ArtsWestchester Announces Seven Notable Honorees for its 2019 Arts Awards Ceremony

Photo caption: Mount Vernon-based PJS Jazz Society will be receiving the 2019 Arts Organization Award on April 11, 2019. Photo of Antonio Hart courtesy of PJS Jazz Society.

ArtsWestchester announced seven individuals and organizations who will be honored at its annual Arts Awards Luncheon on April 11. Spanning a range of disciplines, the honorees are: John Shearer, of Katonah; Victoria “Vickie” Morris of Katonah; PJS Jazz Society, of Mount Vernon; Pace University Professor Maria Luskay, of Holliston, MA; David Rocco, of Yorktown Heights; and community groups Pro Bono Partnership, based in White Plains; and Rehabilitation Through The Arts, based in Purchase.    

Leaders from the county’s civic, arts, and business communities will gather to celebrate the stellar accomplishments of these honorees during ArtsWestchester’s Annual Arts Awards Luncheon on Thursday, April 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook. For more information or tickets please visit https://artswestchester.org/2019artsawardluncheon/ or contact Ann Fabrizio at afabrizio@artswestchester.org or 914-428-4220 ext. 326.

“The arts are very much alive and well in Westchester, and each year we like to pause for a moment to honor those individuals and organizations who are so vital to the cultural fabric of our county and communities,” said ArtsWestchester CEO Janet T. Langsam. “The Arts Awards have been presented since 1976, and it is always a joyous celebration of the vision, commitment and leadership of our distinguished honorees. I join with our Board of Trustees in congratulating each one of them. They are the creative heart and soul of this county.” 

The 2019 Arts Award recipients are:

Artist Award
John Shearer, of Katonah, has illuminated social disparity for more than half a century. As a photographer, he bore witness to some of the most significant events of the 20th century, including the Attica riots, anti-war protests in Chicago and Dr. Martin Luther King’s memorial. Raised in Greenburgh, Shearer was mentored by two photography legends: Westchester neighbor Gordon Parks and Arthur Rothstein. When he was a 17-year-old assistant at “Look Magazine,” he captured one of the most recognized photos of the 20th century – toddler John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket at the President’s funeral. With his own father, illustrator Ted Shearer, he also created African-American child detective Billy Jo Jive, a children’s book series that later became animated spots on “Sesame Street.” Shearer has earned numerous honors throughout his career and his work has been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Emily & Eugene Grant Arts Patron Award
Victoria “Vickie” Morris, and her adored late husband Steve, took great pleasure in supporting the arts and the environment. Some of the commitments that they made together were to Parsons Dance Company where Steve was Board Chair and Vickie was Chair of the International Council; New York Public Radio where they co-chaired the Campaign for Digital Innovation; and the Bedford Playhouse where they were enthusiastic donors. On her own, Vickie fell into a lifelong love affair with the Katonah Museum, its mission and its people. At the Museum, Vickie was Board President and Chair of the Board of Overseers. She now serves as a Trustee Emerita. In addition to the Museum, Vickie serves on the Board of Bedford 2020, a small but mighty not-for-profit dedicated to battling and beating climate change. Recently, she joined Storm King’s External Affairs Committee. Vickie believes that a healthy world, with access to the arts for everyone, is the world she wants to live in and that it is worth her time, money and passionate personal commitment.

Arts Organization Award
For nearly 40 years, Mount Vernon-based organization PJS Jazz Society has cultivated an unparalleled legacy of bringing well-known professional musicians to the stage during eight performances each year. PJS was founded in 1980 by ardent jazz fan, the late Reverend Clinton C. Glenn Jr., who dreamt up the idea of bringing masters to Mount Vernon at affordable prices for the community. PJS Jazz Society continues to impress audiences with its roster of distinguished talent and ability to introduce new voices. The organization remains steeped in its community by introducing local high school students as the opening acts for its professional musicians’ performances. The second Sunday of every month from September through April, the First Presbyterian Church transforms into a casual cabaret-style venue that features a rotating program. Past performers have included Allan Harris, Akiko Tsuruga and Wycliffe Gordon.

Sophia Abeles Education Award
Through Pace University’s Media, Communications and Visual Arts Department, Yonkers native Professor Maria Luskay gives students the opportunity to study abroad and learn documentary filmmaking. Each year, students in Dr. Luskay’s “Producing the Documentary” course conduct research, and then travel, film and edit a short film – all within a 14-week semester. The documentaries are then presented at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville. Over the past 15 years, these Pace students, under the guidance of Luskay, have produced award-winning documentaries in locations across the world, including Costa Rica, Portugal, The Netherlands, Curacao and Cuba. Most recently, they documented the effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. These films have been recognized and featured on WABC, as well as various newspaper and television news outlets. This year, Dr. Luskay and her team will travel to Hawaii to explore the Kilauea volcano eruption and the effect it has had on the people living in its path. Dr. Luskay, also an alum, has been teaching at Pace for more than 25 years.

Community Award: Pro Bono Partnership

Pro Bono Partnership has provided free legal services to nonprofit organizations in Westchester County and throughout suburban New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The Partnership mobilizes hundreds of attorneys from major corporations and law firms to donate their time in order to meet the needs of more than 800 charitable organizations – a value of about $10 million per year. Since its founding in 1997, the Partnership has helped more than 2,300 nonprofits on thousands of legal matters. Some of the ArtsWestchester member organizations that have been directly impacted by the important work of the Partnership include: the Clay Art Center, the Orchestral Society of Yonkers, the Mamaroneck Artists Guild, the Pelham Art Center, the Rye Arts Center, the Westchester Children’s Museum, and the Westchester Collaborative Theater.

Community Award: Rehabilitation Through The Arts

Begun in 1996 by Katherine Vockins at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, arts organization Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) uses the transformative power of the arts, helping prisoners to develop the social and cognitive skills needed for successful reintegration into society. Through dance, theater, music, visual arts and creative writing, participants learn critical life skills like better communication, collaboration, goal setting and problem solving. RTA’s faculty is comprised of 30 dedicated professional artists and educators, most of whom are based in Westchester County. Currently, it serves more than 200 incarcerated men and women in five maximum and medium security prisons in New York. The national rate of recidivism among inmates is nearly 60%, but for RTA members that number drops to less than 7%. Recently, RTA was an inaugural grantee of the Art for Justice Fund and its performances were featured in “The New York Times” and “Rolling Stone.”

 Lawrence Salley Photography Award

After a workplace injury forced David Rocco’s early retirement from his job with the New York City Housing Authority, the self-taught photographer turned to his art with focused passion. His photography has been exhibited at ArtsWestchester and the Robeson Gallery, among others. Presentations of his work are scheduled this year at the Warner Library in May and the Ossining Library in June. Among other Hudson River-related bodies of works, Rocco is perhaps best known for his six-year project documenting the destruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the construction of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. He has traveled hundreds of miles to document material manufacturing and assemblage, has flown in helicopters to shoot aerial perspectives and has ridden on various boats along the river under and beside the two bridges. In that time, Rocco has taken more than ten thousand images as part of this project.

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