Erie Arts & Culture’s Fall for Arts & Culture Awards

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 at 4:45 PM
Erie Arts & Culture’s Fall for Arts & Culture Awards by Brianna Lyle
Brad Triana

Erie Arts & Culture has been hosting the Fall for Arts & Culture Appreciation Awards for nearly three decades, celebrating the importance of individuals, organizations, and businesses who are creating the cultural landscape of Erie along the way. This year’s honorees include: the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network receiving the Leadership Award, Douglas and Deborah Murphy receiving the Applause Award, Jan Hyatt receiving the Imagine Award, and Jennifer Dennehy receiving the Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year Award. 

“Look at any of our award recipients, and their story – the big picture story – of how their work has shaped and influenced the sector and moved it forward,” said Amanda Hurd, Marketing and Development Director of Erie Arts & Culture, on the importance of the awards. “Each has an amazing story to tell; these people are truly making a difference in the lives of so many others.”

One of the most visible differences comes from the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network (SSJNN) who have revitalized Little Italy and Erie’s east side multicultural neighborhoods using urban art installations, primarily murals. They hope to continue creating murals with an anti-violence theme, where children would have the opportunity to work with local artists creating the murals, themselves. 

Many families in Erie live below the poverty line, lacking access to the arts. Therefore, the SSJNN’s goal is to create community engagement via these murals, but also to offer opportunities for on-site art activities for children and adults. Recently at their east side location, they teamed up with Bloom Collaborative, a component of Stairways Behavioral Health that holds programs and initiatives aimed at improving community health, to provide art classes to children in the coming months. A watercolor course is set to begin soon while the west side location currently offers multimedia art on Wednesdays for children. 

“I hope we are expanding the notion of traditional art into our communities and offering artists new experiences; working in areas that stretch their imaginations, show new insights, and help us all feel a sense of community together.”

“We look at art as a way to provide hope to our communities,” said Rosmari Graham, SSJNN Executive Director. “I hope we are expanding the notion of traditional art into our communities and offering artists new experiences; working in areas that stretch their imaginations, show new insights, and help us all feel a sense of community together.”

This year however, it’s not visual art that was center stage at the Fall for Arts & Culture Appreciation Awards, but rather dance. For the first time, the Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year award recipient is an artist of movement, Jennifer Dennehy. Both Dennehy and Jan Hyatt are being recognized for their efforts in dance. 

“Dance quite often gets the least amount of funding to create original quality work and therefore is less accessible to people than music or visual art,” said Dennehy, who, in trade for lessons, cleaned her dance studio every week from childhood until she graduated high school. “Dance is less visible than other forms of art.” Which is why two years ago, Dennehy created the summer Mid-Day Dance Breaks in downtown Erie. The idea was to hold weekly dance performances during lunch breaks in order to bring more awareness to movement art. The events are also coupled with a visual artist who creates a piece of work on-site while using the dance performance as his or her muse.

Similarly, Hyatt, the director of Creating Landscapes, a group of interrelated educational programs for children, is looking to bring dance into mainstream curriculum for students. 

“Dance is generally not a part of public education,” Hyatt explained. “The public does not have a sophisticated understanding of dance as an art form or dance as an expression of culture.” This is why rhythm and dance are taught together at Creating Landscapes, allowing the students to express their feelings and learn through movement. The programs are designed to engage children in critical thinking, imaginative expression, and aesthetic experience. 

“It has always been a mystery to me that public education has chosen to have students learn by sitting quietly at their seats,” Hyatt added. “Dance, and all the other expressive arts, infuse content with feeling – and when feelings are expressed – children are engaged.” 

As Hurd explained via email, the awards are truly about the people receiving them. They are about artists’ stories and how they share these stories with the communities who support and gain insight from them. The Fall for Arts & Culture Appreciation Awards not only showcase these individual talents, but also the impact of the arts on Erie as a whole. 

“Arts and culture not only drive economic benefits to Erie,” said Deborah Murphy, “but give our city a vibrancy, vitality, and quality of life we would not have if we did not have a Playhouse, a Philharmonic, an Art Museum, a beautiful Tall Ship, a Children’s Museum, and a wonderful new history center. We think arts education is vital to a well rounded, appealing community.”

Brianna Lyle can be contacted at bLyle@ErieReader.com.

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