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2021 Governor’s Awards in the Arts honorees announced

This year's award were designed and created by Ann Klem, a glass artist based in Jefferson County.
Kentucky Arts Council
This year's award were designed and created by Ann Klem, a glass artist based in Jefferson County.

The 2021 Governor’s Awards in the Arts honorees are out. 

The awards honor individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on art in the Commonwealth.

They’ve been around since 1977. Every year the Kentucky Arts Council commissions an artist to design and create the physical award that honorees receive.

“The Governor’s Awards in the Arts is the highest honor in the arts a Kentuckian can receive,” representatives from the Kentucky Arts Council said in a statement. “Whether the honorees are individuals or organizations, these talented Kentuckians become ambassadors for creativity in the Commonwealth.”

Ann Klem, a Jefferson County glass artist, is this year’s award designer. 

The sculpture is made up of various colors and shapes, which speaks to Klem’s inspiration for the piece.

“Diversity, in particular, also became a focus of inspiration,” Klem said in her artist statement. “The textures and variety of colors are my interpretation of diversity. We see it throughout the state in our different populations, different political priorities and our varying economic situations.

Here are the 2021 honorees:

Milner Award: James Gifford, CEO of the nonprofit publishing organization Jesse Stuart Foundation of Boyd County

The foundation was originally created in 1979 to manage the works of Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart. Since then, it became a way for books about Appalachia to stay in print. 

Even before leading the organization, James Gifford has long worked to preserve and share the culture of Appalachia both in and outside of the region. He has written several books, including biographies about people from the area.

“As a historian, I know from firsthand experience that poetry, music, visual arts, crafts, dramas and videos provide lessons that are every bit as important as the lessons we learn from books and lectures,” Gifford told the Kentucky Arts Council.

Artist Award: The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers of Kenton County

The a capella, sacred gospel quartet formed more than 34 years ago, when Ric Jennings gathered a “five-voice quartet” from singers in the Ninth Street Baptist Church Men's Choir in Covington, Ky. 

Since then, the group has become known locally and globally, as well as expanded their songs outside of gospel music to include some R&B favorites. 

While recent years’ events have been tough on the group, this award has buoyed them.

“It helps us to stay motivated to continue, and it inspires us to give our best as representatives of Kentucky,” group member Stace "Babydeac" Darden said in an email. “COVID and health issues have made it a challenge to make every opportunity that has been presented to us, but when we have, we've been encouraged to share the gift that God has blessed us with amongst his people.”

The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers plan to continue to entertain people with music that is "pleasing to the taste buds of the soul."

Business Award: Paducah Bank in McCracken County

Paducah Bank got its start, of course, in Paducah, Ky. Since its founding nearly 75 years ago, the bank has played a large role in the community. It has helped fund programs like the Artist Relocation Program, which aims to bring professional artists into areas that have little investment, and has offered investment and mentorship for artists in the area.

Beyond that, the bank has received many awards including both the Louisville Mayor's Worksite Wellness Award and Governor’s Service Award.

Community Arts Award: Butler County Arts Guild

Created in April 2013, the Butler County Art Guild aims to uplift area artists. 

Their work began with the creation of a mural in Morgantown, which was designed by Andee Rudloff. The project led to several artists joining the guild. 

In 2016, the guild acquired a building where it now hosts exhibitions and events, including the West Ohio Street Chalk Art and Craft Festival and performances by banjo player and fellow 2021 Governor’s Awards in the Arts recipient Sue Massek and National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame guitarist Joe Hudson.

The guild has also established a Junior Arts Guild and As Yet Unnamed Writers Group.

Education Award: Jane Dewey, director of arts education for Danville Independent Schools in Boyle County

In her eyes, Jane Dewey’s job is about “making high-quality arts opportunities for kids.”

She writes and implements grants, does administrative work and runs the district's theater. Dewey’s job entails a little bit of everything, but it’s all centered around art.

“As human beings, I think that art-making is just ingrained in who we are,” Dewey said. “We have made art since the beginning of time, even when it was more important to feed ourselves and find some kind of shelter.”

She said that art teaches children about communication in ways that reading and writing can’t.

Folk Heritage Award: Folklorist and musician Sue Massek of Washington County

Sue Massek is a banjo player and performer. A Kentucky transplant, Massek has come to understand the culture of Kentucky, more specifically Appalachia, in her 50 years calling the Commonwealth home. 

She has been a music educator for several years and even acted as a mentor in the Kentucky Art Council’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant program.

She has performed across the world, both as a soloist and in the group, The Reel World String Band.

Massek views music as a humanitarian effort that can be used for social justice aims.

“There is a profound sense of unity when voices are raised together,” Massek said to the council. “The arts give voice to those who feel no one is listening.”

Government Award: City of Beaver Dam

In a city of just over 3,000, there is an amphitheater that holds 5,000. Acts like Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard, The Beach Boys and The Temptations have stopped through.

The city’s success in drawing notable performers is one of the reasons why it’s one of this year’s honorees.

Mayor Paul Sandefur said he hopes the honor brings more attention to the city’s cultural scene.

“I hope we can build on it for our economic development and for our citizens here,” Sandefur said. “I tell people, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this kind of for tourism, but everything we do our local residents get to take advantage of,’ and that’s kind of a win-win for us.”

Media Award: Louisville Public Media

The nonprofit public media organization houses three radio stations and an investigative unit.

WFPL News is part of Louisville Public Media. 

LPM is home to the city’s only dedicated classical station, 90.5 WUOL, as well 91.9 WFPK, an alternative station that plays a plethora of different genres.

89.3 WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting produce coverage on a large range of topics and work with stations in the state and the region to bring news to a broad and diverse audience. WFPL has a full-time arts and culture reporter on staff.  

"For decades, we’ve invested time, energy, creativity and resources into fostering a strong arts community in our city and across our state — all built on the idea that what we create brings us together,” Louisville Public Media President Stephen George said in a statement. “Through our music stations and at WFPL News, we’ve dedicated ourselves to covering the wide range of artistic expression that makes Kentucky special."

National Award:  Martha Redbone, vocalist, songwriter, composer and educator from Harlan County

Known for her mix of folk, blues and gospel Martha Redbone aims to expand the limits of American roots music. 

Pulling from her experiences as an Afro-indigenous woman, Redbone creates music that speaks to social justice, the human spirit and the connecting of various cultures.

She has been recognized for work on composing the music for the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” at New York City’s Public Theater.  

Despite the New York influence in her work, Redbone said she gives great consideration to her Harlan Country roots for the artist she is today.

“I would not be a musician without Kentucky in my blood!” Redbone said to the Kentucky Arts Council.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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