MONTPELIER — The Vermont Art Council announced the recipients of the 2020 Vermont Arts Awards Wednesday, recognizing outstanding individual and organizational contributions to the arts. Awards honor educators, artists, performers, advocates, administrators, volunteers and scholars.
John Fusco, of Morristown, will receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the highest honor presented to an artist by the state of Vermont.
In selecting Fusco for this award, Gov. Phil Scott said, “John’s talent and the dedication shown throughout his career — from his award-winning screenwriting and musical talent to his service to his community — make him the absolute right choice for this year’s Excellence in the Arts award. Congratulations, John, and thank you for making Vermont proud.”
In addition, the Vermont Arts Council announced award recipients in four categories: Hannah Dennison of Chelsea will receive the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. Jody Fried, of Kirby, will receive the Margaret L. (Peggy) Kannenstine Award for Arts Advocacy. Shanta Lee Gander, of Brattleboro, will receive the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts. And Ray Vega of South Burlington will receive the Ellen McCulloch-Lovell Award in Arts Education.
“We are honored to recognize these five extraordinary individuals,” said Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman. “Each one of them has been a trailblazer, in his or her own way. Their creativity moves, inspires, and stretches us — as Vermonters and as human beings.”
The Arts Council is unable to host its annual reception and ceremony this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s awardees will be celebrated in a professionally produced video later this fall.
Fusco is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer, novelist, singer-songwriter and musician, with more than 15 major movies and television shows to his credit. He has written two critically acclaimed novels and an award-winning children’s book. His most recent project is the highly regarded blues double album, “John the Revelator.”
A high school dropout, Fusco later earned a degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In the late 1980s, he made Vermont his home and has remained near the top of the list of Hollywood screenplay writers, from the cult classic, “Crossroads” in 1986 to his hit Netflix movie “The Highwaymen”
Dennison is the founding director of the nonprofit Cradle to Grave Arts, which has been developing community-focused dance works for Vermont stages and specific sites for nearly 40 years. Her most recent work, “The Quarry Project,” is a dance-theater performance being created for Barre’ Wells Lamson quarry, one of the oldest granite quarries in the country. Dennison was a 2018 National Dance Project finalist, the only Vermont dance artist to have been short-listed for the most prestigious contemporary dance award in the country. She has taught hundreds of people the techniques of movement and performance, collaborated with artists from other disciplines.
The executive director of Catamount Arts since 2008, Fried has worked to promote the arts for people of all ages and socio-economic levels in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. An outspoken champion for the creative sector, Fried has held numerous leadership positions in the NEK and across Vermont, including his current roles as director of The Vermont Leadership Institute, chair of the Vermont Creative Network, president of the Board of Directors of the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative, and member of the Vermont Travel and Recreation Council. He was a founding member of the Vermont Tax Advisory Board, and has served as the past president of both the Burke Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association.
Gander is a multidisciplinary artist who transformed a challenging childhood into a creative career as a photographer, poet, investigative journalist, public intellectual, and writer who leverages her voice on a range of topics. Her work has been featured in Blavity, The Crisis Magazine, Rebelle Society, on MsMagazine.com, and The Commons. She is the director of publicity and outreach at Mount Island, the literary magazine dedicated to rural LGBTQ+ and POC voices. As a member of the Vermont Humanities Council Speakers Bureau, Gander gives lectures on the life of the earliest known African American poet Lucy Terry Prince. She has served on the Brattleboro select board and as president of the Arts Council of Windham County.
Vega is a three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz musician, bandleader, and senior lecturer in jazz history and trumpet at the University of Vermont. He is perhaps best known to Vermonters as the host of Vermont Public Radio’s Friday Night Jazz program. In 2015, UVM honored Vega with the distinguished title of University Scholar for 2015-2016, making him the first creative artist in the university’s history to receive the high honor. As an educator, Vega has conducted master classes in trumpet performance, jazz improvisation, brass performance techniques and Afro-Caribbean jazz for numerous schools and organizations in the United States and in other countries across the world.
Visit www.vermontartscouncil.org/programs/arts-awards for more information about the Vermont Arts Awards.