Arts Council of New Orleans 2009 Community Arts Awards

Keeping with a tradition started in 1977, the Arts Council of New Orleans is honoring those individuals, organizations and corporations that have contributed to the city’s arts in its annual Community Arts Awards. The 2009 awards recipients, like those in years past, were selected for artistic excellence, sustained contributions, unique achievements, perseverance and a deep commitment to the arts and the community.

The 2009 honorees are a diverse representation of New Orleans artists, and are all nationally recognized for their contributions to the regional arts and culture community. The recipients include drummer and community activist Luther Gray, musician Deacon John Moore, visual artist Auseklis Ozols, designer and artist Mario Villa, volunteer classical music organization Symphony Chorus of New Orleans and WWOZ 90.7 radio. Additionally, the council will present the Chairman’s Award to the Joan Mitchell Foundation for the Art in Public Places project and to Prospect.1 curator Dan Cameron.
“These individuals and organizations are being recognized for their unwavering dedication and outstanding contributions to the arts in New Orleans,” Mary Len Costa, Interim President of the Arts Council of New Orleans said. “It is an honor to locally recognize these esteemed individuals for sharing their talents and creativity. We invite the public to join us in celebrating this outstanding group of award recipients.”

The 2009 Awards Luncheon will be held on Thursday, May 7, 2009 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Audubon Tea Room. Patrons will have another chance to celebrate the contributions of these impressive recipients at an elegant party sponsored by the Windsor Court Hotel and held in the newly restyled Grill Room on Wednesday, May 6, 2009 from 6 to 8 p.m. This provides the opportunity for Patrons to view the magnificent murals by Arts Award winner Auseklis Ozols.

Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling (504) 523-1465.

The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private nonprofit organization designated as the city’s official arts agency. Now in its 34th year, the Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans; community groups; local, state and national government agencies; foundations and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the greater New Orleans area. The Arts Council serves as one of the nine regional distributing agencies for the State of Louisiana grant funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program on behalf of the city of New Orleans.

The Arts Council of New Orleans believes the arts are essential to the life of the community. It is the mission of the Arts Council to support and expand the opportunities for diverse artistic expression and to bring the community together in celebration of the city’s rich, multi-cultural heritage.

Focused on promoting New Orleans as a flourishing international center for arts and culture, the Arts Council provides cultural planning, advocacy, public art, economic development, arts education, marketing and grant and service initiatives.


  • Advocate for positive policies and funding priority on behalf of arts and cultural interests at local, state and federal levels.
  • Administer grants programs to help increase access to city, state and private funds to organizations and artists in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area. The Arts Council of New Orleans serves as one of nine regional re-granting agencies for the Louisiana Division of the Arts.
  • Administer the Percent For Art Program for the city of New Orleans and place art in the public venue to positively contribute to the visual landscape to create a “sense of place” and strengthen the city’s identity.
  • Provide services to artists, start-up arts businesses and nonprofit groups through the Arts Business Program, which offers business and career planning, monthly business development workshops, pro-bono legal assistance, collaborative arts marketing projects such as NOLA Arts & Culture Big List and group health insurance to arts businesses and nonprofits.
  • Showcase the visual arts through the monthly Arts Market of New Orleans. Held the last Saturday of every month at Palmer Park, the Arts Market features handmade local art as well as food, music and more.
  • Present, an online compendium of arts and cultural events for the Greater New Orleans area. A joint initiative of the Arts Council of New Orleans and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation,, “the definitive local arts and entertainment calendar.”
  • Conduct the annual Community Arts Awards to honor organizations and individuals for steadfast dedication and outstanding contributions to the arts and culture.

Luther Gray, a talented master drummer and community activist, has been a New Orleans resident for more than 30 years after having moved from his native Chicago. After leaving his corporate job, he focused his energy on drumming and soon realized its potential to reach the community’s youth. He has organized classes that use drumming techniques to teach math, science and social studies, as well as to teach the history of African drumming for students of all ages. He has worked as a musician with groups such as Percussion Incorporated and Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians, and helped to organize the Congo Square Foundation. The foundation is instrumental in reviving Congo Square with performances and festivals reminiscent of its origins. Congo Square is in the National Register of Historic places. He has been a producer for the Ashé Cultural since it opened; he has also produced programs for the Contemporary Arts Center. His music group Bamboula 2000 fuses African and contemporary sounds and has garnered an impressive musical catalog and a strong fanbase.

Mario Villa proves with his work that art can be as functional as it is beautiful. A native of Managua, Nicaragua, Villa grew up rendering scraps of metal into sculptures finding inspiration in his parents’ art collection. In the late 1970s he moved to New Orleans where he would later earn degrees in anthropology and architecture from the University of New Orleans and Tulane University. After graduation he opened his first gallery in the French Quarter to showcase his watercolor and oil paintings, but would later call on his school training to design furniture. Villa now specializes in interior design, jewelry, furniture and lighting made with steel, bronze, copper, brass and fire metals, drawing inspiration from his adopted city as well as Greek Roman and Byzantine antiquities. His work can be found in the collections of Princess Caroline of Monaco, producer Oliver Stone and Oprah Winfrey. His work has been published in various books, publications and periodicals.He is active in the arts community as an educator and philanthropic contributor.

Auseklis Ozols is a well-known visual artist, with work exhibited and represented in collections nationwide. He serves as an inspiration to aspiring artists in his role as an educator. After surviving World War II in his native Latvia, he moved to the U.S. with his parents in 1951. He embarked on formal training at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Trenton School of Industrial Arts. His work has appeared in museums, university and government collections around the country and abroad. He has won awards from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Annual Exhibitions of the National Academy of Design in New York, the New Jersey State Museum and the New Orleans Museum of Art, which awarded him the Delgado Society Award. He is the artistic director of the New Orleans Academy of Art, where he has taught for 30 years. Students attest to his extensive knowledge of technique and history, and he’s sought after on the lecture circuit.

Deacon John Moore is a pianist, guitarist and songwriter whose musical accomplishments are equal to his contributions to New Orleans. His role of president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians Union and board member for Sweet Home New Orleans – which provides services to the city’s musicians – shows his deep commitment to the city. Born in the 8th Ward, he began playing music as a teenager. Over the years he has become fixture in the New Orleans rhythm and blues scene. His group Deacon John and the Ivories has been a mainstay in the local music scene for over 50 years, and has played a range of venues around town. He has also played on recording sessions with artists including Ernie K-Doe, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Dr. John. He boasts a wealth of musical and local historic knowledge. He often appears in WYES-TV documentaries about New Orleans life. He is the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Going Back to New Orleans. He played at the inauguration of Gov. Bobby Jindal. He recently earned a spot in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame for both his musical achievements as well as his preservation efforts toward New Orleans music culture.

For over 25 years, the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans has brought the great choral masterpieces to the city. The all-volunteer group of over 100 singers come together to perform as the principle chorus for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. It donates performances to the orchestra for all choral programs as well as its subscription concert series. The chorus is well known for its performance of Handel’s “Messiah” with the LPO. The group plans on taking the Handel’s “Messiah” and Bach’s “Oratorio” to St. Joseph’s Abbey on the Northshore this year. In 2008, the chorus performed with Singers of United Lands, a touring group of choruses from around the world, which sings songs from their native countries. It is slated to do for an upcoming tour. Besides showcasing its talent, the chorus also engages in many community outreach projects. The chorus will soon be participating in an outreach program aimed to aid the New Orleans public school system. The choir reaches many levels of the community to present inspiring choral music.

WWOZ 90.7 brings the indigenous music of New Orleans and Louisiana to the airwaves. Its energetic team celebrates the jazz, rhythm and blues, Cajun and Zydeco music that has shaped the culture of New Orleans and its surrounding areas. Listeners from around the world can get a taste of New Orleans via WWOZ’s worldwide broadcasts on the Internet. WWOZ has gained listenership in the most unlikely of global locales. The success of the station is largely due to its staff – which is primarily composed of volunteers. “We have 100 volunteer DJs who dedicate time to share their expert knowledge of music with our listeners,” WWOZ General Manager David Freedman said. These music aficionados bring their intense love for New Orleans, and their own music collections, to the station. The broadcasters, voiceover artists, sound technicians and those who answer phones and stuff envelopes are all at WWOZ on a volunteer basis. Their dedication is rooted in their love for what they do – they constantly remind listeners why New Orleans is so special.

Those noticing artful additions to New Orleans’ cityscape have the Joan Mitchell Foundation to thank. The New York-based art philanthropy funded the $750,000 public art project.Currently, 19 of the newly commissioned works can be found around town. From Raine Bedsole’s “Remembering Boat” sculpture at West End Park to Jim Sohr’s playful Zor Bird at the Children’s Resource Library, artists’ creative visions became a reality with help from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. This project is part of the Foundation’s goal to convey art’s essential relationship to culture. The Foundation began in 1993 to carry on the legacy of visual artist Joan Mitchell, and since then it has provided assistance to many painters and sculptures in the form of grants, residencies, workshops and education opportunities. In New Orleans the Foundation has provided grants to artists after Hurricane Katrina and funds local arts institutions as well as individual artists. Besides funding “Art in Public Places” and the Art Council’s professional development workshops, the Foundation supported the Contemporary Arts Center’s Children’s Sculpture Project, Louisiana ArtWorks’ Art Sessions, Contemporary Visual Arts Network New Orleans, AORTA projects, and CALL (Creating a Lasting Legacy).

For six weeks, Dan Cameron made New Orleans the center of the art world when Prospect.1 descended upon the city. The art biennial – Cameron’s brainchild – brought the works of 81 artists from around the world to the city, as well as droves of visitors, to participate in this art extravaganza. Also the director of visual arts for the Contemporary Arts Center, Cameron wanted to highlight local and international contemporary artists. Before moving to New Orleans, Cameron was the senior curator of the New Museum in New York. He frequently visited the city since the 1980s, and felt inspired to create an exhibition in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Cameron took the position at the CAC in 2007, and chose the venue as the principle location for Prospect.1. As the jolt to the local economy and art scene still resonates months after the closing of the exhibit, the city can look forward to Prospect.2 in 2010.