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Rewarding Artistic Endeavors

Community Arts Awards recognize artists and arts supporters

From Motown, folk and blues music to comedy and the creation of a physical space for artisans to work in, the recipients of the 2022 Community Arts Awards from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo represent a wide range of artistic efforts and endeavors.

The awards, to be presented during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Gull Lake Center for Fine Arts, are an annual recognition of artists and arts organizations and supporters in the Kalamazoo area whose efforts enhance the arts.

Three recipients in the world of music will receive the Community Medal of Arts, a lifetime achievement award recognizing individuals for decades of contributions and leadership in the arts.

Bertha Barbee-McNeal

Bertha Barbee-McNeal and Caldin “Cal” Gill-Street founded the “girl group” the Velvelettes when they were students at Western Michigan University in 1962. The group was picked up by Berry Gordy’s legendary record label Motown and had success on the charts with the songs “Needle in a Haystack” and “He Was Really Saying Something” in 1964. Barbee-McNeal and Gill-Street left the group in 1967 to raise their families, but their careers during the years in the Velvelettes and afterwards influenced the Kalamazoo community and beyond.

Barbee-McNeal spent 27 years as a choir director with Kalamazoo Public Schools, influencing hundreds of students. She is currently the artistic director and piano teacher at the Helen L. Fox Gospel Music Center, housed at the Douglass Community Association.

Caldin “Cal” Gill-Street

Gill-Street, whose career included working for the Upjohn Co./Pharmacia (now Pfizer) and WMU, has been involved with the NAACP for 30 years.

Both Barbee-McNeal and Gill-Street served for 12 years as co-chairs of the NAACP ACT-SO Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) Competition for high school students. Area students work with volunteers for a year to develop their skills and prepare for the competition for scholarships and other awards. The duo worked in local high schools to recruit student participants and helped them prepare for the events. The two women both continue to visit K-12 schools and colleges to share their Motown experience.

John Speeter

John Speeter is receiving the Community Medal of Arts award for promoting and playing traditional folk and blues music. Speeter is a founding member of the Great Lakes Acoustic Music Association (GLAMA) as well as a longtime member of the K’zoo Folklife Organization (KFO), where he served as president for many years. In addition, he has performed as a member of the Schlitz Creek Bluegrass Band, the Somewhere in Time Band, and the Sleepy Hollow String Band and as Mudslide the Bluesman.

His love for the music led him to create many musical events over the years, such as Portage’s Celery Flats Music Festival, the Folklife Music Festival and K’zoo Folklife’s annual Loaves & Fishes benefit concert, where he has been involved as a performer, emcee, sound technician and stage manager.
Speeter is also an accomplished cartoonist and illustrator, co-authoring with Diane Hodges a series of motivational books titled Looking Forward to Monday Morning. His most recent book is How to Fish and Do It Well.

Jerico, the creative collective housed in a 100-year-old former industrial complex in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood, has earned this year’s Business Arts Award because of its success as a business/arts partnership. Owners Krystal and Jeb Gast envisioned the creative collective when they first purchased the building, in 2014. The building itself has a 100-year history of makers within its walls, including Charles Ford from Ford Motors and Star Brass Works. The three-building complex now houses nearly 30 studios for a diverse range of artists and entrepreneurs.

Other recipients of the 2022 Community Awards and the awards they will receive are:

Crawlspace Comedy Theatre, which will receive the Epic Award, given to a nonprofit organization that enhances community life through the arts. Crawlspace, founded in 2003 and now located on the ground level of the KNAC/First Baptist Church building, at 315 W. Michigan, is the only professional improvisational theater company in Southwest Michigan. In addition to offering weekend improvisational comedy shows, Crawlspace has served hundreds of adults and youth through classes and camps, performance teams and collaborations with other artists. Crawlspace also makes its space available as a venue for other performing artists. Its Jazz in the Crawlpace series hosts nationally renowned jazz musicians, and Dormouse Theatre Troupe, Queer Theatre Kalamazoo and Bare Backstage Productions have produced shows on Crawlspace’s stage.

Kim Shaw, Bridget Fox and Gerald Case-Blanch will receive the Gayle Hoogstraten Arts Leadership Award for Educators.

Shaw teaches art at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and is a teaching artist in visual art, dance and theater with Education for the Arts/KRESA. She also offers private individual art lessons and community group workshops. Those nominating Shaw for the award noted that she instills therapeutic creative safety into all her classes and workshops, “looking beyond the skills of her students to see the experience they bring and meet them where they are without fear, intimidation or self-consciousness.”

Fox is a full-time art instructor at MRC Artworks, which provides art programs for individuals living with disabilities. According to nominators, she customizes the art projects she teaches to fit individual artists’ abilities, with the aim of helping each artist find their artistic voice, enhancing the students’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth. She also organizes field trips for her students to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Lunchtime Live, and area artists’ studios.

Case-Blanchard directs three choirs in the greater Battle Creek community — the Branch County Community Chorus, the Concentus Vocal Ensemble and the Kellogg Singers — and coordinates the Kellogg Community College concert and jazz bands and teaches dozens of individual and group music and choir classes. His choirs have collaborated with the Battle Creek Symphony, the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music and the Monroe Community Chorale and Symphony Orchestra, and the Kellogg Singers have opened for Grammy Award-winning music groups, including Take 6 and Sweet Honey in the Rock. In addition, the choirs have toured nationally and internationally, performing concerts across the U.S. and in Europe. Case-Blanchard also works with large area high school groups to prepare them for upcoming concerts, such as the annual Prado Benefit Concert held each fall in Battle Creek.

Stephanie Hinman, executive director of the Kalamazoo State Theatre since 2014, will receive the Gayle Hoogstraten Arts Leadership Award for Arts Administration. Under Hinman’s leadership, the historical State Theatre, which was built in 1927, has undergone renovations, upgrades and a complete overhaul of its programming. With a background in business, construction and nonprofit management, Hinman has emphasized bringing diverse national acts to the venue as well as providing opportunities for local artists to be showcased. During the Covid-19 restrictions, the theater’s State on the Street events provided an outdoor place for patrons to gather to see local musicians perform. In 2021, the theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its significance in the history of Kalamazoo.

Sydney Bastos, who has been pivotal in building an arts community in Vicksburg, will receive the Theodore C. Cooper Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service. Bastos, the current acting executive director and board president of the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC), helped develop that organization from being a program of Vicksburg’s Downtown Development Authority into an independent nonprofit with a full-time director. Among the arts programs she has initiated in the community are a coffeehouse concert series, an “Arts in the Burg” art camp for children, cultural arts exploration programs for teens, a “Wednesday Winners” club for adults with disabilities, and community art projects at the Harvest Festival and Christmas in the Village. She has also helped to enhance participation in the Schoolcraft Community Library’s Tournament of Writers.

Encore Magazine

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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