Here come the first annual 'Annies'
By HARMEN MITCHELL
NEWS ARTS WRITER
Here come the "Annies," everybody, the brainchild of Bird of Paradise owner, truly dandy bassist and Washtenaw Council for the Arts president Ron Brooks, brought to term by the Washtenaw Council for the Arts, and midwived by business people, politicians and members of the artistic community from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and all over Washtenaw County.
The Annies are awards designed to recognize those who have made substantial contributions to the arts-as individuals or group performers over a long period, as new but emerging talents, or as organizations and individuals who help make the arts possible through patronage, administration or other forms of encouragement and support.
However, it's entirely possible that the idea doesn't strike you out there as particularly palatable-or maybe even fair. That's why it's important, before moving on to a more detailed explanation of the genesis of the idea and the particulars of its execution to clear up a couple of major potential misconceptions right away:
-MISCONCEPTION NO. 1: "Annies" means Ann Arbor, which means that, as usual, Ann Arbor is going to dominate something supposedly designed to encompass the whole county.
"Actually, 'Annies' stands for 'Annual Arts Awards,'" said WCA executive director Helga Haller, who allowed that some people involved in the planning of the awards-particularly those from Ypsilanti-were concerned about Ann Arbor dominating the event.
MISCONCEPTION NO. 2: Watching a bunch of people get awards will be boring.
According to Haller, again, that was one of the thoughts foremost in her mind in planning Sunday night's awards banquet and the entertainment to go with it. There may be few things any of us would rather do than head out to a big party, but observing the presentation of awards (and especially those acceptance speeches-aieeeeee!) ranks right up there with root canals sans anesthetic and the eight-hour version of Andy Warhol's "Sleep." Fear not. As you will soon see, that part has been thoroughly attended to.
But, are the Annies really an idea whose time has come, or an expensive way for grant-giddy arts programs to congratulate themselves? At the moment, the inaugural Annies may seem a tad on the upscale side, but the WCA is adamant: they want everyone to get involved.
It started when Brooks attended a local arts award program in Washington D.C., and, upon returning home, presented a proposal to the WCA suggesting such an event was not only warranted by one of the liveliest artistic communities in the nation but, yea, long overdue. The board members agreed and, as Haller said, "We took it from there.
"I put together a committee, drawing people with various skills and backgrounds from all over the community for their advice: Some who have experience in promotion and publicizing shows, others who have worked in fund raising, others from the business community," and so on, looking for advice, suggestions and, of course, encouragement for their project.
By early spring, she had assembled a committee of those people (Brooks, Carolyn McKeever and Tom Dodd), to settle on categories and terms for eligiblity, a location and date for the program, and other major details. What they came up with was a three category ballot on which anyone in the arts community within the borders of Washtenaw County could be nominated. A ballot was designed and the Ann Arbor Inn was chosen as the location.
There was a kickoff benefit in July at the Bird of Paradise, and the ballots went out. "Anyone from the community could nominate or be nominated, there were forms all over town, and all anyone submitting a name for nomination had to do was justify it by submitting a resume or other source to show why the nominee should win," Haller said.
The deadline for nominations was Oct. 4, and there was a kickoff party for the sale of tickets to Sunday night's gala, courtesy of Don Chisholm, at Burlington Office Center II. All that was left was to select the nominees, and vote.
Haller assembled another committee, including four members from the arts community at large and two WCA board members, with Haller attending ex officio. "We took the nominations that came in, made a list of them, and each member of the committee voted on their first choice in each category," she said. "After that, everyone voted on that list of nominees until each category was narrowed down to a winner." Starting with about 40 nominees, the process took about two and a half hours, but there's no "about" about the results: Three winners and 10 "special merit" runners-up will receive their certificates (designed by calligrapher Heather Price) at the Ann Arbor Inn on Sunday night.
The gala begins with wine and cheese reception at 7 p.m., and the entertainment begins at 8 p.m. So you won't get that sinking feeling that you're reclining into the dentist's chair, just remember that you will be seeing performances by the Afromusicology Ensemble, Judy Dow, the Comic Opera Guild, mime O.J. Anderson and some piano work by James Dapogny. The awards will be presented by State Senator Lana Pollack, Ann Arbor City Councilman James Blow and Mayor Ed Pierce.
Following that, an extra option some revelers might choose (most likely those who don't have to be at work the next morning) is the 10 p.m. "afterglow" with pianist Larry Manderville.
"The Washtenaw Council for the Arts has never organized an event of this magnitude before," said Haller, a little breathlessly. "Some of us had been involved as participants or organizers from other places, but as a group, we really invented the wheel."
Well, maybe that's overstating the matter a little, but there's no doubt that the organizers of the vent are encouraged by the extremely favorable response from the business and arts communities. Only one thing bothers Haller a bit, and that was the nominees and their locations weren't broadly based enough. She said the WCA would like to see more divergent groups involved, as well as more groups from other parts of Washtenaw County.
But there's no doubt there'll be a second Annies, and more after that. "It takes several years to establish an event like this," said Haller, and on Sunday night the Washtenaw arts community takes its first step-and it looks like a big one.
The Washtenaw Council for the Arts will present the first annual "Annies" at the Ann Arbor Inn, located at the corner of East Huron Street and North Fourth Avenue. Admission to the 7 p.m. wine and cheese reception and the 8 p.m. awards program is $10, while admission to both of those events plus the 10 p.m. "afterglow" is $25. Tickets are available in advance at the Michigan Theater box office, and will also be available at the door.
WCA president Ron Brooks had the idea.
The nominees for the first annual Annies are as follows:
1. SUSTAINED ARTISTIC CONTRIBUTION
Ann Arbor Chamber Orchestra-classical music group
Ars Musica-classical music group
Comic Opera Guild-theater group
Gemini-folk music duo
The U-M Gilbert and Sullivan Society-theater group
Louis Smith-director, University of Michigan jazz band
2. EMERGING ARTIST OR GROUP
Common Ground-theater group
Fine Arts Repertory Company-theater group
Kathy Gantz Morse-dancer
Sterling Chamber Players-musical group
Ypsilanti Community Band and Chorus-musical group
3. SERVICE TO THE ARTS
Ann Arbor Art Association-visual arts association
The Ark-folk club
Eclipse Jazz-concert promotion group
Friends of the Opera at the University of Michigan-patron
Kerrytown Concert House-multi-media arts venue
Michael G. Nastos-patron
Schoolkids Records-record store
Burnette Staebler-actress and patron
Ann Arbor Businesses
Bird of Paradise
Washtenaw Council for the Arts
Burlington Office Center II
Ann Arbor Inn
Ann Arbor Comic Opera Guild
Ann Arbor News
Judith Dow Towsley
O. J. Anderson
209 S Ashley