FULL PROGRAM: The 2022 Arts United Awards

Published: Jan. 22, 2022 at 7:26 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) - The annual Arts United Awards celebrate the people, organizations, and businesses that promote and create an environment for the arts to thrive across Northeast Indiana. Of dozens of nominees, a select few were chosen to receive the Arts United Award, the Mayor’s Art Award, the Margaret Ann Keegan Award for Arts Education, and the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.

Each recipient met at least one of the following criteria, for the 2022 awards:

  • IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access): Recognizing individuals, teams, and organizations that demonstrate significant work in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access.
  • Innovation, Creativity, and/or Artistry: Recognizing individuals, teams, and organizations that contribute to the communities of Northeast Indiana in ways that are especially innovative and/or creative, as well as those who demonstrate exceptional artistry within their medium of art.
  • Leadership: Recognizing individuals, teams, and/or organizations that demonstrate extraordinary leadership, advocacy, philanthropy, or volunteerism.
  • Arts Education and Community Engagement: Recognizing individuals, teams, and/or organizations that make an exceptional contribution to the people they serve through arts or cultural programming.

Arts United partnered with Fort Wayne’s NBC for a second year, to showcase how the recipients are making a difference in their communities every day.

Chris Ford

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

Every Sunday morning, worship pastor Chris Ford leads music at Abundant Life Church in Fort Wayne. And in the evenings, he directs his gospel choir, The Sounds of Redemption. “Gospel music is very compelling in the stories they tell,” he told us. “We’re talking about God and his love for people, how he encourages us and how he cares for us and loves for us.” At a young age, Ford discovered he was born to perform music, and even had a greater talent, to lead those to reach their full potential. He credits his parents for fostering his passion, which he describes as a gift from God. “It has a tendency to make you want to get involved, whether its by clapping your hands, standing on your feet or singing along,” he said, describing the genre . “The thing I appreciate the most about gospel music is that it can create a life changing experience.” Ford has over three decades of experience as a gospel music influencer, fulfilling roles as a singer, songwriter, director, and producer.

Greg Mendez

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

“It’s quite a treat to be able to walk anywhere downtown, and in any direction you look you can see several sculptures.” As a child, Greg Mendez took notice to public art, as he visited other cities in the midwest with his parents. During those trips, was born inspiration to bring what he saw in much larger towns, to Decatur. As he began metal sculpting as a profession, he also helped found the Decatur Sculptor Tour. In 2021, the annual event celebrated its ten-year milestone. “Growing up here, there wasn’t a lot of public art — it’s still a fantastic community to grow up in and live in,” Mendez shared. “Now you’re starting to see pockets around town where there are permanent pieces of art located, and now that space is now defined as a public space.”

Carolyn Meyer and Karissa Kalb

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

The pandemic disrupted the normal operation of just about everything — including the Healing Arts Program, a collaboration between Parkview and the Fort Wayne Dance Collective. Artists would create unique gifts, or activities to show joy and compassion to patients and nurses. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitor access and extra programs were all but shutdown. That’s when Parkview Health employees Carolyn Meyer and Karissa Kalb stepped in to keep it going. Kalb worked with the Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s Artistic Director Mandie Kolkman, to distribute artwork to more than two dozen units, across Parkview’s campuses. “I was very surprised when I first started picking up, and I saw all different kinds of art from coloring book pages, there was even a jeopardy game,” Kalb told us,” trinkets, and just all kinds of things. It was really a lot. All the boxes took up all my seats in my car.” Meyer, Parkview’s Holistic Response Team Coordinate, also pitched in, distributing those deliveries, from room to room. “It just showed how resilient we can be,” Meyer explained. “Their gifts are just amazing and its just really helpful to have that resource on our own cart to distribute… it just shows you sometimes you’re put in a situation and good things come out of it.”

Sheila Moore and Jomare Bowers-Mizzell

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

The Summer Arts Academy has two objectives: educate youth on the history of the Black Arts Movement, and introduce kids to artists within their community. The program is led by Sheila Moore and Jomare Bowers-Mizzell, and meets the goal of their sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Iota Chi Omega Chapter. But they too, had to pivot when the pandemic hit. The pair recruited local artists to record tutorials on a variety of art mediums: drawing, pastels and color design, watercolor & acrylic painting techniques. They provided kids with the lessons on a flash drive, and supplied them with the necessary supplies to practice along with the videos. “We had so many talented, African-American Black artists in the community,” Bowers-Mizzell told us. “We identified those people who are working with their population so they could see someone that was working in the profession, highly skilled and bringing those talents to the youth.” “After the class, one of the young boys, I believe he was about 13 or 14-years-old, his grandmother had a birthday, and he actually drew a portrait of her,” Moore added. “As an award to all the students, we gave them art supplies, paper, paints, and he actually used them!” Both focused their efforts towards the underserved youth, utilizing facilities like the Euell Wilson Center and the Albert Jennings Recreational Center. Moore and Bowers-Mizzell also created gifts and decorations for the 2021 Juneteenth Elders Celebration.

Leah Reeder

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

Over Leah Reeder’s time in Fort Wayne, she’s been involved in many art and history organizations: ARCH, Artlink, the African/African-American Historical Society, Association of Indiana Museums (AIM), to name a few. “I always say, volunteering and working is the rent you pay for being on the earth,” Reeder told us. Using those experiences, in addition to being a painter, she’s able to excel in her role as Registrar for the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Reeder also personally curated several exhibits, including Celebrating an Era, Generations, and Personal to Political. She also makes it a point, to help guide up-and-coming artists. “I’m looking at them and trying to help them in whatever manner is needed,” Reeder shared. “And they know to come to me, if you have an exhibit and you need help with how you’re going to do that exhibit -- I’m there, because I might as well offer my knowledge.”

Zynette Paige

For 23 years, Zynette Paige has been cultivating relationships with kids at the Weisser Park Youth Center. She’s being recognized for bringing art, and African-American history and culture to them. “You need to look beyond where a child is now, and you need to look at what they could be,” Paige said. “If you can give them experiences… programs — they’re alright. Experiences, opportunities — those are the things that really make a difference. Now an elder, Paige helped grow the annual Juneteenth Celebration, and Kwanzaa activities. At those events, Paige made it a priority to promote local artists and talent. With that platform, different cultures were expressed in the form of music, poetry, dance, film, theatre, fashion, and more. “It was a platform for us to say, we are going to tell our story. We are going to define who we are,” she added. In the video clip above, Paige, a spoken word artist and pet, shared an excerpt from her book, reading a piece call “Prince Blues”.

Bryan Ballinger

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

Bryan Ballinger, is a recipient of the Margaret Ann Keegan Award for Arts Education. He was recognized for his contributions as an artist, and as an educator. In the past year, Ballinger completed nine murals — and that’s just the tip of his range as an artist. He’s also a toy maker, animator, writer, and illustrator. For the past 16 years, he’s been sharing his wealth of knowledge and experiences as a professor of Digital Media Arts at Huntington University. “For some reason, I just jive with the college-age crowd really well,” Ballinger explained. “They’re at a point where they, you know, a lot of them have had a creative journey up until this point, but maybe they haven’t quite figured out what their strengths are, what their passions are. Those are two things that I really like to focus on and try and help people kind of figure out their place.” Many of his students, or former students assist him on his murals, which include sloths reading at the Huntington Library, a pickle riding a tractor in Markle, and animals playing musical instruments on the side of an ice cream shop in Andrews. “I think that the arts in general in this area are on the rise,” he told us. “I think a big part of that is the leadership of the arts community in Fort Wayne… I think is making a huge difference in this whole area.”

Dorothy Kittaka

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

“The arts are for your life,” Dorothy Kittaka said. She’s the recipient of the 2022 Mayor’s Arts Award. Kittaka co-founded the Foundation for Art and Music in Education (FAME), alongside fellow teacher Mike Schmid. The festival showcases the artistic works and musical performances of elementary and middle school students across Northeast Indiana. She’s also been instrumental in the exchange of cultures, via the Fort Wayne Sister Cities Program. “I think children have to have this experience when they’re very young,” Kittaka explained. “A lot of children never get to go to a different country… And what better way than to have the arts be the thing to bring us together because music is a universal language.” Kittaka was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1999. “What she has done, how she has contributed to the community and area,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry shared, “I think she’s very deserving of the award.”

Daniel Reuning

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

The Bach Collegium founder, and artistic director Dr. Daniel Reuning is one of two recipients of the Arts United Lifetime Achievement Awards. “The Bach Collegium provides 21st century listeners with opportunities to hear early music much like the composer intended it to be heard,” Reuning told us. “That is, hearing the beautiful vocal sound of early instruments, created specifically to blend amicably with singers’ voices; and hearing these instruments played in a way that accurately conveys the historic buoyant style of early music, and a style that beautifully and dramatically portrays the full range of human emotions, ably contrasting reactions as diverse as calm serenity with exuberant exhilaration.” Before retiring at the end of the 2021 performance season, Reuning helped guide the early music choir and instrumental ensemble throughout he pandemic. “Thank you arts community, and thank you, Arts United,” Reuning said of his award, “we are so honored and grateful for this Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Chief Condra Ridley

2022 Arts United Awards
2022 Arts United Awards(Daniel Beals)

For 28 years, Chief Condra Ridley shared her love of books, reading, and African/African-American history to families, through her work for the Allen County Public Library. She was also a recipient of the Arts United Lifetime Achievement Award. “Being able to read to children and open up the world of great books and information to them was a great gift and blessing to me,” Ridley told us. “I think the children’s stories — they really are for everybody. And I think the lessons that we learned, are valuable for all ages.” Ridley worked as a manager for the Pontiac Branch Library, and later an appointed Youth Services Specialist. She also promoted reading through a series on Access Fort Wayne. “Fort Wayne is is my home, and I feel all of us have a responsibility to try to make our communities better than they were when we inherited them.”

Arts United Campus Improvements

As a new year for the arts in Northeast Indiana begins, the Arts United commitment to serving the community through arts and culture continues. In December, Fort Wayne City Council approved $3 million dollars of the Legacy Fund for renovation of the Arts United Center — a theatre in Downtown Fort Wayne that supports performances by local organizations like Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and the Fort Wayne Ballet. The investment had bipartisan support, as the flagship building for the Arts Campus Fort Wayne, a state designated cultural district.

You can find more information about Arts United here.

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