Last Thursday, 40 North, Champaign County’s Arts Council, celebrated the seven winners of the 2018 ACE Awards in the following categories:

  • Advocate: Kelly Hieronymus Whiting
  • Artist: Peg Shaw
  • Volunteer: Jim O'Brien
  • Business: Exile on Main Street
  • Student: Natalie Wakefield
  • Teacher: Brandon T. Washington
  • Lifetime Achievement: Dorothy Martirano

I happily attended, anxious to reach out to the arts community in my new role as Smile Politely’s Arts Editor. I was moved by the inspiring winner interview videos, beautifully produced by Five Foot Productions. But for me, the real takeaways were in the speeches.

There was gratitude to mentors, teachers, parents, patrons, and other friends. But more strikingly, there was real gratitude for having the opportunity to do what they do. For being able to live a creative life within a community that takes the time to recognize and support the work they do.

It is to be expected that in the process of preparing to receive an award, winners would take some time to reflect on how they got here. But as the night went on, the real issue at heart became clear. We need the arts and the arts need us.

“Art is critical to our welfare,” 40 North's Executive Director Kelly White reminded us. “Art can save lives. In good times, bad times, in-between times, it helps us process things and communicate with each other.” Nights like this remind us of how important it is to continue to support the arts.

There was a palpable sense of fragility, an underlying awareness of how vulnerable arts programs can be in this day and age. A knowledge that our local arts community is a delicate ecosystem that requires feeding, nurturing and protection in order to be sustained.

Brandon T. Washington urged us to expose children to every type of literature, music, theatre, film, dance and visual art possible. Be it in the classroom, the library, after school or during family time, our future artists and supporters of the arts, need to have their imaginations fueled. They need to see what’s possible. They may not like some of it, but that’s their choice.

Peg Shaw shared that making art helped her process the grief of losing her older sister. Years, later, in winning this award, she feels the importance of her role in the community and has become aware of her responsibility to it.

Beyond this year’s seven winners, these 90+ artists, teachers, volunteers, and arts-minded businesses and organizations were nominated: 

Adams Outdoor Advertising, Ausar, Bea Nettles, Brenda Nardi, Brian Dolinar, Café Kopi, Carlyle Johnson, Champaign-Urbana Design Organization, Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival, Chase Baby, Cheryl Synder, Cindy Sampson, CJ Run, Common Group Coop, Community Center for the Arts, Dance Music Therapy, David Allen, David Howie, David Monk, David Wilcoxen, Deborah Miller, Desa Philip Phetchareun, Dixon Graphics, Dr. Adam Kruse, Ed & Nancy Tepper, Elise Jaye, Ella van Wyk, Frances Reedy, Gail Rost, Giovanna Dibenedetto, Glen Davies, Grant Thomas, Hammerhead Coffee, Hopscotch Bakery + Market, Janice Philippus, Jenelle Orcherton, Jill Lagerstam, Jo Ellen DeVilbiss, John Tilford, Johnny Matteson, Jon Salvani, Joseph Murphy, Krannert Art Museum Council, Latrelle Bright, Lodgic Everyday Community, Mallory Morris, Marielle McNabnev, Martha Landis, Meadow Jones, Mike Ingram, Paul Young, Phil Strang, Resist Art Event, Robert Chapman, Roger Blakely, Rob Krumm, Sarah Marjanovic, Scott Schwartz, Shawnika Lucks, Sipyard, The Iron Post, The Upper Bout, Tom Faux, Truth AKA Trouble, Urbana Park District, and Zoe Southlynn-Savage.

So next time you think there’s nothing going on in your town, Google these names. Visit these places. Explore these people’s talents and support their work. Volunteer at an arts organization. Then tell your friends. Rinse and repeat. Then go to the 40 North website and read up on last year’s winners, and those from the year before that. Support those people. Learn why they are important to our community. See their work. Give them props. Tell your friends. Make your own art. Rinse and repeat.

Photo from the 40 North website