Art Works Blog

I'd LIke to Say "Thank You" To ... (a crowd-sourced post)

For this pre-Thanksgiving crowd-sourced post we asked the executive directors of the regional arts organizations and state arts agencies--who are our partners across the country in making sure all Americans have access to the arts--to publicly say thank you to an artist who has made a difference in their lives. Is there a particularly artist you'd like to say thank you as we head into the holiday season? Let us know in the blog comments, or on our Facebook page. And though, it's a few days away, we'd like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and say a big thank you to you for inspiring us and for participating in this work of spreading the good news about the transformative power of the arts.

"I would like to say thank you to violinist Julie Gigante, my sister, for the powerful inspiration she gave me in my career as a musician. "-- Beth Gigante Klingestein, North Dakota Council on the Arts

"Intriguing question, and hard to answer, since there are so many I would say thank you to, usually immediately following my experiencing their work. If I were to choose one who I consistently think, “thank you for existing,” I would choose Puccini.His operas just do it for me--they take me on a roller-coaster of emotions, from pure joy during the comic scenes in, say, Act II of La Boheme, to gut-wrenching misery in the final scene of Madama Butterfly. No matter how many times I see it, I’m always dissolved in a puddle of tears at the end. Other artists move me in similar ways, but Puccini is always there for me." -- Randall Rosenbaum, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

"In our fiftieth year, I am increasingly thankful for Thomas Hart Benton, a painter and muralist in the proud tradition of American Regionalism. A native of Missouri, Benton reminded the country that art was thriving in the heartland. A strong promoter (his self portrait was on the cover of Time magazine in 1934) he also used his public visibility to testify in support of establishing the Missouri Arts Council. Now garnering attention for his first major retrospective in 25 years, his work defined his belief that ordinary people were heroic in their common lives. His murals, often self-commissioned, were the epic public art of their time." -- Michael Donovan, Missouri Arts Council

"Just a few years out of college, I had the good fortune to be living in Sonoma County as Christo and Jean-Claude were in the final phases of their tour de force work, Running Fence. To complete the installation of this massive project, several hundred local citizens were needed and I was among the lucky hired on. As a sculptor and studio art major, I considered Christopher and Jean-Claude as icons and global visionaries, never imagining I would be able to work on such a project. Running Fence became the embodiment of what I could see as a path for my future--the harnessing of art and art making for something bigger than myself. While my career arc since has had some twists and turns, I return often to thinking about these moments on Running Fence as they catalyze everything I now hold dear. Thank you Christo and Jean-Claude!" -- Craig Watson, California Arts Council

"I’d like to thank deceased writer and photographer James Baker Hall who was Kentucky Poet Laureate from 2001-2002 for the joy and knowledge I gained by knowing him. A passionate supporter of Kentucky literary arts, Hall was director of creative writing at the University of Kentucky for 30 years. He belonged to a close-knit group of well-respected writers of his own generation but was also proud to mentor, and give recognition and support to the new writers coming along in Kentucky. He was a wonderful writer, a gentleman, an advocate for literature and the arts and a firm believer in doing the right thing. Jim died in 2009 at the age of 74 and we miss him." -- Lori Meadows, Kentucky Arts Council

"Thank you Diane Arbus for your photographs which stunned and soothed me when I first saw them more than 30 years ago. Your beautiful artwork prompted and challenged me to mirror in my life what I saw in the images: deep humanity, quirky humor, and sincere empathy. Happy Thanksgiving." -- Lisa Robb, New York State Council on the Arts

"If I had the chance to say thank you to any artist it would be my dad, Albert J. Grant, who died when I was expecting my first child--a son who turned out to be quite artistic himself! My dad was a commercial artist in Chicago and he painted in oils and watercolors outside his regular job at an advertising art agency in the city. My sister and I had art supplies before we could write our names. He taught us to see color, light, and form, to embrace the many kinds of public art and architecture the city had to offer. He showed by example that there are many ways to imagine and many ways to express yourself. He was a Renaissance man who 'dwelt in possibility'; his vision and his encouragement informed the way I look at life to this day. Thank you Dad! Love, Margi" -- Margaret Vanderhye, Virginia Commission for the Arts

"Dorothea Lange's photography puts a face to the human spirit--no matter how uncomfortable the social issues/problems of her time were, she brought humanity into the conversation. It is through Lange's ability to capture the heart and soul of people that others in the world, who are/were more fortunate, are reminded to do their part by loving more, caring more deeply, giving to a bigger degree, and taking action through advocacy. I am thankful for Lange's vision, passion, and ability to bring the issues of the world into clear focus." -- Donna Collins, Ohio Arts Council 

"I would like to say thank you to Luigi Waites (1927-2010), a vibraphonist and jazz drummer from Omaha who served on the Nebraska Arts Council’s touring and artist in residence rosters for many years in addition to his regular performing gigs as a solo artist and with his Luigi, Inc. ensemble. Luigi grew up during segregation, and although Omaha was technically not a segregated city, he was subjected to the hidden prejudices so pervasive in Northern communities in addition to the daily discrimination every African American experiences. Despite this, he stayed positive and used his musical gifts to teach by example. Through the arts council's artist residency program, Luigi traveled the entire state from the late 1970s through the 1990s, often working in small towns where residents rarely encountered a person of color. He was much in demand for his musicianship and teaching abilities, but I often think his degree of comfort with being an ambassador that bridged the gap between rural and urban Nebraska and white and black cultures in our state was his real legacy. When he was in town, Luigi played a gig every week at Mr. Toad’s, a bar in the heart of Omaha’s Old Market district near my office until illness forced his retirement. Every time I pass it, I think of him and miss him all over again." -- Suzanne Wise, Nebraska Arts Council

"My first inclination is to say Kurt Vonnegut whose amazing work saw me through my nine years on the assembly line thinking about the absurdness of the human condition. But then I think back to the first time I saw the Diego Rivera mural Detroit Industry at the DIA [Detroit Institute of Arts]. I was 9 or 10 and it made think about my future, which at the time seemed completely set: I would work in the factory like everyone from Flint. But his vision helped me see differently. Then again I met August Wilson whom I loved as an artist and he changed my mind as to the role of the artist as a leader in social change. I think his quote was something to the effect of, “… John, don’t place that yoke on my shoulders or the shoulders of any artist. We can help to show you the world, it is your job to change it.” But when push comes to shove and I have to pick one [I would pick] Frank Zappa. I loved everything he ever wrote, and his message to me was to always have the courage to be different. Thank you, Frank." -- John Bracey, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

"I would like to give thanks Ronnie Bedford. Ronnie was a jazz drummer who passed away last year at the age of 83. After the death of a good friend, Ronnie left New York and found a home in Cody, Wyoming, where he taught at Northwest College in Powell well into his 70s. I was lucky enough to study with Ronnie when he was in his 70s. There is nothing like taking a jazz history class from somebody who was part of that history and played with many of the greats. Ronnie always made time to play with his students, which was the best education a music student could ask for. Ronnie called me "melody Mike" because as a bass player I always wanted to be playing the melody and not just straight ahead basslines. Additionally, Ronnie was one of the amazing faculty at Northwest College that brought jazz music to thousands of students across the rural state of Wyoming. Ronnie is someone I considered a mentor and a friend. The state of Wyoming is thankful for his service. He always ended every concert by saying: 'Support live music, and especially live jazz!'" -- Michael Lange, Wyoming Arts Council

"I often think of the spring afternoon I spent at the historic house museum in Canterbury, Connecticut, that celebrates the legacy of educator Prudence Crandall. I was there to listen to the poetry of Connecticut writers Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson. They wrote Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, a book of poetry that reveals a little-known New England story of courage, of commitment to educating African-American girls, and to justice. The poems are both sober and joyful, conjuring echoes of brave girls and women, who lived together, built community, and strived to belong in an inhospitable town. This past summer I read Elizabeth Alexander’s most recent work, The Light of the World, a brilliant memoir of lives knit together by love, and also by loss, across time and place. I’m grateful to Elizabeth Alexander and to Marilyn Nelson, for these experiences where words bring together memory and life, past and present." --Cathy Edwards, New England Foundation for the Arts

"I'd like to thank Guam artist Ron Castro. Ron is a fantastic painter and the most creative person I've known. He is always expanding his artistic horizons--from a truly gifted graphic artist who creates excellent logos and gives most of them away (he created the Festpac logo) to his latest 3-D laser-puzzle creations that depict Guam plants, animals, and traditional icons. Ron is unassuming, humble, and very giving. With his wry sense of humor he is a joy to be around. He constantly stays in the background and credits others over himself. For example, he introduces himself as Ric's brother, crediting his gifted younger sibling rather than himself! He dedicated many years to photo-documentation of Guam's traditional masters, being the creator of the first series of Traditional Masters posters that inspired the book, Journey with the Masters of Chamoor Tradition, published by the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency in 2000. He inspired Nissan Guam Corporation, where he works as their advertising manager, to turn their Infinity showroom into an art gallery once a month. Ron has organized and helped curate hundreds of well-attended art openings in this elegant space. He serves as Visual Arts chairperson in charge of art exhibitions and programs for Guam's hosting of the Festival of Pacific Arts in 2016. Most importantly, Ron is a true friend to Guam's artist community. He inspires and encourages new artists to exhibit, and has donated his time and resources to create fliers and posters to promote them. Ron exhibits optimism and enthusiasm that inspires us all! To quote Ron's favorite saying, 'When I grow up, I wanna be just like you!'" -- Joseph Cameron, Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency

"I didn’t really know him when he was a big star, though I do remember seeing Christopher Reeve on stage one summer at the Williamstown Theater Festival. By the time I met him (nearly twenty years ago) he was in a wheelchair and required a portable ventilator in order to breath--the result of a freak equestrian accident he had suffered a year or so earlier. He was preparing to direct a small film some friends and I were producing for HBO. It would be his first job after the accident, and his first time behind the camera. The entire film was shot in Bedford, New York, not far from his home in Pound Ridge. He was the first person on the set each day, and the last person to leave--even though his therapeutic regimen tacked on two more grueling hours to the beginning and end of each work day. Despite being permanently lashed to a mechanical contraption designed to restrain his occasional spasms while still moving him around; despite having to time his speech patterns to surf the air that was being artificially pumped into his lungs at regular intervals; despite the bone-crushing depression that he had to suppress as each new person he met struggled to square their image of the muscular superhero screen idol that he was with the quadriplegic he had become; despite all of that, he brought an amazing serenity, a wonderful sense of humor, an incredible energy, empathy, and humility to the task at hand. All of us, who were associated with the project--actors, producers, designers, and crew--worked harder and better because of the example he set. And if you watch his heartbreaking film, In The Gloaming, you will see why we feel blessed for the time we were privileged to spend with someone who went from being a Superman in name to a super man in fact. Thank you Christopher Reeve." -- Nicholas Paleologos, New Jersey State Council on the Arts

"After a lifetime of devouring the works of artists of all stripes how am I to choose only one to whom I express my gratitude? Do I choose Rothko, for his chapel installation in Houston, which transforms me each time I enter; or Maya Lin, for her Vietnam Memorial, which powerfully becomes both an embodiment of the long and ever-deepening tragedy of that conflict, as well as a healing pathway beyond it; or Arthur Miller, or Pete Seeger, or…?. Alas, I'll leave these and others aside in favor of two artists, book-ending my life to date. The first is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Beat poet whose book, The Coney Island of the Mind, was first given to me by a life-saving teacher in grade 11 nearly fifty years ago. This was my first exposure to poetry written in the here and now, in a voice I could grasp without a set of footnotes nearby. Ferlinghetti opened a doorway to a new life for me, one of words and wonder, a far better life than that which I thought would ever await me. Even now, I find myself expressing a desire for 'a rebirth of wonder,' the seemingly unachievable hope of Ferlinghetti in the poem, "I Am Waiting." But as I have lived this search for my rebirth of wonder, I’ve encountered new artists who open new horizons for me, artists such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the musical Hamilton. The soundtrack to Hamilton has not slipped from my playlist for weeks, and when listening, I find myself literally having to suspend whatever I’m doing and take in the raw power and emotion of his songs. Perhaps this ongoing discovery of brilliant, new artists and art is the true 'rebirth of wonder' toward which Ferlinghetti set me on a quest years ago, and for this, I am very grateful!" -- David Fraher, Arts Midwest

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