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2021 Spark Awards Honorees

We are very excited to announce the finalists and honorees of the eighth annual Spark Awards presented by M&T Bank!

ASI’s annual Spark Awards celebrates and honors outstanding individuals and organizations from across Western New York for their dedication, talent, and impact on the arts and cultural sector. The honorees and finalists are selected every year through an open nomination process by a panel of peers in the field.

Artist of the Year: Finalists
Chantal Calato
Jalen A. Law
Stephen Solook

Arts Organization of the Year: Finalists
Buffalo Opera Unlimited
CEPA Gallery
Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes

Arts Integration
Thembi Duncan, Shea’s PAC, and the Buffalo Police Department’s Body Language Competency Training for New Recruits

DEC Program of the Year
Defiant Monkey Improv’s “The Brain of Dr. Delgado”

Leading Where You Are
Nancy Clarke Mariani
Michael Quinniey
Jose Rodriguez
Gaitrie Subryan

Lifetime Achievement
Patrick Fagan

Rising Star
Nicole Cooke, WNY Book Arts Center

Supporter of the Cultural Sector
Cullen Foundation

Trailblazer of the Arts
Aitina Fareed-Cooke

Unsung Hero
Joan Fishburn

This year’s awardees will be honored virtually on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. More details on the virtual presentation coming soon.

About the 2021 Honorees

Chantal Calato (b. 1982) is an American artist raised in Niagara Falls, New York near the infamously toxic Love Canal. Her personal experiences exploring the underbelly of Niagara Falls has inspired her work as a painter, sculptor, photographer, and installation artist. In 2018 she received the Global Warming Art Project grant to help fund “UNSEEN”. “UNSEEN” was her first solo museum show at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York in 2020. Photo credit: Joe Mazza Brave Lux.

Born in Buffalo, NY, Jalen A. Law’s first sketches were circles at the age of two. By the age of five, he was creating his own comic books and children stories, selling them to kids in elementary school for Lunchables and extra computer time. The theme of Jalen’s artwork involves visually powerful images that attempt to force the viewer think about uncomfortable issues without deflecting their own feelings.

“Outstanding” percussionist Stephen Solook (Robert Bush, SoundDiego) is a new music specialist who regularly performs as an orchestral and world musician. Looking to connect the past with the future, he highlights the possibilities of sound, beyond traditional notation. Throughout Buffalo, Steve can be found performing as an extra percussionist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Slee Sinfonietta at University at Buffalo, or Masti Ensemble, giving a solo performance, or collaborating in one of the city’s many chamber music series. Photo credit: David Moog.

Founded in 1985 by artistic director Tim Kennedy, Buffalo Opera Unlimited (BOU) is dedicated to producing professional opera and a variety of other musical forms with an emphasis on regional artists.  BOU is also committed to making opera more accessible to a broader audience and to providing education to develop future audiences.

The Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts (CEPA) is one of the nation’s foremost presenters of contemporary, photo-related art. Established in 1974, CEPA’s mission is to foster the exploration of photography and contemporary visual art to nurture creativity and encourage active learning.

Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes provides free or low-cost art classes on a consistent basis for any individual, especially youth, low-income and minority individuals from age 4 to senior adult, to seriously develop the talent and skills necessary to excel in the visual arts.

Thembi Duncan is a director, actor, playwright, and teaching artist who has been developing and executing theatre-based body language training for nearly two years in the city of Buffalo. She is also the Director of Arts Engagement and Education at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. Captain Steven J. Nichols has been a Buffalo police officer for 24 years. He oversees the department’s Community Police Officers and Citizen Police Academy. Lieutenant Craig Macy has served as a community police officer for the BPD Housing Unit and has worked as part of the department’s Neighborhood Engagement Team.

Defiant Monkey Improv is a two-person improvisational group that creates on-the-spot theatre based on audience suggestions and participation. Performers Karen L. Eichler and Andrew M. Spragge are experienced improvisers, actors, professional development specialists, and teaching artists who love to have as much fun as possible.

Nancy Clarke Mariani is an exhibiting member of the Buffalo Society of Artists, a Signature member of the Pastel Society of America since 2012, a founding member of the Pastel Society of WNY, President of the Fine Arts League of Buffalo, and Broad President of the Lancaster Opera House. She has also taught art at Lancaster High School for the past thirty-one years.

Michael Quinniey co-founded the Western New York Minority Media Professionals Inc, a non-profit organization committed to educating / mentoring and informing the public through the use of multi-media, in 1998. He is the of chair the restoration of the Historic Sattler “Broadway” Theatre, built in 1914 located at 512 Broadway near (Mortimer), and has been instrumental in founding Upfront Business Magazine, The Queen City Black Film Festival, and The Great Day in Jazz Buffalo Event.

Jose Rodriguez is the team supervisor for the environmental services department at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. In this position, he manages handles the ins and outs of making sure his staff and the building are ready for events, such as Broadway shows, concerts, wedding, and fundraising events.

Choreographer, Dancer, Yoga Instructor, and Podcast HostGaitrie Subryan‘s training with Indian dance consists of Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Garba, Bhangra, and Semi-Classical dance. She is a company member for the Sa Dance Company. She is the choreographer and founder of Devi Bollywood Performing Arts, Buffalo’s first Bollywood dance classes and performance troupe.

Patrick Fagan is a well-respected leader in the arts and entertainment field. As president of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, he successfully led the growth and renaissance of this venerable institution, transforming it into one of the premier stops on the Broadway touring circuit. He served on the faculties of The University at Buffalo, Trocaire College, and Erie Community College serving as an adjunct professor in business management, theatre management, history, and arts administration.

Nicole Cooke is the Executive Director at the WNY Book Arts Center, an arts education & cultural nonprofit dedicated to printing and book related arts. Cooke is passionate about artistic engagement and professional development; experimentation with process-based media; educating WNY’s diverse populace; and promoting the democratic sharing of ideas and information. Photo credit: City Lights Studio.

Cullen Foundation serves the residents of Erie County by providing funding and support that significantly enhances the education of students in grades pre-K through 12 and advances theatre and the performing arts. In 2020, they granted $1,123,690 out among 39 performing arts grantees in Erie and Niagara counties.

Aitina Fareed-Cooke is an award-winning photographer, teaching artist, creative director, and lyricist earning recognition through 43North’s Ignite Buffalo People’s Choice Award, and many more. Aitina developed Get Fokus’d Productions (GFP), a creative media arts company dedicated to capturing project-based stories, designing curriculums to teach youth soft skills through the implementation of photography, film, and creative writing programs, and giving back to the next generation of creatives through a movement called Young & Fokus’d.

Originally from Philadelphia, Joan Fishburn moved to Buffalo in 1959 with her family and immediately joined the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, with whom she has performed for the past 60 years. During that time, she also served as President of ASO’s Women’s/Friends Committee and President of the Amherst Symphony Association’s board.

For more information about the honorees and this year’s event, visit our Spark Awards page here.

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