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Artistic Achievements

Community Arts Awards recipients Carolyn Koebel, Frank Meints and Denise L. Miller
Community Arts Awards recipients to be honored

From a percussionist/music therapist to a poet, a glass artist, young thespians and more, the recipients of the 2023 Community Arts Awards from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo represent a wide range of artistic accomplishments.

The Community Arts Awards are an annual recognition of artists, arts organizations and supporters in the Kalamazoo area. This year’s awards will be presented during a ceremony at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Gull Lake Center for the Fine Arts, 7753 N. 34th St., Richland.

Community Medal of Arts

Three recipients will receive the Community Medal of Arts, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes individuals’ long-term contributions to and leadership in the local arts community.

Percussionist and music therapist Carolyn Koebel is being recognized for her work in both fields. A music therapist for more than 20 years, Koebel established long-term music therapy programs at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home and Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. As a musician, she has worked across many genres and with many groups and has toured internationally, including with the Grammy Award-winning flutist Rhonda Larson.

She directs the international percussion program at Kalamazoo College, where she teaches Japanese taiko drumming and performs with Michigan Hiryu Daiko. She also serves as adjunct music therapy professor of world percussion and clinical guitar at Western Michigan University and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, in Indiana.

Glass artist Frank Meints will receive the Community Medal of Arts Award for helping to create a vibrant glass art community in Kalamazoo. Meints, a professional glassblower since 1972, was instrumental in the 2000 formation of the West Michigan Glass Art Society (now Glass Art Kalamazoo), which brought local glass artists together to promote the art form in the community. Since it was formed, Glass Art Kalamazoo has provided hundreds of classes to the public and to local students, with Meints lending his expertise as an instructor in lampworking (torchworking) and sandblasting.

The third Community Medal of Arts Award recipient is Denise L. Miller, a poet, playwright and mixed-media artist. Miller’s books include Core (2015), which was nominated for a 2016 American Book Award and a 2016 Pushcart Prize; Ligatures (2016); and A Ligature for Black Bodies, which won the 2020 Sexton Prize for Poetry. Her chapbook, How to Make an American Mass Shooter, is forthcoming from Querencia Press. Miller has also developed the plays Ligatures and Before the Shooting based on her poetry

Miller co-founded the Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, based in the Edison neighborhood, and has taught for many years as an English and creative writing professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She has also been given several fellowships, including the William Randolph Hearst Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society (2016) and a Renaissance House Fellowship (2023)

Other awards

Isaac Byler, Braeden Davis and Jaykwon Noble will receive the Adam F. Carter Young Artist Award.

Byler, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, has been active in local theater, both on stage and behind the curtain. He has been on the crew of several productions at Center Stage Theatre and is currently the stage manager of the Civic’s production of The Sound of Music.

Davis, a senior at Loy Norrix High School, has been active in theater and forensics. He has had lead roles in Norrix’s productions of Oklahoma (as Curly), Legally Blonde (as Emmett Forrest) and Something Rotten (as Shakespeare) and performed in productions at the Kalamazoo Civic, Center Stage Theater and the Barn Theatre.

Noble, a senior at Loy Norrix High School, is principal violist of the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra and a member of the KJSO String Quartet. He was selected to join the 2023 Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) National Festival, where he spent 10 days of study and performed under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel. He serves as a program assistant for Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, mentoring elementary school musicians. Noble plays saxophone in the Loy Norrix Band, is captain of the school’s color guard team and performs with the Allegan County Ensemble, a competitive winter guard team

Linda Dickey, a retired speech and language pathologist, will receive the Theodore C. Cooper Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service. While studying music therapy at Western Michigan University Dickey began volunteering at Miller Auditorium and then at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and has continued to do so for decades. She is a flutist in the Kalamazoo Concert Band, the KVCC Community Band and the Academy Street Winds.

The Kalamazoo Academy of Rock and Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers will each receive an Epic Award, which recognizes nonprofit organizations or programs that enhance life in our community through the arts.

The Kalamazoo Academy of Rock (KAR), founded in 2009 by Jeff Mitchell, teaches musicianship and live performance skills to young artists. It provides them with access to instruments, rehearsal time and space, and seasoned directors and teachers and focuses on teaching them to persevere, work together and respect one another as diverse individuals. KAR provides performing opportunities for its students at local Kalamazoo venues like the State Theatre and Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers, a modern dance company, was created by Terry in 1981. The organization’s annual Midwest Regional Alternative Dance Festival (RADFest), celebrating its 12th year, draws nationally acclaimed performers and master teachers to Kalamazoo. In addition, Wellspring provides adult and youth dance classes and educational outreach programs to promote early literacy development.

Two educators, Michelle S. Johnson and Elizabeth Youker, will receive the Gayle Hoogstraten Arts Leadership Award for Educators.

Johnson is being recognized for her work facilitating interdisciplinary culture-centered experiences and promoting spaces where socially marginalized people can authentically present themselves. She is a co-founder and former executive director of the Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative; founder of Playgrown, an organization involved in developing 10 homes to address the low-income housing shortage in Kalamazoo; and co-founder of The Institute of Public Scholarship, which is also involved in the Home Start Initiative.

Johnson has taught at Michigan and Wisconsin universities and been involved in creative collaborations such as Creative Stands for Justice: Black Refractions in Southwest Michigan and What the Lady Bears Were Doing: Women, Music and the 1950s, presented at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

Youker is the director of education and community engagement for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. She joined the KSO in 2003 as education assistant and was named to the director position in 2007. In her 20-year tenure, she has focused on reducing barriers and increasing access to arts learning, overseeing initiatives ranging from KSO’s signature Youth Concerts and family programming to large-scale community partnerships. She led the development of Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, an after-school program launched in 2011; Orchestra Rouh, an ensemble serving children of resettled refugee families; and Marvelous Music, which supports kindergarten readiness through music. Youker is the cellist of the Bahar Ensemble, which specializes in Middle Eastern music, and regularly performs chamber music with the Arcadia Consort and other community ensembles.

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Encore Magazine is Southwest Michigan’s Magazine, bringing readers intriguing images and stories of the good things, good works and great people of our corner of the mitten. Published 12 times a year, Encore in its fifth decade of serving Southwest Michigan, carrying on a historic tradition of being the premier lifestyle publication of the greater Kalamazoo area.

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