Mayor's Arts Awards Highlight Best in D.C. Arts, Culture

Dorothy Rowley | 9/19/2012, 1:31 p.m.

From hand dancing and the spoken word, to arts education and artistic disciplines, an annual event that pays tribute to the talent and vision of the arts community in the District recently attracted a capacity crowd to an historic theater on a balmy September evening.

Art aficionados, accompanied by their proteges and a host of arts enthusiasts, packed the house during the 27th annual Mayor's Arts Awards at the Lincoln Theatre in Northwest last Thursday, where District artists, patrons and arts organizations took center stage for their significant contributions to the local arts scene.

The two-hour event, emceed by WUSA anchor J.C. Hayward, provided the District yet another opportunity to showcase the city's cadre of diverse talent and creative genius.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray took the opportunity to stress the importance of supporting the arts. "We can see by the breadth of our special award winners, the scope of arts in this city," said Gray, 69. He said the honorees "represent the burst of energetic spirit in D.C."

The mayor also told the audience that the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities [DCCAH], the agency that sponsors the annual arts event each year, will assume responsibility for the Lincoln Theatre, much to the crowds delight.

Winners in five arts categories and three teaching categories were recognized along with a distinguished group of honorees: Former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams received the Mayor's Arts Award for Visionary Leadership. Paul Jorgensen walked away with the Mayor's Arts Award of Special Recognition and award-winning film producer George Stevens Jr. and founding artistic director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers' Melvin Deal both received the Mayor's Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Performances by acts that included Poem-cees, Nistha Raj, Christylez Bacon, the National Hand Dance Association, and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers mesmerized the audience throughout the evening.

Other award-winners included Art Enables, Atlas Performing Arts Center, Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop.

"It is imperative that we retain D.C. as a world-class cultural and arts city,"said Judith Terra, DCCAH chairperson. Terra, along with Lionell Thomas, DCCAH executive director, expressed gratitude to both the mayor and the D.C. Council for their "indelible support" of the arts which received a restoration of funding this fiscal year to the tune of $6 million.

"What's been happening among the city's arts sector for the past 30 years has been amazing, and as the nation's capital, we have the opportunity to experience and to share arts around the world," said Terra.

Williams, who served as mayor from 1999 to 2007, is credited for putting the District back on firm financial footing. He received a prolonged round of applause as he approached the stage, where he was praised as a strong champion of city government and the arts.

Williams said in his acceptance speech that having been a successful mayor was a result of the hard work of residents who'd rallied behind him.

"However the show goes on. It's often very painstaking and sometimes chaotic, but it continues because of your work," said Williams, who also gave kudos to his mother, Virginia, who accompanied him to the ceremony.

"A city without art is a mistake . . . and those visuals that keep us moving toward our destination is really what art is all about," Williams said. "It's making our lives better, our families better and this city the great city that it is."