The Kentucky Arts Council, the state’s cultural agency, hosted a virtual ceremony Tuesday to honor the 2020 recipients of the Kentucky Governor’s Awards in the Arts.
Gov. Andy Beshear, in his opening remarks, said the nine honorees demonstrate “the irreplaceable value the arts play in contributing to our communities, education and economy,” even during a global pandemic that has disrupted the arts and culture sector.
“Kentucky artists have embraced these challenging times to transform and broaden our way of thinking through our shared love and appreciation of the arts,” he said. “Your ability to think outside the box has yielded creative solutions, allowing the arts to continue to thrive in Kentucky.”
The state has given out the Governor’s Awards in the Arts since 1977 to acknowledge the contributions of Kentucky artists, arts and culture businesses and arts patrons, said Kentucky Arts Council executive director Chris Cathers, who was master of ceremonies.
Every year, the arts council commissions an artist to design and create the physical awards. The artist behind the 2020 award was Hopkinsville sculptor Willie Rascoe, who received the Governor’s Folk Heritage Award in 2015. Rascoe created the awards using wood from a cherry tree that came down during a tornado about 15 years ago.
“I wanted the design for the Governor’s Award not to be a piece that you could easily tell what it is,” Rascoe wrote in his artist statement. “[I] wanted it to be admired from many angles. You can turn the piece and get different views as you revolve around it.”
Here Are The 2020 Awardees
Artist Award: Novelist Silas House of Fayette County
The Artist Award, which recognizes a lifetime of contributions and achievement by a Kentucky artist, went to Silas House, who was born in Corbin. He serves as the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair of Appalachian Studies at Berea College and teaches at Spalding University’s School of Creative Writing.
House said he received a writing fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council nearly 24 years ago and “that really validated me as a writer.”
“I also want to thank all the librarians, teachers, leaders, everybody out there who’s a literary citizen and cares about books,” House said. “We need literature and art more than ever.”
Business Award: Tidball’s live music venue in Bowling Green
Tidball’s received the award for a business that shows extraordinary support for the arts. The Bowling Green venue is credited with helping local bands and musicians, such as Cage the Elephant, Morning Teleportation and Sleeper Agent, gain national recognition.
Co-owners John Tiball and Brian Jarvis accepted the award during the virtual ceremony.
Jarvis gave a shout-out to the “musicians of this city, because without them we’re nothing.”
Community Arts Award: Artists Collaborative Theatre in Elkhorn City
The volunteer-run Artists Collaborative Theatre launched in 2002 and opened the first black box theater in the area.
“The honor of this award validates past dedication and work, while inspiring us for an even better future,” executive director Stephanie Richards said.
Education Award: Paducah Symphony Orchestra
The Education Award, which recognizes an individual or organization that has made significant contributions in arts education, went to the Paducah Symphony Orchestra. PSO holds summer music camps and educational programs about composers, and offers free concert tickets to K-12 students.
“We’ve worked very hard over the last 40 years to build our education programs here, and… we are excited with what’s coming in the next couple of years as we open a new academy for music education,” executive director Reece King said.
Folk Heritage Award: American quilt expert Shelly Zegart of Louisville
Shelly Zegart headed the Kentucky Quilt Project for more than 30 years. She also directed and hosted a docu-series called “Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics.” It aired on 250-plus PBS stations.
“My thanks go to the quilt makers of Kentucky past and present, who inspired my love for quilts and who were the reasons I started on this journey… The focus of my work is to continue to eliminate the divisions that inhibit the reception of quilt as art, both in the minds of the makers and viewers,” Zegart said during the virtual ceremony.
Government Award: City of Somerset
Mayor Alan Keck accepted the award on behalf of the city of Somerset.
“We’re so appreciative in Somerset to be recognized for the tremendous work that our local artists have done,” Keck said. “Art brings people together. Art has been central to revitalizing our downtown. We understand it is a big part of promoting the best in Kentucky.”
Media Award: Louisville-based Spanish-language news outlet Al Día en América
Al Día en América has been in operation for more than 16 years and partners with the University of Louisville each year for the Latin American Film Festival.
“This recognition means a lot to us because it’s an important step into our new Kentucky home,” publisher Jose Neil Donis said. “I think it is an invitation to live in unity beyond any barriers and also means that we are giving our communities voice to be themselves.”
National Award: Country music artist Tom T. Hall, born in Olive Hill, Ky.
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008, Tom T. Hall has written a dozen No. 1 hit songs.
“God bless the Bluegrass State,” Hall said.
Milner Award: Folk singer-songwriter Michael Johnathon of Bourbon County
Musician Michael Johnathon hosts and produces the nationally broadcasted show “WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour.” He’s also put out 18 albums and published a handful of books.
“It’s such a powerful statement that, with everything going on in the world, that Kentucky would continue to honor the arts,” Johnathan said. “It’s a statement about how important the arts is. It’s not just the economy and tourism. It’s the reason we choose to live where we do.”