Archive for October, 2013

Special Feature: Lifetime Award Winner Nilimma Devi

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The extraordinary career of Lifetime Achievement winner Nilimma Devi has been one of groundbreaking accomplishments and discoveries, all poignantly documented within the stunning beauty of her artistry.  As Founder and Director of the Silver Spring based Sutradhar Institute Dance and Related Arts, she has transformed the Silver Spring based Institute into a community touchstone of classical art and culture.  Through performances that have graced the stages of the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution, and scholarship that has taken her to Iran, Kenya, and Indonesia, she has helped usher in a renaissance in Indian dance.

Tonight, Nilimma is being honored with the County Executive’s Lifetime Achievement award, in recognition of her work as a cultural preservationist, scholar, and artist who  builds and bridges communities through dance.

To mark the occasion, Nilimma spoke with us about the milestones in her career and the moments she felt helped transform her understanding of art and community.  One such moment was her  travel to India, where she explored the role of creativity in hand gestures of classical Indian Dance under the senior research grant from the American Institute of Indian Studies.  Below, she shares her personal account how her global travels informed her philosophy on creativity and the role of art in our community.


In India they long ago said that art brings your soul and body together. The essence of art is to bring you closer to your core as a human. Creativity was very much part of that process, the evolution.

When I went to India I thought I was going to look at the role of creativity and hand gestures in a very specific way. I discovered that there are no boundaries to knowledge, to creativity, to moving on with your own truth. That was very groundbreaking for me.

In the west, there was a pressing need I think for an artist to be by himself. The aesthetics, it has to be very personal. Whereas in India, the individual is not emphasized.  You cannot say that this is my expression if you cannot carry it to somebody.  So audiences becomes a very integral part as your expression as an artist.

In India, the map is so beautifully laid out for people who are pursuing art.  So many stories are told that begin to open up your eyes to that main thing about art; it’s uplifting you, it’s not just entertainment.  If it does not uplift you then art is just a tool.  Given that map the goal for dance or other arts is to create rasa.

The word is taken from the culinary arts.  Rasa was then equated with spiritual bliss.  Once you get to the spiritual part with the art, all these regional identities can easily be dissolved.

The language is universal; we are all a part of the human race.

I came to Montgomery County 26 years ago, and I believe that Montgomery County is one of the nicest counties in the country. Greatest social work system, public parks, libraries, you name it. It has a visionary thing for its people and for their educational system.  What I would like to see an educational system where arts is not taught as a separate thing but integrated in to the education. [Art] is the education.  Without art, education is not complete.

Guest Blog: Executive’s Award Recipient Patricia Woolsey

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Today, the spotlight is on Patricia Woolsey, Executive Director of ArtStream and this year’s winner of the Executive’s Award for Arts and Humanities Community Award. Patricia has been instrumental in the establishment of ArtStream’s Inclusive Theatre Companies.  Inclusive Theatre creates performances intentionally developed for actors with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and adults on the Autism Spectrum. The Arts and Humanities Council is absolutely inspired by the work Patricia does to engage all members of our community.

Reserve your ticket today and join us as we honor Patricia, and many others, at the 2013 Montgomery County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts in Humanities
Monday October 21st at 7pm.

In her own words, she writes about how she became an advocate for inclusiveness, how the arts enrich the lives of people with disabilities, and what winning the Community Award means to her:

Patricia: In the early 1990’s, I was unhappily working in retail and late one night I saw my soon to be mentor Sally Bailey on a local DC TV show.  She was working with a theater company called Pegasus that worked with actors with and without disabilities. Since it was the early 90’s and there was no internet…I could not easily look up the company. All I knew was the name Pegasus and nothing else. About a week later I went to a dinner party at a friend’s house and met a woman who asked what I wanted to do. I said, “work in theater with people with disabilities”, and she said “There’s a group where I work called Pegasus”. And that was it. I interviewed with Sally at BAPA (now Imagination Stage), she hired me and my life changed forever.

Receiving the Community Award is great honor for me and for ArtStream. It means that people are recognizing the very important work that ArtStream is doing in the community.

Awards like this put ArtStream in the middle of the conversation of true inclusion in society for people with disabilities. We are on the cutting edge of a very exciting movement.

We are a unique arts organization in Montgomery County providing a challenging, rewarding acting program for adults with disabilities. In our classes and programs we are learning that acting skills benefit our students in other areas of their lives too, like working and living independently. Actress Laura Linney described what acing has meant in her life. She says “I believe that no matter what you do in life, if you learn the basics through theater, it will help you in everything else – problem solving, communication, discipline, all of that stuff.” I love this quote! It’s so true!

This has been a wonderful year for ArtStream. Our mission all along has been to take our programs out into the community where the need is: into schools and hospitals and communities looking for meaningful theatre programs. We never wanted to be limited to one place.  This year we received grants from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County and the Maryland State Arts Council.  We were named one of the best community nonprofits by the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington.  Our plays got good reviews and we had the biggest audiences ever.  We’ve been on radio and television and we’ve expanded classes into Prince George’s County.  To win this award means the community recognizes the need and value of our work. It is gratifying that this work is being recognized by the arts community.

Montgomery County is the best place in the country to run an Arts Non-profit.

Artists, and we are all artists, show us the world as it is or the way it could be. Art invites response and participation. It builds community. There is no such thing as too much art!

The arts and humanities are important everywhere.  It’s how we share our stories, how we begin to understand each other’s differences as assets, how we express what moves us when words are not enough.

On Monday, I’ll be thanking my co-founders Nicolette Stearns, Sally Kinka, Emilia O’Connor and Patty Krauss.  Their vision guides everything we do.  We had a dream and not much else when we started. Eight years later, we’re living that dream every day.

I congratulate all of the other award winners.  I am honored to be in your company and look forward to working together.  Special congratulations to David Minton of Lumina Studio Theatre.  ArtStream and Lumina Studio Theatre share space in the same 105 year-old haunted building and support each other’s work. David and I are collaborating very closely in forming a consortium of theatres in downtown Silver Spring.

Q and A with David Minton, Executive Director of Lumina Studio Theatre

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

We recently had an opportunity to chat with David Minton, theatre guru and this year’s recipient of the Executive’s Award for Outstanding Artist & Scholar.  An accomplished playwright, producer, director, and  actor with over 30 years of experience in theatre, David is the man behind Lumina’s one-of-a-kind approach to community theatre and serves as Executive and Artistic Director.

David Minton as Lord Fellamar in “Tom Jones”(Photo: Linda Parker Photography)

Lumina innovatively re-imagines classic repertory theatre, researching historic plays and literature and adapting, updating, and often re-conceptualizing them for modern audiences.   For instance, their 2012 staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was inspired by the 1920’s cinematic classic “Metropolis”.  Their 2009 production of “The Merchant of Venice” (which David referred to as the “The Merchant of Venice, CA”) took its visual cue from 1950’s Hollywood.

David  has led Lumina since its Founder, Jillian Raye, passed away in 2008; Jillian is Minton’s late wife.  Jillian brought Lumina to Takoma, MD in 1997, envisioning Lumina as an imaginative inter-generational stage for classic theatre, for the enjoyment and participation of the greater community.  Today, that mission is sustained through David’s visionary leadership, artistry, and scholarship.

AHCMC: How did you react upon learning that you won this award?

David: I was delighted! In so many ways this is recognition not for me but for Lumina – and by extension – our visionary founder, Jillian Raye.  I’d like to thank our board, our staff, our volunteers, our actors, but especially Jillian.

AHCMC:  Why are the arts and humanities so important to Montgomery County?

David: The arts and humanities represent the essential character, dreams, and creativity of our County.  They are what make our County special.

AHCMC:  What would you like for people to know about the arts and humanities in Montgomery County?

David: The arts in our community span from the most avant-garde to the revered classics. There is something in our community for everyone.

AHCMC: Would you like to shout-out any of the other award winners?

I would like to give a shout-out to Busy Graham who is truly one of the First Ladies of the Arts in Montgomery County – without her support and encouragement Lumina (and so many other arts organizations) would never have made it this far. And to Patti Woolsey, who founded and operates one of the most important and unique arts organizations in our State.

The Montgomery County Executives Awards for the Arts and Humanities will be held on Monday, October 21st at 7pm.  Reserve your tickets HERE

Guest Blog: Executive’s Award Recipient Maritza Rivera

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Today’s Guest Blogger Maritza Rivera is a multi-talented poet and a leading force in Montgomery County’s literary community. Maritza is the founder of Mariposa Poetry, a community where poets and writers can promote, share, and receive support for their work.  This army veteran also volunteers at the Memorial Day Writers Project and the Warrior Poetry Project at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, where veterans are taught the fundamentals of poetry writing and performance in a mutually supportive space.

We bet you didn’t know that Maritza is also a trained ballroom dance instructor!  Read on as Maritza writes about receiving the 2013 Montgomery County Executive’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities Volunteer Award.

It was Friday the 13th and I had just gotten home from work.  The phone rang and although I would normally let the call go to voicemail, lucky for me, I answered it instead.  The last thing I expected was a call from Catherine Leggett congratulating me on receiving an award for excellence in the arts and humanities.

I was ecstatic and probably expressed several rambling sentences like: OMG, are you kidding me, really?  I felt so honored but proceeded to talk about The Writer’s Center fundraiser with Richard Blanco and seeing Ike Leggett at the Rockville Library and leaving for a writers conference in Sicily the next morning and oh no, I hadn’t packed yet and OMG, thank you so much and what a lucky Friday the 13th, all in one breath.  When I get that excited, I sometimes forget to use my inside voice, so I hope my exuberance didn’t cause any hearing loss.  I’m certain though that my reaction did generate some laughter on the part of Catherine Leggett.

Of course I had to call my mom in Puerto Rico, my kids, and then my brother in the arts, Michael Friend from Soul in Motion, an organization that I support and love.  (I consider myself their biggest fan!) Then it was time to finally get packed for Sicily.

The Volunteer Award is a tremendous honor for service to the community.  I am grateful for this honor and humbled by it.

That I am passionate about poetry is not a secret.  Just ask my children who became my first audience in their formative years.  They survived and have been my inspiration and motivation to give back to the community and share my poetry and passion for the arts everywhere I’ve lived and worked.

I first became involved in the literary community in 1995 at a local independent bookstore in Rockville called Leafthrough Books and Gathering Place, which is now long gone.  In searching for a new literary home, I found and became a member of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.  Over the years I’ve attended readings, workshops, Master Classes, book signings, fundraisers, anniversaries and open houses there, where I first met people who have become friends.  Other organizations that have been supportive and encouraging of my artistic endeavors are Washington Musica Viva and Pyramid Atlantic.  Carl and Marilyn Banner (I love and am a collector of her artwork) and Jose Dominguez and Gretchen Schermerhorn have been helpful in so many ways.

Working in Montgomery County first gave me the opportunity to be creative and share dance as a fitness activity at the Dennis Avenue Health Center.  At lunchtime on Fridays it was time for Dancing with the Staff, where I taught rhythm dances over eight weeks.  I still smile when I think about that.  Not too many people know that I’m a trained Ballroom Dance instructor.

I also loved working at the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity.  I first became aware of the Center while involved in judging a poetry contest and then later had the opportunity to work there and create a percussion instrument petting zoo during the first World of Montgomery Festival.  I remember the Leggetts stopping in with their grandchildren.  Montgomery County and the Arts and Humanties Council also gave me the opportunity to combine my love of poetry and the arts at the Seeing Food exhibit at the Kramer Gallery earlier this year.  It was such an amazing experience to see my poetry hanging as an art installation in the Brazilian tradition of Literatura de Cordel (clothesline literature) that I had witnessed in Brazil in 2012.

Montgomery County is a tremendously diverse county with over 120 countries represented among its residents and numerous languages. The arts provide a universal language most people will understand.  I believe that the arts can unite and create understanding through beauty.

Although we all work hard to make a living, the arts feed the soul.  At a time when we are all faced with financial challenges, lack of resources and funding for the arts and humanities, it is also a time when these organizations are most needed.  I encourage everyone to get involved, volunteer their time and passion to promote and support the arts and cultural organizations.  I think that’s what it takes to keep the hope for beauty and culture alive for all our children and grandchildren.  It’s the least we can do for them and their future.

The Local Effects of a National Shut Down

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Today’s New York Times article, “Without Services, Small Businesses Feel the Pinch”, reports that business owners whose companies depend on government services such as a guaranteed loans, regulatory approval, and the operation of our national parks, worry about the toll the shut down may have on them.

This hits on the same sour notes we’re hearing in the cultural sector of Montgomery County, MD. From the shutdown of the Glen Echo Park Partnership on Arts and Culture (GEPPAC), to ticket, subscription and season package sales at the NationalPhilharmonic and at performance venues like historic Olney Theater around the County, the government shutdown is causing disruptions in business that are certain to damage the fragile upturn many in the arts and humanities sector had just begun to finally feel.

Presenters are reporting that ticket sales have dropped precipitously, citing patrons who are both declining purchases and deferring plans in an effort to once again tighten their purse strings in these uncomfortably familiar uncertain times.

With the school year ramping up, small businesses like the Puppet Co. and Washington Conservatory, to name but a few of the over 450 arts and humanities organizations and over 1500 individual artists in Montgomery County, MD, had just begun their seasons ten days ago. What was anticipated as the start of their seasons has turned into a non-starter.

GEPPAC, situated squarely on National Park Service property, is home to 14 arts organizations like the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery, Silver Works and other small businesses, all of which are shuttered, causing the Park to lose many of its 450,000 yearly patrons, students, evening and weekend crowds exponentially, day by day. Since the October 1 shutdown, conservative estimates of losses in our sector across the County reported to the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, MD have already exceeded $600,000 and will quickly topple $1M as this continues. These ten days of a government shutdown alone have been described as a catastrophic disaster. Moving performances and classes from GEPPAC has been an extraordinary challenge. Adventure Theatre is in the midst of its Goodnight Moon production to be followed by its annual Gala next week, and with the Park’s closure it finds itself with no venue for its performance or Gala while performers still need to be paid to stay available for the performance when the Park reopens.

Not to mention what this does to our collective reputations! As small businesses, if your clients fear your venue’s vulnerability with regard to opening and closing its doors, they are not likely to book the venue for weddings, receptions, rehearsals and other earned income opportunities, further depleting your organization’s coffers.

And while we’re discussing impact, it’s critical to keep in mind that these organizations employ accountants, security personnel, carpenters, auditors, facilities and operations managers, students, interns, moms and dads, just like any other small business.

Delays in funding from federal agencies, like the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, National Education Association and closures, like the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution and other agencies, have caused many in the arts and humanities to come to a screeching halt resulting in heavy damage to cultural tourism in the Greater Washington Metro Area. The loss of income for many will have a trickle-down effect that will ripple through all sectors, a ripple that promises to wreak havoc with the County’s overall economy.

Presently, we’ve heard only two good news stories. One, that libraries are booming (unless it is the Library of Congress!). This may be attributed to the fact that libraries are a great place to find things to do with your family while you are out of the office and can’t afford childcare and provides access to the internet (so that you can find a job that’s not with our irresponsible government).

The second good news story is that we are in the midst of our eighth Non-Profit Energy Alliance round, which allows nonprofits in Maryland and DC to use their collective purchasing power to not only secure competitive electricity supply at lower cost, but to protect the environment and build a greener economy by supporting clean sources of energy that are essential to protecting our environment and building a new economy. That’s good news in that, if organizations can save on fixed costs, they’ll have a few extra bucks for program costs which are sure to rise the longer this standoff continues.

Announcing the Recipients of the 2013 Executive’s Awards

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Each year, Montgomery County recognizes the artists, scholars, organizations, and community leaders that have significantly enriched the region through the arts and humanities.  We are beyond thrilled to announce this year’s winners; and to prove it, we’ll be posting some very special features here on the blog.  We are gearing up for what will be an unforgettable night of celebration on October 21st, so definitely keep an eye on this space!

Until then, please join us in congratulating the 2013 Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities award recipients:

•  Lifetime Impact Award – Busy Graham, Community Arts Advocate

•  Lifetime Achievement Award – Nilimma Devi, Sutradhar Institute of Dance and Related Arts

•  Patron Award – Thomas D. Murphy, EagleBank

•  Community Award – Patricia Woolsey, ArtStream

•  Education Award – Betty Scott, Strathmore

•  Emerging Leader Award – Heena Genti, CREATE Arts Center

•  Outstanding Artist or Scholar Award – David R. Minton, Lumina Studio Theatre

•  Volunteer Award – Maritza Rivera, Mariposa Poetry

These individuals will receive their awards from County Executive Ike Leggett at a special awards ceremony on Monday, October 21st at 7PM at Montgomery College’s Cultural Arts Center.  The event is free and open to all, and tickets are required.

Need a ticket? CLICK HERE to RSVP

Join us for a spectacular night of performance and celebration as we honor these extraordinary leaders in the arts and humanities.