Spark Awards

7th Annual Spark Awards

Presented by  M&T Bank logo


Monday, November 16, 2020

The Spark Awards is ASI’s annual awards celebration where outstanding individuals and organizations in the Western New York arts community are recognized for their dedication, talent, and impact on the sector. Join us for an evening of dinner, drinks, entertainment, silent auction, awards, and more!

This event has been rescheduled from May 13.

Purchase tickets to the Spark Awards!

Tickets to the 2020 Spark Awards ceremony are available now.
Tickets can be purchased online through Eventbrite or in person at the ASI office, 2495 Main St, Suite 422, Buffalo, NY 14214.

Any tickets previously purchased and printed with the original date will be honored on November 16. Please contact Holly Grant at if you have any questions.

Sponsor the Spark Awards!

You can support the Spark Awards by becoming an event sponsor! There are three ways to support the seventh annual Spark Awards:

– Purchase a sponsor package,
– Purchase ad space in the event program, and/or
– Purchase additional tickets to the event.

Click here for package details and pricing options.

Photos by
Dylan Buyskes

Spark Awards 2020 Honorees & Finalists

We are excited to announce the 2020 Spark Awards honorees and finalists:

Arts Organization of the Year Finalists
1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center
O’Connell & Company
Unique Theatre Company

Artist of the Year Finalists
JoAnn Falletta
Chris J. Handley
Edreys Wajed

Arts Integration
The Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital

DEC Program of the Year
Lewiston Council on the Arts’ Iroquois Market

Lifetime Achievement
Vincent O’Neill, Irish Classical Theatre Co.

Rising Star
West Falls Center for the Arts

Supporter of the Cultural Sector
Joel Feroleto, Buffalo Common Council Member, Delaware District

Trailblazer of the Arts
Michele Agosto, Buffalo Public Schools

Unsung Hero
Beth Pedersen, Buffalo Society of Artists

Click here or expand the award categories below to learn more about our 2020 Spark Awards honorees and finalists!

Category Descriptions & Honorees Features

This award honors a nonprofit or for-profit arts organization for its achievements in 2019. Three finalists will be named. The winner of this category will be announced at the Spark Awards!

1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center

Spark Awards - Fredonia Opera House

The 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center has been enhancing the cultural landscape of Chautauqua County since its grand reopening in November 1994, and in 2019—its 25th year—it celebrated its growth from a performance space for local arts groups to a fully fledged venue presenting national and international artists with a new name and logo: 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center.

The name change reflects the breadth and variety of its current programming while paying tribute to its history. Its programs include live music, theater, and dance; an independent cinema series; live high-definition satellite broadcasts of opera productions from New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, theater from London’s National Theatre, and ballet from Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet; an annual three-day Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival; and the Art & Architecture On Screen series of programs focusing on masterpieces and their museum custodians. In total, the venue has presented more than 2,890 programs since its reopening 25 years ago.

Chautauqua County is fortunate to have what many consider a thriving arts community. Against a broad cultural background, the 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center has created a niche for itself as a year-round presenter of varied and quality entertainment.

O’Connell & Company

Spark Awards O'Connell & Co

O’Connell & Company Productions is dedicated to entertaining through education, empowerment, and the creation of an inclusive community of professional and rising artists. Now celebrating its 25th season, the  nonprofit professional performing arts organization has enriched thousands of Western New York lives by producing a variety of musicals, plays, popular classics, regional premieres, and original works with a special focus on gender parity in the arts.

O’Connell & Company was founded in 1995 by award-winning actress Mary Kate O’Connell. Its previous performances have included an all-female production of 1776: The Musical, a regional premiere of The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein, Little Shop of Horrors, Baby, Nunsense, I Do! I Do!, Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, Musical of Musicals: The Musical, Buffalo ZINGS: Hot, Tedium & Wild!, and the O’Connell & Company original DIVA by DIVA: A Celebration of Women!, which has become Western New York’s longest-running production with it currently seeing its 20th season. The company recently relocated to the Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons at 3200 Elmwood Avenue in Tonawanda, New York.

The Theatre School at O’Connell & Company was scheduled to formally launch in the spring of 2020 and produce year-round workshops, camps, classes and more for youth, adults, and seniors of all levels and experience.

Unique Theatre Company

Spark Awards 2020 Unique Theatre Co

Unique Theatre Company offers a safe place for people of all ability to have a true theatre experience. They offer the entire spectrum of the theatre from assisting with script writing and storytelling all the way to the end of the show. Costume design and set design are taught and experienced to all who would like to try. They have found that many people dream of acting or writing or simply being behind or on stage but are afraid to try. This is most particular for people with disability. All of Unique Theatre Company’s plays are original works and most written by people with disability. The theatre provides the writers a chance to see their stories being played on stage. Late in 2019, they began a chorus group with the same mission in mind: offering those who would like to sing a chance to experience being in a chorus. Uniquely Arranged held their first chorus on stage in December singing Holiday songs. It was a huge success and they were invited to sing at the GiGi’s Playhouse grand opening in March of 2020.

This award honors an individual artist in any discipline for their achievements in 2019. Three finalists will be named. The winner of this category will be announced at the Spark Awards!

JoAnn Falletta

Spark Awards 2020 JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta is internationally celebrated as a vibrant ambassador for music, an inspiring artistic leader, and a champion of American symphonic music. Upon her appointment as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, she became the first woman to lead a major American ensemble. She has since been credited with bringing the Philharmonic to a new level of national and international prominence. The orchestra has become one of the leading recording orchestras for Naxos and returned twice to Carnegie Hall in 2004 and again in 2013. In 2018, the BPO made their first international tour in three decades, to perform at Warsaw’s prestigious Beethoven Easter Festival where JoAnn made history as the first American woman to conduct an orchestra at the Festival. She and the BPO have been honored with numerous ASCAP awards, including the top award for Adventurous Programming. Other accomplishments include the establishment of the orchestra’s Beau Fleuve label, the founding of the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition in partnership with WNED, and the national and international broadcast of concerts on NPR’s Performance Today, SymphonyCast, and the European Broadcasting Union. With a discography of 112 titles, JoAnn is a leading recording artist for Naxos. Her discs have won three GRAMMY® Awards and received eleven nominations. JoAnn is also the artistic advisor to the Hawaii Symphony and has held the positions of principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, music director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the Denver Chamber Orchestra.

Chris J. Handley

Spark Awards 2020 Chris J Handley

Chris J. Handley has worked in theaters across the country for over 20 years as an actor, teacher, director, and producer. He currently serves as the associate artistic director of Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre, where he founded the Theatre School of Western New York, and he will assume executive leadership this summer. He is also the vice president of the Theatre District Association, a 2019 Cullen Foundation Fellow, a member of the Actors’ Equity Liaison Committee, and faculty at SUNY Fredonia.

As an actor, Chris has performed locally on many of our region’s stages, including Alleyway Theatre, MusicalFare, Shakespeare in Delaware Park, 710 Main, Jewish Repertory Theatre, the Lancaster Opera House, and others. Just this season, he played roles as varied as Buddy (Elf the Musical), Bruce (Fun Home), Trinculo (The Tempest), and Matt (Talley’s Folly). He also recently staged the world premiere of the musical The King’s Legacy at Bristol Valley Theatre, and spent over two years as a Mississippi Riverboat entertainer.

As an independent teaching artist, he has developed various workshops on the craft, taught privately, and spent three years teaching acting and voice/speech to BFA and BA theater students. Chris holds an MFA in Acting from Indiana University and a BFA in Musical Theatre from SUNY Fredonia.

Edreys Wajed

Spark Awards 2020 Edreys Wajed

Born and raised in Buffalo, Edreys Wajed is an enthusiastic and inspiring walking enterprise of all things creative, from visual artist and hip hop musician to jewelry designer and entrepreneur. He boasts a broad and diverse resume of creative talents and achievements: he runs his own stationery boutique and art gallery with his equally talented wife Alexa, has toured as hip hop artist, and is a second generation jewelry designer.

Edreys is widely recognized for his work as one of the four artists to have contributed to The Freedom Wall, a mural commissioned by Albright-Knox Art Gallery located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street in Buffalo that depicts 28 civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Always evolving creatively, his latest works made a big impression in May and July of 2019 when he saw a sold-out solo show and exhibit at Argus Gallery. His paintings can now also be found in the Burchfield Penney Art Center and The Roswell Park Art Heals Gallery permanent art collections.

This award honors a non-arts project, program, or initiative that has used arts and culture to significantly enhance its work.

The Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital

2020 Spark Awards Autism Center

The Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital is the winner of this year’s Spark Award for Arts Integration. The center provides multidisciplinary evaluation, diagnosis, care, and support for families with autism spectrum disorders.

In addition to the medical work done by the team at the center, the resources and programs for families with autism, sensory challenges, or developmental disabilities are an integral part of its plan to support the community. By collaborating with entities such as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Theatre of Youth, Explore & More Children’s Museum, the Aquarium of Niagara, Community Music School, Squeaky Wheel, and Rock Autism, they have been able to develop sensory-friendly, inclusive, and affordable programs for families to experience culture and create art in a comfortable and supportive environment.

Some of the center’s programs include Au-Some Evenings at Explore & More Children’s, Au-Some Aquarium in Niagara Falls, BPO Kids Exceptional Kids, and Sensory Friendly Performances at Theatre of Youth. To ensure their events are as accessible as possible and to encourage families to try new things together, tickets are either free or greatly discounted at all of their events. Recently, the center has also been focused on developing programming specifically for teens on the spectrum in the areas of music, film, acting, and animation, which give them new ways to express themselves and build confidence.

This award honors one of ASI’s DEC grantees for their hard work and successful project in the previous year.

Lewiston Council on the Arts’ Iroquois Market

Spark Awards 2020 Lewiston Council on the Arts

The Lewiston Council on the Arts is dedicated to improving the quality of life for everyone by nurturing a thriving environment for arts and cultural activities, promoting opportunities for artists, encouraging public participation in the arts, and actively advocating for the arts. In 2019, it received a DEC grant to produce an Iroquois Market, which was held in conjunction with the 54th annual Lewiston Art Festival. The Hennepin Park Gazebo area was transformed into the Iroquois Market, where the rich history, customs, and culture of Native American traditions were highlighted and celebrated. Lewiston Council on the Arts partnered with the Tuscarora Nation to recruit Native artisans and performers from both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border, including drummers, musicians, and dancers. Free, hands-on activities were also offered at the market.

“Presentations by the Niagara River Iroquois Dancers were most spectacular. Along with the dances were a number of explanations of Iroquois culture and the meaning of the dances. They invited members of the audience to participate in several of the dances and children were some of the first to join in; although seeing them having so much fun it was not long until many more joined in including myself. Near the end of the presentation, new dance leaders or ‘callers led the Friendship Dance that ended with greetings to the audience. It was a lot of fun for everyone there to learn more about traditional Iroquois arts and culture and both see firsthand and participate in the dances. I can’t wait to go again next year.” -Astoria Magazine

This award honors an organization, individual at an organization, or individual artist for their career-long body of work, especially on the occasion of a new phase of that work such as retirement, job switch, etc.

Vincent O’Neill

2020 Spark Awards Vincent O'Neill

Vincent O’Neill is the winner of this year’s Spark Award for Lifetime Achievement, an award that honors an organization, individual at an organization, or individual artist for their career-long body of work, especially on the occasion of a new phase of that work.

Vincent has served as the cofounder and artistic director of Irish Classical Theatre Company since 1990. He has acted and directed at the international level, as well as in nearly all of Western New York’s theaters. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he studied at University College Dublin and at Trinity College before he went on to study acting at the prestigious Abbey Theatre School in Dublin. He also studied Mime under the great French mime-artist Marcel Marceau at his International Academy in Paris. As a member of the Abbey Theatre Company, Vincent toured all over the world to cities such as Edinburgh, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and more.

Vincent’s many films include Manna from Heaven, Tesseract, Queen City, Gamechangers, Laff in the Dark, and The American Side. In addition, Joyicity, his one-man show based on the life and works of James Joyce, debuted as part of Dublin’s International Theatre Festival and went on to be presented in Australia, Japan, off-Broadway, and throughout the United States. He is the recipient of several ARTIE Awards in the categories of Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Director, Outstanding Production, Outstanding Artistic Playwright, and Career Achievement. Vincent currently works as the Director of Theatre Performance in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University at Buffalo, where he previously served as chair.

This award honors a relatively new organization, an individual who is new in their position or organization, or an artist or group entering the next phase of their development.

West Falls Center for the Arts

Spark Awards West Falls CFA

The West Falls Center for the Arts is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides visual, performing, music, culinary, and healing arts programming to its diverse rural population of West Falls, New York. The center offers community events and programs for artists of every level—from amateur to professional—and encourages collaboration between artists at different stages of their careers.

Its ongoing programs include its Americana Acoustic Series, where local youth performers open for national talent. It also provides a free blues mentoring series for young musicians, including the Southtowns youth rock band led by Doug Yeomans, the prestigious Southtowns Youth Jazz Orchestra led by Mark Filsinger, and the new Buffalo Jazz Orchestra. The center also provides free community holiday meals; music clinics; masterclasses; and culinary, art, and music programming to benefit veterans and their families. It has previously received two DEC grants from ASI for a community mural project and harmonica class for veterans. Next year, the center will be adding ukulele and guitar to the veteran’s program.

With support from the Garman Foundation and the Wilson Foundation, the center opened Memory Café, a gathering place that uses music to provide socialization opportunities for caregivers and their loved ones with dementia and Alzheimers.

This award honors an individual or an organization outside the arts sector for their work in directly aiding the cultural sector.

Joel Feroleto

Councilmember Joel Feroleto, winner of this year’s Spark Award for Supporter of the Cultural Sector, serves on the Buffalo Common Council representing Delaware District and volunteers as a Board member for the Bair Foundation and Save the Michaels Organization. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, he attended Canisius College and the University at Buffalo Law School before going on to become an attorney at Feroleto Law.

Since his election to the Buffalo Common Council in 2015, Councilmember Feroleto has worked diligently alongside community organizations and artists to champion public art in North Buffalo. To enhance Hertel Avenue, he launched the “Hertel Walls” project in collaboration with the Albright Knox and several local and international artists, and in 2019, he cofounded the Hertel Alley Art Fest with help from 15 participating artists. Under his leadership, the alley has transformed into a conglomeration of color and expression.

Councilmember Feroleto has been previously recognized by a variety of organizations for his efforts to improve our community. In 2015, he received the Sarah G. Metzger Award for his contributions to further human rights, and in 2019, he received the Amherst Chamber of Commerce Community Revitalization Award for cofounding the Hertel Walls public art project. The Feroleto family also received the Good Government Club Achievement Award in 2019, which recognizes the contributions of Italian Americans in public service.

This award honors an individual for their efforts to call attention to the importance of the arts through their work in advocacy, arts administration, curating, or promotion. This individual can be at any level in their career or involvement in the arts, and often uses “boots on the ground” methods to bring the arts to Western New York communities.

Michele Agosto

Spark Awards 2020 Michele Agosto

Michele Agosto is the Director of Arts for the Buffalo City School District. She has served the children of Buffalo since 1994, with 10 of those years as a middle school art teacher in the Black Rock area.

Born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in Washington Heights, Michele enjoyed a very happy, vibrant, and diverse upbringing. It was her family who fortified the notion that success in the arts was possible. Michele is an alumnus of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and the Arts in New York City. She holds a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Art, M.S. in Teaching /Art Education from Rochester Institute of Technology, and a M.A. in Educational Administration with an advanced certification from University at Buffalo.

Michele’s leadership extends to volunteering her time and resources by serving on the boards of several arts organizations. She is Vice President of the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY and is a member of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House and Neglia Ballet Conservatory. She’s also a member of BPO Diversity Council, Roswell Park Art Advisory Committee, Theater of Youth Education Committee, and Buffalo Arts Studio Education Committee. In addition, she is a Buffalo Society of Artists exhibiting member and cofounder of Los Artistas del Barrio, and co-hosted the bilingual/bicultural radio show Sin Fronteras WNY.

Michele has exhibited her art throughout the Buffalo-Niagara region and has received many recognitions. Currently, her work is being shown at Castellani Art Museum’s “20/20 Vision: Women Artists in Western NY.” She frequently presents at the national level on arts education and topics in social justice, and is a selected member of the NYS Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Commission for the Arts.

This award honors an unpaid individual or group that has made a major impact on an arts organization or the sector through their volunteer service.

Beth Pedersen

2020 Spark Honoree Beth Pedersen

Beth Pedersen, winner of this year’s Spark Award for Unsung Hero, has practiced art for decades. Beth’s work explores nature and pertinent environmental issues through a variety of materials and mediums, from oil painting to print-making, which she expresses through both abstraction and representation. She has exhibited extensively regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Once a realist painter, New York City’s art world and the ripple effect at SUNY New Paltz College had a powerful influence on her work. She studied with Ilya Bolotowsky and George Wardlaw and quickly turned “ab-ex.” During the 1970s, when Beth was raising a family, she focused on watercolor, pastel, and pencil drawings. She spent those years examining the present landscape with memories of the Hudson River Valley and the farmlands in central New Jersey. The conflict of those bucolic memories versus the environmental issues we face today gives purpose to Beth’s work.

Beth’s life experiences continued to have an impact on her work when she moved from New York City to Oklahoma and again to the Upstate New York in the Schenectady/Albany area. A final move to Western New York provided her with the opportunity to acquire an MFA at the University at Buffalo, where she studied and made abstract prints and paintings examining human’s earthly relationships.

In the decades following her MFA, Beth has continued to flip back and forth between representation and abstraction. She is currently printing encaustic monotypes as well as three-dimensional encaustic sculptures on recycled materials in her studio in Clarence. She continues to be a community arts advocate through her work on films to preserve and uplift the voices of other visual artists, her mentorship of high school students pursuing the field of visual arts, and her membership in the Buffalo Society of Artists.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Presented by

Supporting Sponsors

Patron Sponsors

Friends of ASI Sponsor

  • Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC)

  • Chautauqua Institution

  • e3communications

  • Expressions Studio

  • Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA)

  • Montante Group

  • Onion Studio

  • Tri-Main Development

  • Univera Healthcare



Craig Centrie, 2019
Thomas Burrows,
Anthony C. Conte
, 2017
Saul Elkin, 2016
Jonathan Rogers, 2015
Molly Bethel (Locust Street Art), 2014

Rob Lynch, 2019
Michael J. Beam,

Annette Daniels Taylor for “Heritage Walk: Traveling Buffalo’s Underground Railroad Seminar and Workshop,” 2019
Lockport Public Arts Council: Sweet Chalk Festival,
University District Community Development Association in collaboration with Nicholas Conrad Miller for “Bailey Fights Blight” Mural Program
, 2017
710 Main Theatre and Buffalo Laboratory Theatre for “The Mystery of the Silver Chalice,” 2016
Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Fine Arts Program, 2015
Karen Sirgey with Niagara Wheatfield High School, 2014

Aimee Levesque, 2019
Buffalo String Works,
Jon Lehrer
, 2017
University Heights Arts Association, 2016
Danceability, 2015
Infinity Visual & Performing Arts Center, 2014

John McKendry, 2019
John & Carolyn Yurtchuk,
M&T Bank
, 2017
Buffalo Spree Magazine, 2016
Rigidized Metals (Silo City), 2015
Fund for the Arts, 2014

Clyde Terry (Shea’s Performing Arts Center), 2019
Friends of the Japanese Gardens,
Rita Argen Auerbach
, 2017
Carl Klingenschmitt & Sue Fay Allen (Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra), 2016
Gerald Mead, 2015
Dick and Carmen Gilman (1891 Fredonia Opera House), 2014

Sam Savarino, 2019
Learning Disabilities Association of WNY,
Roswell Park Cancer Institute
, 2017
Elgin Wolfe & Tri-Main Development, 2016
Dr. Timothy Murphy and the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center, 2015

Tom Toles (The Washington Post), 2016
Tom Calderone (President VH1), 2015

Robert G. Wilmers, 2018
M. Jacquie Lodico, 2017
Burton Notarius, 2014

WNED/WBFO , 2017
Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation, 2016
Paul Hogan, 2015
Lynn Marinelli, 2014

Winners & Nominees

Julia Bottoms, 2019
Caitlin Cass, 2019
Muhammad Zaman, 2019 (WINNER)

Gary Earl Ross, 2018
Fotini Galanes,
2018  (WINNER)
Keith Harrington,

Drea d’Nur, 2017 (WINNER)
David Moog, 2017
Gary Sczerbaniewicz, 2017

Zuri Elise Appleby, 2016
Chuck Tingley, 2016
Adam Zyglis, 2016 (WINNER)

Sarah Fonzi, 2015
Ntare Ali Gault, 2015
David Michael Miller, 2015 (WINNER)

Shasti O’Leary Soudant, 2014 (WINNER)
Mikel Wintermantel, 2014
MarCe Zerrate, 2014

National Comedy Center, 2019
Road Less Traveled Productions, 2019
Buffalo Sugar City, 2019 (WINNER)

Buffalo Arts Studio, 2018 (WINNER)
Niagara Falls National Heritage Area,
Resource: Art,

1891 Fredonia Opera House, 2017
Kenan Center, 2017 (WINNER)
Springville Center for the Arts, 2017

Buffalo Choral Arts Society, 2016
Just Buffalo Literary Center, 2016 (WINNER)
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, 2016

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 2015
Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy, 2015
Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, 2015 (WINNER)

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, 2014 (WINNER)
Squeaky Wheel/Buffalo Media Resources, 2014
Torn Space Theater, 2014


All Proceeds Benefit