Laurel Awards: Celebrating dedication to the Arts

VERO BEACH – In an intimate ceremony, the Cultural Council of Indian River County presented the 16th Annual Laurel Awards for dedication to the arts last night at Riverside Theatre.

The evening also presented an opportunity to introduce Susan McGarry, the council’s new interim executive director who is filling the position previously held by Mary Jane Kelly, who recently retired.

McGarry, who holds a degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia and is an experienced land steward in Florida, said she will help facilitate the organization’s assessment of the arts and their economic impact on the county in developing the Cultural Council’s 20-year plan.

A cocktail reception for artists and aficionados before Friday’s ceremony celebrated a community united by the efforts of the Cultural Council.

“Art makes us feel what we didn’t know we were feeling,” said Sharon Morgan, the evening’s 2011 Laurel Award Honoree for Artist Advocate.

Morgan, a painter of socially conscious pieces, is involved in the council’s campaign for art in public places. She was recognized for creating the website providing artists with information about actual opportunities to show – and sell – their work.

Presented by Del and Jeanne Peterson, last year’s recipients, Morgan was nominated by Paris Productions and artist Quentin Walker.

A small black stage in the theatre’s auditorium also accommodated a string ensemble of students from the Vero Beach High School orchestra.

Their conductor, Matthew Stott, was the 2011 Cultural Professional honoree. He was praised for his contribution and leadership over the past ten years in developing the string program – and therefore an orchestra – at Oslo and Gifford Middle Schools, as well as at VBHS.

“He has been a master teacher and an inspiring mentor,” said Warren Obluck, last year’s recipient who presented Stott with the award. Under Stott’s tutelage, the school has won national acclaim and received prestigious honors.

Stott was nominated for the award by the Vero Beach High School Performing Arts Center. In accepting, he was most enthusiastic about the talent and accomplishments of his students.

Before performing “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, which Stott said was broadcast on the radio when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and held the audience enraptured by its sweet sorrow, he introduced the musicians.

This year’s Volunteer Activist award was presented to Al Smith for his tireless work over the past eight years organizing volunteers at McKee Botanical Garden.

A large contingent from the garden, who nominated Smith, attended the ceremony, including executive director Christine Hobart, board member John Schumann, accompanied by wife Kathy, and Alma Lee Loy, also a founder of the Cultural Council.

According to last year’s recipient, Cathie Callery, who presented the award, Smith has organized 3800 volunteer hours to handle the garden’s 32,000 annual visitors.

The evening’s host, Herb Whittall, presented Dr. Ben Emerson, DDS with this year’s award for Business Philanthropy.

Emerson, who was nominated by Allen Cornell, president and artistic director of Riverside Theatre, has been a sponsor of the theatre for almost 20 years.

“What’s life all about except for serving your fellow man and reproducing,” joked Emerson, who has seven children.

His son, Max “Kick” Emerson, a theatre graduate from the University of Miami and now an actor in New York, grew up performing in Riverside Children’s Theatre plays, as well as on the Mainstage in productions such as “A Midnight Clear,” written and directed by Cornell.

Emerson recalled a time before Riverside Theatre when residents had to go to Manhattan to see a professional production. Beginning in the early 90s, the theatre began to enrich the community with a  “constant introduction of new plays” he said, which has “continued to reach an ever larger population of people.” {igallery 389}

Related Articles

Comments are closed.