The Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County is proud to host the annual Arts & Culture Empowerment Awards breakfast, celebrating individuals, organizations, and businesses that have made significant contributions to the Fairfield County community through arts and culture.
On August 6, 2021, The Board of Directors of the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County announced the award of funds from the Daniel E. Offut, III Charitable Trust. A portion of this award is to be used to fund and support the ACE Awards, now to be known as The Daniel E. Offutt III Arts & Culture Empowerment Awards.
The Awards are as follows:
Artist Award: Recognizes a creative individual or group in Fairfield County who has demonstrated a commitment to artistic excellence as well as working for access, awareness, and/or advocacy for the arts and culture community.
Citizen Award: Recognizes an individual who has contributed significantly to the enrichment and prosperity of arts and culture in Fairfield County through volunteerism, financial support, and/or advocacy.
Corporate Award: Recognizes a business that has helped to excite the interest and support of arts and culture in Fairfield County through encouragement, exposure and patronage; or that has made a significant contribution to the economic development of Fairfield County with an emphasis on elevating the creative sector.
Educator Award: Recognizes an individual, nonprofit or creative business that has made a substantial impact on the arts and cultural education of students and citizens of Fairfield County through innovative approaches to programming, access and/or advocacy.
Nonprofit Award: Recognizes an organization or leader that has made a distinct contribution to arts and culture in Fairfield County through visionary leadership, commitment to advancement, community engagement and/or creative innovation.
The 2020 ACE Awards were a virtual, cocktail hour celebration, held on October 22, 5:30pm, with James Naughton as our live host and MC, who introduced short filmed interviews he conducted with our awardees. Tony Award winner Joanna Gleason then gave a live address on the essential role of music and arts education in her life and that of the wider community. Our vice president, Cheryl Williams, introduced the evening with comments on this tumultuous year for arts and culture, and Elizabeth Shapiro, Director of Arts, Museums and Preservation at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development spoke about the resilience of the arts and culture in this difficult period in which we continue to struggle to survive the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The awardees are as follows:
Artist: Miggs Burroughs is a lifelong resident of Westport, a full-time graphic artist, who has designed hundreds of logos, ads, brochures, and websites for commercial and non-profit clients throughout Fairfield County since 1972. He has won much acclaim for his lenticular photographs, that explore change and transition in his subjects, seen in many solo shows across Fairfield County. A graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University, Miggs has taught graphic design at Fairfield University and UCONN Stamford. He is a founding member of the Artists Collective of Westport, and was the first Artist in Residence at the Westport Library. Knowing how the art world works, Miggs rolls up his sleeves to help wherever he can. A mentor to many, Miggs is an indefatigable volunteer, who has been named Volunteer of the Year by several local nonprofits. Artist Award sponsored by Gary Cosgrave.
Citizen: Bernicestine McLeod and Harold Bailey are committed to working in tandem to extend their philanthropic and civic impact. Both attended Brown University and are now both Brown trustees emeriti. Bernicestine is President and Founder of McLeod Associates, an IT consulting firm, and was previously a Systems Engineer with IBM. Prior to his retirement as IBM’s Vice President of Lotus Marketing Integration, Harold worked at IBM for 30 years in marketing, sales, and services. They are now principals in a family-owned toy company — Aisha & Co, LLC. Both have leadership roles in TEAM Westport (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism), a committee of the Town of Westport since 2005 — Harold as Chair and Bernicestine as Secretary. Harold is a board member of the Westport Country Playhouse and was a founding member of the Stamford chapter of 100 Black Men. Bernicestine has served on many local boards including the Westport Library and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation and is currently Board Chair of Bridgeport’s Mary & Eliza Freeman Center For History and Community, taking the lead in new capacity building, development, restoration, and advancement efforts.
Corporate: The SoNo Collection, owned by global real estate services company Brookfield Properties, opened in 2019 in South Norwalk as a modern boutique shopping center, with a commitment to support the arts, culture and community in Fairfield County. Arts Brookfield is a program of Brookfield Properties to present concerts, theater, dance, film screenings and art exhibitions to bring public spaces to life through art. The SoNo Collection has already demonstrated its commitment to the Fairfield County community in many ways and has shown it to be a leader in corporate support for the arts. From initially seeking input and feedback from the arts and cultural community, to hosting ongoing gatherings to explore collaborations, it has set a great example of corporate responsibility. Its current “Art at SoNo” program, featuring a wide array of local, national and international artists, is a testament to its creative thinking and expansive support for the arts. Award received by Matthew Seebeck, Senior General Manager. Sponsored by Spinnaker Real Estate Partners.
Educator: Elizabeth M. Gaynor has been a dancer, teacher, arts advocate and pivotal figure in the performing arts in Connecticut for more than 50 years. In 1970, she founded the Elizabeth Gaynor Studio with a single class for five-year-olds in a small studio in her home. She served as principal teacher and director as the school grew and evolved first into the Southport Ballet School, then the Connecticut Ballet Theatre School and finally, in 1994, the Connecticut Dance School, widely known for its excellent standard of dance technique for its students. She has retired as director, but continues to serve as president of the not-for-profit organization. Beside teaching students, the school she founded offers scholarships to area children and provides outstanding performances in and for the public schools in the greater Bridgeport area. As a result, thousands of local children have the opportunity to experience the joy of a live dance performance.
Nonprofit: KEYS offers music education to Bridgeport students whose schools cannot provide it and whose families cannot afford it. It was founded by jazz musician, composer and music educator Rob Silvan, the current director, in 2004 in a hallway at Columbus School in Bridgeport, with its first four piano students. KEYS now operates in 25 Bridgeport schools, providing free one-to-one music education to over 600 Bridgeport children every year, as well as instruments for students, as needed, during the program. KEYS also offers after-school practice sessions, group music instruction and workshops, a non-audition orchestra, concert band, and chorus at Bridgeport’s Klein Auditorium, summer programs, an extensive Saturday program, and active collaborations with other non-profit organizations. KEYS believes a well-rounded education, including arts education, is a vital means of breaking the cycle of poverty. Its objective is to provide this essential part of an education that many are denied because of arts-starved school budgets and limited family financial resources.
Photographs of awardees are by Joseph Michael Lopez. The video recording of the 2020 ACE Awards is available here. The Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County expresses its greatest gratitude to Douglas Tirola and 4th Row Films for their superb professionalism and generosity in filming the award interviews for us.
The 2019 ACE Awards Breakfast keynote focused on nurturing the creative side in all of us. TV Producer and writer Chris Ambrose shared his experience as an artist on how to keep the creative juices flowing, even when he’s asked to rewrite, edit and go back to the drawing board. For more than 20 years, Chris has been a writer of network television dramas. He is currently working on a new show for NBC. He shares his lifelong passion for writing as a mentor in LA and NY, helping young writers hone their skills and encouraging them to believe that everything is possible.
Artist: Jane Davila, a fiber and mixed-media artist who incorporates many printmaking techniques in her work. She teaches printmaking, surface design, and art business workshops extensively across the U.S. as well as internationally. For the last 15 years, Jane has mentored artists, in groups, in workshops, and one-on-one, to empower them to monetize their art careers, to create and manage their digital and online presences, and to efficiently and easily handle marketing and promoting tasks. Jane works from a studio at the NEST Arts Factory in Bridgeport, where she is also the Managing Director.
Citizen: Nick Visconti was a philanthropist and restauranteur in Westport when he was invited by its founder to serve on the board of the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center Foundation. After Drew’s passing, Nick resurrected the foundation and, along with artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs and Nick’s sister Louise Fusco, continues to serve on the board of the foundation which has provided financial support to Project Return, Homes with Hope, Homes for the Brave, CLASP Homes, Artists Collective of Westport, Westport Permanent Art Collection, Downtown Merchants Association and various art scholarships. Last year, with Nick’s leadership, the foundation expanded its focus to new audiences, funding art programs for homeless women and their children, homeless veterans and special needs. children.
Corporate: Since its founding six decades ago by two enterprising lawyers, Herbert L. Cohen and Austin K. Wolf, Cohen and Wolf, P.C. prides itself on its level of involvement in the community. Today, the full-service firm of over 50 lawyers, with four offices in Fairfield and New Haven counties, encourages its attorneys to give of their time, talent and treasure. As a result, Cohen and Wolf attorneys are currently serving in the leadership of more than 100 organizations, associations, commissions, and boards throughout the area, including Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Westport Arts Center, Quick Center for the Arts, Westport Country Playhouse, the Shubert Theater and many other arts organizations.
Educator: Gina Scarpa is the Director of Education at Center Stage. She is the founder of the Center Stage Education Center, which serves over 115 students from across Fairfield County and beyond each semester. She oversees all classes, camp programs and staff both at Center Stage and at area schools. Gina prides herself on creating a positive and supportive atmosphere where kids use musical theater to gain confidence. A graduate of Post University with a degree in Marketing, Gina is also an accomplished voiceover artist with an extensive background in radio broadcasting.
Nonprofit: Founded in 2011, INTEMPO provides high-quality music education to children predominantly from immigrant or first-generation backgrounds and from communities underrepresented in the arts, helping them build critical emotional, cognitive, and behavioral skills, and empowering them to leverage these skills to achieve life success. INTEMPO has been recognized by the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC), the Sphinx Organization, and the State of Connecticut Office of the Arts. Founder and Executive Director Angelica Durrell is an Ecuadorian-born violinist, educator and social entrepreneur. In 2017, she became the first Latina commissioner of the City of Stamford’s Arts and Culture Commission. She is also an artist ambassador for SpreadMusicNow.
See a video of the 2019 presentations here.
In 2018, we were pleased to welcome Robin Tauck, business leader, philanthropist and co-owner/former president and CEO of Tauck, Inc., a leading, third-generation global luxury travel company as the ACE Awards keynote speaker. As the founder and president of Tauck Ritzau Innovative Philanthropy (TRIP), a private family foundation, Robin spoke first hand about the importance of supporting cultural organizations, working to create economic development and improve the quality of life for people around the world.
Artist: Megan Bonneau McCool is a multi-talented artist who danced as an apprentice with the New York City Ballet and choreographed more than 30 commissioned ballets at area colleges. She teaches at local ballet schools, choreographs musicals for her town’s public schools, and volunteers with Stratford Academy’s Cultural Arts Program to bring enriching hands-on experiences and multi-cultural performances to the students.
Citizen: Dennis Bradbury is founder and curator of 22 Haviland Street Gallery in South Norwalk. A successful photographer and active promoter of Norwalk and area artists, she strives to bring people together through art; encouraging understanding, inclusiveness, professional collaboration and friendships, all of which has enhanced the cultural experience in Fairfield County.
Corporate: Valerie Cooper, founder of Picture That Art Consultants, a Stamford-based international fine art experts and appraisers known for their culture of collaboration, commitment to strengthening the communities they serve, and their ability to create private/public partnerships with state, community and nonprofit stakeholders to produce projects of lasting value.
Educator: Jim Royle teaches percussion in his Bridgeport Drums & Percussion Studio to students of all ages and levels. While Jim enjoys his own performance career, his love of music and the pleasure of passing this love onto future musicians are his passion. His studio is well known for turning out remarkable performers who are skilled in many aspects of percussion, advancing from Drum to World, Latin, Afro-Cuban, Orchestra, Steel Drums, Timpani, and Mallet studies.
Nonprofit: New England Dance Theater is inspired to create awareness, access and appreciation of the arts through dance, reaching Fairfield County residents regardless of ability to pay. Community outreach efforts include educational programming and dance performances at schools, hospitals, and senior care facilities, as well as the annual Nutcracker Benefit Show for guests from local family and youth service organizations.
See a video of the 2018 presentations here.
In 2017, the ACE Awards breakfast was kicked off by Master of Ceremonies, James Naughton, Tony Award winning actor and singer, followed by keynote speaker Kelli O’Hara, unequivocally one of Broadway’s great leading ladies. She spoke about growing up in Oklahoma, where her parents encouraged her to explore the arts beyond her small community. Today, Kelli is an award-winning Broadway actress, opera singer and television star.
Kristina Newman-Scott, Director of Culture for the Connecticut Office of the Arts, also addressed the ACE Award breakfast attendees about how arts and culture can be an important economic driver for communities.
“The arts are extremely important to our community and to our future,” said Kristina. “We know that the thing that attracts people to a region, especially millennials, is culture. So, when we talk about economic development, we are talking about the arts and everything that entails.”
Artist: Shanna Melton is an award-winning poet, painter and art consultant based in Bridgeport. In addition to sharing her words, paintings, and ideas with audiences around the world, she has curated numerous artistic events, bringing artists and musicians together to share their work and inspire others. In 2011, Shanna was presented with the State of Connecticut’s Woman to Know Award, given to those who create positive change in their communities and earlier this year, she received the 2017 Humanitarian Award from The Al-Aziz Islamic Center for “Being a Positive Example in the Community.”
Citizen: Michael Widland, attorney with Shipman & Goodwin, has a passion for the arts and has been involved in many arts and cultural institutions in Fairfield County throughout his career. He currently serves on the board of the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk and the Mill River Park Collaborative, among others. In 2012, Michael played a pivotal role in saving the Stamford Center for the Arts (SCA), using his experience with both corporate restructurings and not-for-profits to successfully guide this major cultural arts organization through bankruptcy, reorganization and —ultimately— revitalization.
Corporate: Spinnaker Real Estate Partners maintains a high level of commitment to strengthening of the communities it serves. It is known for a culture of collaboration and the ability to create private/public partnerships with state, community and nonprofit stakeholders to produce projects of lasting value.
Educator: Pamela Kuhn is an operatic soprano who has dedicated her life to the art of singing. Pamela has performed more than 20 operatic roles in her career, on operatic stages in Vienna, London, Venice, Paris and numerous cities across the United States. Locally, she serves as the creator, music director and conductor of the Angel Choir, dedicated to performing for cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and others who benefit from the rehabilitative power of music. Pamela has also conducted numerous chorale groups, produced “The Art of Song,” providing a stage to foster young talent and hosts a weekly radio talk show on 1490 WGCH about the arts and the artists behind their work.
Nonprofit: Silvermine Arts Center has produced cutting-edge shows over the years, bringing in curators and artists from progressive art enclaves throughout the Northeast. The Center prides itself on giving Connecticut artists opportunities for recognition on a larger stage. Its commitment to inclusion has increased awareness of the rich arts scene throughout Fairfield County.
The inagural Arts & Culture Awards breakfast was held on May 19, 2016. It featured keynote speaker Arthur Levitt, the 25th and longest serving Chairman of the SEC, with an introduction by Karen Brooks Hopkins, President Emeritus of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and current Senior Fellow in Residence at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The keynote focused on the vital ecomonic role that arts and culture provide to our communities.
Artist: Westport Artists’ Collective founders Duvian Montoya, Nina Bentley, Miggs Burroughs, Tammy Winser, Helen Klisser During and Jahmane West, recognized for encouraging the careers and talents of local artists and contributing to our diverse artistic community
Citizen: Richard J. Wenning, executive director of BeFoundation, a family foundation devoted to dramatic improvement in the education of underserved children in Connecticut.
Corporate: Bank of America, a leading supporter of the arts and sponsor of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Giving Day, which raised more than $1 million in 24 hours for local nonprofits
Educator: The educational staff of the Bruce Museum for their exemplary work in arts and science education.
Nonprofit: Lou Ursone chief executive officer and artistic director of Curtain Call.
See a report on Arthur Levitt’s speech: “How To Best Value Creative Art”