[Tuesday, March 15, 2011 – Amherst, MA] Three distinguished individuals and one institution have been selected to receive the 2011 WFCR Arts & Humanities Award. The award, established to recognize those who have made a positive impact on the cultural landscape of western New England, is presented in three categories: Outstanding Individual, Outstanding Organization, and Emerging Talent.
The 2011 honorees are: Charter Oak Cultural Center of Hartford, Connecticut (Outstanding Organization); children's musician and early childhood music educator, Aric Bieganek, (Emerging Talent); and for the first time, the WFCR Foundation will award two Outstanding Individuals: Northampton-based composer, inventor of the archguitar and founder of the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, Peter Blanchette; and Stephen Hays, Executive Director of the Drama Studio in Springfield, and founder of StageWest.
"This is the first time the committee has seen a tie for any category. We felt very strongly that both Peter and Stephen deserved the award this year, and we are happy to recognize them both for their commitment to the arts in the region," said Dennis Bromery, Chair of the WFCR Foundation's Outreach Committee, which was tasked with reviewing all sixty nominations submitted by the community. "We're very pleased with the nominations that came in this year," he continued. "And as always, we had our work cut out for us with such an impressive pool of candidates."
Charter Oak Cultural Center, located in Hartford, is Connecticut's renowned multi-cultural arts center. It hosts cutting-edge, thought-provoking visual and performing arts, including dance, theater, film, concerts, readings, lectures and gallery exhibits. Charter Oak's Youth Arts Institute provides free out-of-school time arts programming to more inner-city students than any other organization in Hartford. Each year, 15,000 people of all races, genders, classes and abilities attend programs at Charter Oak Cultural Center. Annual events like Hartford's largest Kwanzaa celebration, a multicultural Kristallnacht commemoration and SNAP Into Action Against Hunger, a program that draws attention to the issue of hunger in Hartford, set this unique organization apart. The Foundation is proud to recognize a Hartford-based organization this year, as over one-third of WFCR and WNNZ's audience resides in Connecticut.
Peter Blanchette, has been bringing his repertoire of unusual and internationally acclaimed arrangements and compositions to audiences in western Massachusetts and beyond for well over a decade. He is well-known as the inventor of the 11-string archguitar, and his music, including musical screenplays, original compositions and wondrous interpretations of Bach, has consistently drawn new listeners to the classical idioms. The Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra (HVGO), which Blanchette founded in 2009, is a true avant-garde orchestra comprised of more than twenty acoustic and electric guitarists from widely varied traditions. HVGO provides musical residents of the Pioneer Valley, who are not themselves career musicians, the opportunity to study, learn, practice and perform in the true spirit of a community orchestra. In 1998, Blanchette and his Virtual Consort won A Prairie Home Companion's "Talent from Towns Under Two Thousand" contest. Jane Bryden, who nominated Blanchette for the award, called him "one of the most adventurous, passionate and high-energy musicians in western New England," and the WFCR Foundation agrees.
Stephen Hays has been at the forefront of the dramatic arts landscape in western New England since he arrived in Springfield more than 35 years ago to found StageWest, one the area's first professional theater companies. Today, he is the Executive Director of the Drama Studio in Springfield, Massachusetts which he founded in 1986 to provide a conservatory-style drama training program for young people in the Greater Springfield region. Over 250 students are currently enrolled in year-round classes and take part in a wide range of production opportunities, including a touring program that plays to over four thousand Springfield elementary children each year. In addition, Hays has been the artistic director of the Trinity United Methodist Church's annual Boars Head and Yule Log Festival since its inception, now twenty-eight years ago. The festival, which marks the Epiphany celebration, reaches some four thousand attendees each Christmas season. With a career spanning nearly four decades, an obvious commitment to his students and his craft, the WFCR Foundation is proud to honor Hays with the Arts & Humanities Award for Outstanding Individual.
Aric Bieganek is truly a rising-star in the early childhood music education field. The Holyoke resident created his own early childhood music program, "Future Maestros," which he teaches at the Community Music School of Springfield and the Northampton Community Music Center. He is also a preschool teacher at the Prelude Preschool of the Arts, part of the Community Music School of Springfield. He has conducted the Springfield Symphony Orchestra's Musical Petting Zoo Program, and runs the "Eco-Rock" program at the Common School in Amherst in their Summerfun program. Bieganek also works both independently and in collaboration with community organizations, schools and local public libraries to perform music for families and to promote the growing independent children's music scene. His band, "The Royal Order of Chords and Keys (R.O.C.K.)," performs regularly in the area.
This will be a particularly exciting year for the Arts & Humanities Award. WFCR will kick off a year-long celebration of its 50th Anniversary beginning in May with this special gala. Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg, will be the keynote speaker, and will present the awards. Ms. Stamberg began her career at NPR as cohost of NPR's award-winning newsmagazine All Things Considered and now serves as guest host of Morning Edition and Weekend Edition Saturday, in addition to reporting on cultural issues for all of the NPR programs.
The WFCR Arts & Humanities Award Dinner will be held on Wednesday, May 11 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. This special event is open to everyone in the community wishing to join WFCR in celebration of the arts.
Tickets ($75) are available for purchase at WFCR's secure ticket website with proceeds to benefit the programs and services of WFCR and WNNZ.
The 2011 WFCR Arts & Humanities Award is sponsored by Country Bank and Jackson & Connor.
For more information on the WFCR Arts & Humanities Award or the May 11 event, contact Vanessa Cerillo at 413-545-9717.
For more information on the recipients, including bios, please visit digital.nepr.net.