Mayor’s Arts Awards: Meet this year’s winners

(Courtney Pedroza/DD)
The Phoenix Center for the Arts will house the third annual Mayor’s Arts Awards on Friday, Nov. 21. The awards honor the best in theater, music, dance, visual art and public art in Phoenix. (Courtney Pedroza/DD)

By Jillian Carapella, Rachael Bouley and Hannah Johnston

The annual Mayor’s Arts Awards are returning to the Phoenix Center for the Arts this Friday for the event’s third year.

Joseph Benesh, director of the center, played a major role in putting the ceremony together.

“(These awards) give recognition to people going above and beyond in their field,” Benesh said.

The Mayor’s Arts Awards impact the community by representing a wide variety of art, ranging from traditional to folk art specific to different countries and people.

Benesh said this event is a fun way to celebrate good work in a setting that is not primarily about competition.

“They highlight some of our talent,” he said.

The Mayor’s Arts Awards have grown considerably over the last three years and continue to grow each year as they become increasingly popular within the community.

“Say loud and proud how great it is to be a part of a thriving art scene!” Benesh said.

In the following sections, the Downtown Devil profiles five of the six winners at tonight’s Mayor’s Arts Awards: dance organization Flamenco Por La Vida, music organization SOUNDS Academy, theater organization Space 55, visual artist Jenna Raskin and public artist Kristine Kollasch. The creative writing winner had not yet been announced at the time this article was published. — Jillian Carapella

Flamenco Por La Vida

(Evie Carpenter/DD)
Members of Flamenco Por La Vida perform. Angelina Ramirez founded the dance company and organization to help immerse Phoenix with Spanish culture. Ramirez also owns 5th Row Dance Studios. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

Angelina Ramirez is the artistic director and founder of Flamenco Por La Vida, a dance and performance organization that brings flamenco and Spanish culture and music to the valley.

Since 2011, Ramirez has co-owned 5th Row Dance Studios, which has given her the opportunity to get the community more involved with Flamenco Por La Vida.

“It gives us a space to create, share and rehearse,” Ramirez said. “We have been able to offer classes through our own curriculum and collaborate with other flamenco artists in the community.”

After years of dedication and hard work, Ramirez is excited about Flamenco Por La Vida’s recognition at the 2014 Mayor’s Arts Awards.

“It’s quite an honor,” Ramirez said. “This is such a grand surprise, and I didn’t even expect it. I feel super happy and inspired to keep working hard.”

Last year, Ramirez partnered with her longtime friend and colleague Olivia Rojas, a flamenco singer. They are focusing on expanding Flamenco Por La Vida.

“I want to grow my student base, my space and the studio itself,” Ramirez said. “I hope to one day produce Flamenco Por La Vida for an actual theater show.” — Rachael Bouley

SOUNDS Academy

(Alexandra Scoville/DD)
SOUNDS Academy founder Kirk Johnson presents at SEED SPOT’s Fall 2013 Demo Day. The organization provides strings instruments and lessons to students who do not have access. (Alexandra Scoville/DD)

SOUNDS Academy, a nonprofit organization that brings music to schools and teaches private lessons, works to provide music for children who couldn’t normally afford lessons.

SOUNDS Academy was founded by Kirk Johnson in 2013. The organization is a SEED SPOT alumnus.

“We are around because we want to remove all financial barriers that students may have when it comes to music lessons,” Johnson said.

SOUNDS stands for “students opening up new doors with strings,” and it sets students up with a music instructor and an instrument if they cannot afford one.

Being nominated for the Mayor’s Arts Awards was an honor for Johnson not only because his project was recognized but because it recognized the children for their hard work.

“It was such a great honor to be nominated for this,” Johnson said. “It was truly a testament to what the kids have been doing.”

The idea for SOUNDS Academy came to Johnson after he worked in the Roosevelt School District and saw how Arizona was not providing as many music programs as other states.

“The idea has been in my head forever,” Johnson said. “Arizona has the lowest per-person spending in terms of the arts.”

Johnson strives to provide music to children through SOUNDS Academy so that they can experience the positive benefits of the arts.

“The arts are just a way of communication,” Johnson said. “And music puts that in a positive set.” — Hannah Johnston

Space 55

(Photo Courtesy of Space 55)
Lee Quarrie, Rebecca Brosnan and BJ Garrett struggle to remember the Cape Feare episode of The Simpsons in Act 1 of one of Space 55’s most recent productions, a play called Mr. Burns. (Photo Courtesy of Space 55)

Space 55 is a nonprofit theater organization in downtown Phoenix that got its start when director Shawna Franks saw a need for a place where actors could come together and perform without having to do so in the context of producing a full-length play.

Space 55 is run by an ensemble that give a great deal of their time into keeping the theater going.

“They all do everything,” acting artistic director Charlie Steak said.

As a nonprofit, Space 55 faced some unique difficulties to become a Mayor’s Arts Awards theater finalist.

“We’re really flattered,” Steak said. “We don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, so getting this sort of recognition is marvelous.” — Jillian Carapella

Jenna Raskin

(Brandon Kutzler/DD)
Jenna Raskin sits with a set of her mosaic hearts, a common motif in her artwork. Besides showing in galleries, Raskin also uses her artwork to help charities and to spread positivity. (Brandon Kutzler/DD)

Heart mosaics filled with positive messages are a recurring theme in Jenna Raskin’s art.

Since selling her first painting at 6 years old, Raskin has followed her passion of creating art that spreads positive thoughts.

“My theme is feel-good art,” Raskin said. “When I create these pieces, it is satisfying to me, because it is positive.”

The community’s involvement helped make Raskin’s nomination for the Mayor’s Arts Awards meaningful.

“It was such an honor to be nominated by the art community,” Raskin said.

Alongside showing her artwork at DeRubeis Fine Art in Scottsdale, Raskin works with charities to create awards for people who have donated to that charity’s cause.

“I’ll work with a specific charity and create pieces — not only for awards, but pieces that go to silent auction,” Raskin said.

Creating art for charities has led to many interesting experiences for Raskin, including being invited to be in the audience of the Oprah Winfrey show. Raskin’s sister-in-law, Sue Moreines, wrote a letter to the show about Raskin’s work for an episode about people who gave back to their community.

“It’s all been a surprise. When you do the work you love, interesting things happen,” Raskin said. — Hannah Johnston

Kristine Kollasch

(Taylor Bishop/DD)
Kristina Kollasch stands in front of one of her colorful murals. Kollasch, a 30-year Valley resident, often enlists local volunteers to share the process of creating a mural to help raise community pride. (Taylor Bishop/DD)

For public artist Kristine Kollasch, bringing art to the masses is the most fulfilling aspect of her work.

“That’s the reason I do it,” Kollasch said. “I try to get the community involved in creating some of the components of the work, whether it be my murals or tile projects.”

She enlists community members as volunteers and gives people the opportunity to share in the art-making process.

“There is the civic pride that goes into a piece of artwork when you have 100 people in the community creating the tiles that are going to go into it,” Kollasch said.

The Valley has been her home for nearly 30 years, and she has been the owner of Fine Art & Creative Environments since 1997. She focuses on bringing a positive spin to public art.

“My work is very light and playful compared to a lot of other muralists, whose work seems very heavy,” Kollasch said. “I like to play and pull out the lighter side of life, because it’s heavy enough.” — Rachael Bouley

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