New awards honor artists, supporters of the arts

Carol Rolf Originally Published May 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 3, 2013 at 1:15 p.m.
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Carol Rolf

Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, left, presents Conway Alliance for the Arts awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts to Becky Harris, second from left, Community Advocate; Allison Marr, accepting on behalf of her family for her father, the late Don Marr, Individual Artist; Winfred “Win” Thompson and his wife, Carmen, front, Lifetime Achievement; Patty Oeste, Arts Educator; and Simona Donava, student artist.

The arts took center stage April 19 as the Conway Alliance for the Arts presented its first Outstanding Achievement in the Arts awards at a Community Arts Awards Celebration in the Trieschmann Fine Arts Building at Hendrix College.

The sounds of a string quartet from the Conway Symphony Orchestra and the sights of student artwork greeted guests at a reception in the Trieschmann Art Gallery. Guests were then invited into Reves Recital Hall for the awards ceremony.

Jim Wiltgen, vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Hendrix and chairman of Conway ArtsFest, which is sponsored by CAFTA, welcomed those in attendance. Kim Williams, chairman of the CAFTA Board of Directors and director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, announced the Outstanding Achievement in the Arts awards, which were presented by Mayor Tab Townsell. Each of the winners received a piece of hand-turned wooden sculpture crafted by Mark Cothren of Conway.

Williams said CAFTA “hopes to make this an annual event in the spring.”

“The Faulkner County Library started the Lifetime Achievement Award several years ago,” Williams said. “The director of the library retired last year, and we wanted to keep the momentum going. We also wanted to add more awards and sought nominations from the public. We had a really good response and are very excited about our first event.”

Former University of Central Arkansas President Winfred “Win” Thompson and his wife, Carmen, received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rollin Potter, dean of the UCA College of Fine Arts and Communication, nominated the Thompsons, who were selected for the award by the CAFTA Board of Directors.

“When I take a look at the big picture for the arts in Conway, I am sure that no individuals have ever made more of a difference in the cultural arena in the city than the Thompsons,” Potter said.

“They specifically brought about the building of the Reynolds Performance Hall; brought about the development of a new college, the UCA College of Fine Arts and Communication; developed the UCA Department of Music to the biggest and best in Arkansas; developed and provided leadership to the Friends of Music; and took a leadership role in the arts during their years in Conway. Carmen continues to be involved in the arts through the operation of her antique store.

“We would not be what we are without their leadership,” Potter said. “They deserve this recognition.”

Win Thompson served as UCA president for almost 14 years, from 1988 to December 2001. He is currently president of the American University in Kuwait.

“We are honored and hope that we are deserving of this consideration,” Win Thompson said. “Neither Carmen nor I have any particular artistic talent ourselves, but we have a lot of admiration and respect for the arts and realize how the arts impact a community.

“We are honored to have been able to play a small part in the growth of the arts here in Conway.”

Carmen Thompson added that she supports the local arts by representing any number of artists at her business, Carmen’s Art and Antiques in Conway.

“When you don’t have talent yourself, you can become passionate about the arts by supporting them,” she said.

Several other awards were given to members of the community:

• The Outstanding Community Advocate award was presented to Becky Harris, staff writer for the Log Cabin Democrat and former executive director of CAFTA.

“Back years ago, an idea was born that an organization should be formed to gather all the arts organizations under one umbrella,” Harris said. “There was a lovely luncheon at Hendrix with representation from UCA, Hendrix, Central Baptist College, the school district and various artists and musicians. I’m happy to say I was at the first meeting and continued meeting with those people. We did all the things necessary for getting organizational grants with the goal of having a directory of artists and art organizations, a calendar of arts events and a major annual event showcasing the arts.

“Deciding on the name, Conway Alliance for the Arts, took awhile. At some point, I volunteered to get nonprofit designation from the IRS, open a checking account, find a free office space, keep minutes for our frequent meetings, build a calendar of activities and publicize all those activities.

“Being part of something in the beginning that became so successful was a special honor. Working with those great folks (they are still active in the organization) was a great privilege.

“Advocate. I like that,” Harris said of the honor she received. “That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

• The Outstanding Student Artist award was presented to Simona Donava, a music

student at UCA and flutist with the Conway Symphony Orchestra.

A native of Varna, Bulgaria, Donava came to UCA in the fall of 2010 without knowing English. She took an entire year to learn the language.

She was the 2012 winner of the UCA Concerto Competition and won awards at the 2012 state and regional competitions sponsored by the Arkansas chapter of the Music Teachers National Association.

“It is funny to me to imagine how just three years ago, I was just dreaming of coming to America, learning English and being part of a culture so different than my culture,” she said. “The fact that I was nominated for the prize and received that honor means a lot to me. Music is much more than a history, or theory, to me, and my flute is much more than just a tool. It is a big part of me, and it represents who I am.

“The fact that I was acknowledged for all the work I do makes me even more

determined. It makes me want to work harder every day because now I know that people do listen to you when you talk through the language of the music.”

• The Outstanding Individual Artist award was presented posthumously to Don Marr and accepted by members of his family.

Marr was the C. Louis and Charlotte Cabe Distinguished Professor of Art at Hendrix, where he taught for 41 years until he retired in 2000. He died in March.

Marr was chairman of the Special Events Committee at Hendrix, a group that brought internationally recognized artists, authors and poets to campus. His artwork is in private collections across the United States and Europe, including the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, where his work was part of a 50-year retrospective of the annual Delta Exhibition in 2007-08. His latest exhibition was in 2011-12 at the Biedenharn Museum in Monroe, La.

• The Outstanding Arts Educator award was presented to Patty Oeste, music specialist at Ruth Doyle Middle School in Conway. She is classically trained in opera and still performs professionally.

“I think it is fabulous that the city of Conway has grown so much in the arts,” Oeste said. “When I think of what was available here 22 years ago when I moved here, it’s just amazing. This is an exciting place to live.

“I think it’s wonderful that all of the artists who were nominated are being recognized,” she said. “It’s nice to be honored.”

Oeste started her teaching career in Conway at St. Joseph Catholic School, then was hired by the Conway School District to teach music at Ida Burns Elementary School. In 2002, she received National Board Certification and was asked by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to be a presenter at the national convention in Washington, D.C., in 2003. She is still active with that organization.

In 2009, Oeste was named Yale Distinguished Music Educator, along with 49 other music educators in the United States. She also received the National Symphony Orchestra/Kennedy Center Teacher Fellowship, enabling her to spend a month in Washington to work on various projects.

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