live performances, and a new interactive “literary arts” activity took young bookworms through the Kenan gardens to discover stories that could be accessed on mobile devices. In all, the KidQuest Summer Youth Program served 260 children during a six-week period. The 2016 Kenan House Gallery schedule included both cutting edge work, and a revisit to an exhibit from our past, presenting numerous sculptures by renowned international artists on loan from The Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, paintings by Polly King—several of which were painted on-site when the Niagara Power Authority was being built—and local cultural, historical and civic institutions. Last year also saw expansion of a new addition to the 100 American Craftsmen show—the Annex Marketplace. Envisioned as a space to showcase first-time and emerging artisans, the Annex allows us to give younger or less seasoned craft artisans a foot in the door to the “main show.”

Springville Center for the Arts

Springville Center for the Arts has grown immensely from humble beginnings in a rented storefront into a multi-arts center with programs including theater, workshops, exhibits, concerts and more. In 2007 they purchased a former church. Over the past several years, the Arts Center has expanded to include youth summer media workshops, a year round creativity program for preschoolers, a production of locally written 10 minute plays, a summer internship program in children’s theater and more. They have taken great risks in programming not common for smaller rural organizations as well as great risks that have paid off with the expansion and renovation of the church and other spaces. Through their work they have invested over $1 million over the past couple of years in projects that contribute to Springville’s downtown revitalization. This is being done in a rural area without many other arts opportunities. Notable accomplishments in 2016 included the reopening of the Harold L. Olmsted Gallery after significant renovations, the opening of the new Vacanti Classroom and workshop series, and installation of a new elevator.

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