Local arts, culture luminaries honored at ACE awards

Local arts, culture luminaries honored at ACE awards

CHAMPAIGN – In a ceremony that Mike Ross said is "just like the Oscars – micro-urban style," seven Champaign County residents picked up ACE (arts, culture and entertainment) awards on Thursday evening at the Highdive in Champaign.

Receiving the lifetime achievement award was retired Urbana Park District executive director Robin Hall, who was cited for having established the Wandell Sculpture Garden at Meadowbrook Park; he credited private and public agencies for making it happen.

Hall also was recognized as chairman of the Urbana Public Arts Commission, where he helped develop the Urbana public arts grant and sculpture loan programs. He's also director of the Office of Recreation and Tourism Development at the University of Illinois.

Adding glamour to the event were Nathan and Julie Gunn, winners of the Creative Community Service award – even though Nathan Gunn is in Bilbao, Spain, singing his signature role in the opera "Billy Budd." Accepting the award for both her husband and herself, Julie Gunn credited others as well in the effort to create a cultural center and cultural arts district for the city of Champaign.

The Gunns, both UI School of Music professors, also were cited for their support of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the UI School of Music Alumni Board and UI College of Fine and Applied Arts, as well as the Champaign Urbana Ballet, Conservatory of Central Illinois and 40 North 88 West Champaign County Arts, Culture and Entertainment Council, which hands out the ACE awards.

Making for a cute moment at the fifth annual awards ceremony were 18-year-old Alex Wendt and 11 other members of the Bow-Dacious String Band, which won the Spotlight Award for bringing to the county attention from outside it. Wendt, a member of Bow-Dacious since it was founded in 2003, picked up the award on behalf of founder Robin Kearton, who has the flu.

"I'd like to thank Robin for all her hard work and her vision that have allowed us to perform all over the country, from the American String Teachers Association conference in Atlanta to Millennium Park in Chicago to Nashville, Tenn.," Wendt said.

Other winners:

– Education: Mary Ellen Page, creator of Unity Junior High School's youth theater program and drama club. Her past students include Mark Roberts, Andy Warfel, David Warfel, Brent O'Neil and Diane Ducey.

– Media: Parkland College Television (PCTV), a 24-hour cable channel that for the past 31 years, among other things, has broadcast the Classic Arts Showcase and original programs including "In Praise of Women" and "For Arts Sake," which showcases exhibitions in the Parkland Art Gallery.

– Advocacy: Jo Ellen De Vilbiss, executive director of the Conservatory of Central Illinois and an arts educator, performer and advocate. She was cited for helping create a "safe space in Champaign County where the artists of both today and tomorrow can find their voice."

– Business: Iron Post owner Paul Wirth, who provides a variety of high-quality live music and other entertainment at affordable prices in his bar in downtown Urbana. He also supports the Urbana Park District and Urbana-based Community Center for the Arts and is an Urbana Business Association board member.

The 2009 ACE Award judges were Seamus Reilly, Roger Cooper, Mike Frerichs, Carl Alstetter, Laurel Prussing, Laurie Bonnett, Kay Machula and Heather Tucker.