Honoring both artists and patrons of the arts, the city of Torrance will be hosting its 37th annual Excellence in Arts Awards ceremony this Saturday, November 1st from 3:00 to 5:00 PM at the Toyota Meeting Hall at the Torrance Civic Center.
Free to attend and open to the public, the event is the culmination of the Torrance Cultural Arts Commission’s efforts to recognize individuals and businesses that have made exceptional contributions in the city’s arts community and this year’s winners in each of the seven categories have already been identified:
Mai No Kai, a traditional Japanese dance group is the winner in the Dance category.
Los Cancioneros Master Chorale is the winner in the Music category.
Dali Higa, a local artist and co-owner of the California Museum of Fine Art is the winner in Visual Arts and Design.
Faith Goldman, a long-time Torrance resident is the winner in the Literary Arts category.
K.C. Gussler, a director and choreographer with the Torrance Theatre Company is the winner in the Drama and Theater Arts category.
Karla Schmidt Commins, an art teacher at Chadwick Middle School is the winner in the Dr. Tom Rische Arts Education Award.
Former Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto and his wife Cindy are the recipients of the Kathy Geissert Award.
Eve Rappoport, the city’s Cultural Services Manager describes the nomination process of the Cultural Arts Commission as one where the commission advises the City Council in the capacity as advocates of the arts in Torrance, while nominees are brought before the council and ultimately selected based on their contributions in the community.
“We have an application form that we release every year and we ask for previous award winners as well as the community to come forward with nominees and then there is a subcommittee made up of three people who review all of the applications and make a full recommendation to the commission,“ said Rappoport. “The Excellence in Arts Award is probably the crown jewel of what the commission does and it is really important because we recognize individuals and businesses in the community that have really given exceptionally to the arts community in different ways which can be as an artist or it can be as a patron of the arts.”
Ed Candioty, a local businessman and Torrance resident is one of the commissioners and agrees with Rappoport on the importance of the awards and recognizing the local artistic talent in the community.
“The Excellence in Arts award ceremony is the Cultural Arts Commission’s most important event each year where we honor some of the brightest and most talented local individuals from many different city interests such as dance, music, arts education and graphic arts,” Candioty said. “Many of our past winners have gone on to become huge successes in their respective areas of interest, and some, even nationally recognized.”
One such artist is local singer and teacher Keiko Clark, who took home last year’s Excellence in Arts Award in the music category.
“It was just an amazing experience to even be considered and to win it was great,” said Clark. “Shortly after winning the award I went from teaching part time to teaching full time music and theater arts while conducting the choir as well as producing and directing plays and musicals.”
Clark isn’t the only recipient to be overwhelmed by the honor.
Faith Goldman, a Torrance resident now for more than three decades, has overcome serious issues with her vision that rendered her legally blind, and she for one is savoring her upcoming writing award as well as the city she calls home.
“I am very humbled to have been selected for this award and I know there are two angels who recommended me for it, and to them I say thank you,” said Goldman.
Goldman relocated to the South Bay from the east coast more than 30 years ago and considers this her home and a rich area of artistic talent.
“I left New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to come with my husband and two children to Torrance 34 years ago. My life core has changed three hundred percent, but this city remains as my nesting space,” she said. “Many local folks say they’re schlepping to the city for wonderful foods and art when they haven’t even experienced our local arts. The Daily Breeze, the South Bay Film Society, the South Bay Community Concerts, and, of course, the Torrance Arts Center could keep me busy every day and with high quality performances.
“Even Fritz Coleman has Torrance on the weather map.”
Candioty echoes Goldman’s take on the bevy of art and artists in Torrance, and as the master of ceremonies for the Excellence in Arts Awards, he believes that recognizing the talent is important for both the artists and the community.
“This is not a talent show. It’s a show of talent,” Candioty said. “These are brilliant individuals who are special in their field of interest and we recognize and honor them on behalf of the city to both bring attention to their value, and increase the cultural benefit to our city.”
Candioty also believes that there is a seriously untapped group of artists in Torrance who go mostly unnoticed and hopes that the Excellence in Arts Awards helps to unearth some of that talent.
“Your neighbor might be a writer. Another neighbor may be an accomplished artist,” he said. “Who knows? We need to start moving toward a more public event and give accolades to the truly talented people in our city who deserve it. For the most part these folks are just ordinary citizens who go to work every day and mow their lawns and then in the privacy of their homes, write a great book or create a beautiful painting or sculpture.
“It has made me want to know more about my very own neighbors and has me wondering who are the other great talents in Torrance who have not yet been discovered?”
For winners such as K.C. Gussler and Karla Schmidt Commins, the honor of taking home the award comes a close second to the honor of working with talented individuals of all ages in their respective fields. For Gussler, both directing and choreographing productions for the Torrance Theatre Company such as Grease, West Side Story and It’s a Wonderful Life are fulfilling in and of itself, but being recognized for this work truly puts all of the efforts in perspective.
“It is quite an honor to be given this award and recognition for a job that I have been so passionate and dedicated to for so many years,” Gussler said. “Torrance Theatre Company has allowed me to continue my craft as a director and choreographer while offering me the chance to work with some of the strongest, kindest and most dedicated local talent the South Bay has to offer. With TCC’s most recent production of Oklahoma! I felt I was able to bring the level of professionalism to a new high with our cast and crew. “
Schmidt Commins, who in addition to teaching sculpting and 3-D design at Chadwick is also a key contributor to the city of Torrance’s “Stories in Art” program since its inception in 2001, is humbled by the award and believes that the recognition will also help more people understand that art is more than paint on canvas.
“As an art teacher I was very excited because not many know what an art teacher does,” she said. “Not many art teachers get the recognition because not a lot of people know what it takes to teach it let alone actually do it. We do a lot of teaching to other educators about what it means to do and teach art. Art is a journey and not just a technical skill.”
Both Schmidt Commins and Gussler are united in their assessment that recognition of the arts and artists locally will go a long way toward keeping painters, writers, singers, performers and patrons enthusiastic for the arts as well as pave the way for the next generation of artists.
“I believe the continued recognition of the arts is important and valuable in securing a strong and driving future for present audiences as well as generations to come of theatre lovers and supporters. As a young man who was born and raised in southern California, I grew up in the local arts and they have been a driving force throughout my life, as they shaped my future as a theatrical performer, choreographer and director,” said Gussler.
Schmidt Commins agrees, and emphasizes the importance of getting young people involved with the arts as soon as possible.
“Art is a language. It helps you find your sense of identity and builds community,” she said. “Art can draw people together. It is a way to speak and protest and demonstrate. It is a visual voice, so it is important for all communities, and for kids it is giving them an aesthetic language.”
For individuals interested in attending the Excellence in Arts Awards please call 310-618-2376 to RSVP.