And the Award Goes To...

Posted by Ms. Lauren S. Hess, Oct 26, 2016 0 comments

Here in Ohio it is time to submit nominations for the highly respected Governor’s Awards in the Arts. Awards are given out annually—since 1971—to recognize the top people or organizations that have been vital to the growth and development of Ohio’s cultural resources. The categories for the awards include Arts Administration, Arts Education, Arts Patron, Business Support of the Arts, Community Development and Participation, and Individual Artist.

Most states have their own versions of this day. We link ours to Arts Day, when arts advocates descend upon the state capital, Columbus, to speak with lawmakers about how the arts have impacted their communities. The day is produced by the Ohio Arts Council and the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation. A beautiful addition is the inclusion of select high school students from across the state who share their personal stories of how the arts have affected their lives. After meetings in the morning, everyone gathers at the beautiful, historic Columbus Athenaeum for lunch and the awards ceremony. I have been lucky to attend this incredible day for at least a decade. I always leave energized, impressed by the young advocates, and proud to be living in a state that has such a rich arts and culture tapestry.

Two organizations that I am involved with are grappling with how to bring this idea to the local level. I have a lot of personal baggage with this topic. I have had the responsibility of creating awards events at the state and local level and it’s hard. It takes an army of volunteers and don’t even ask me about trying to turn these events into fundraisers. It can be exhausting! Here’s what I’ve found over time:

  • Awards and advocacy: On the same day we celebrate people for doing great work we spend the morning asking for support for the great work.
  • Awards and fundraising: “Look! This person managed to do great work.” Now open your checkbooks so the great work can continue.
  • Awards for awards’ sake: Nominating a colleague or self-nominating is one more thing to add to an already too-busy working environment. It’s hard to find the time to gather your thoughts and write up why someone you work with or mentor genuinely deserves an award.

We all know those hard working teachers who get up extra early and are in their classrooms long before students have arrived, preparing for the day’s lessons. These are the same teachers who spend their own money on extra supplies for their students. They stay after school advising various clubs to provide students more experiences in the arts. They go the extra mile to take their students on field trips to hear the local orchestra, or attend the art museum in their community. These are the amazing educators who love and care about the welfare of their students.

How do we honor these individuals? I suggest an Awards Alternative: Next time you see one of these amazing professional arts educators, simply say, “Thank you! Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of our children. Thank you for doing the good work every day.” And if it feels right, give them a big hug and let them know how appreciated they are.

My guess is that will mean a lot more than a plaque. 

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