Northwestern Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020
JoAnn Wilchek Basist JoAnn Wilchek Basist
Peter Gourniak Peter Gourniak
Jessica Bien Jessica Bien

30th annual Ovation Awards honors Allentown arts leaders

Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

Now in its 30th year, the Allentown Arts Ovation Award honors those who have made a difference in the arts in the city of Allentown.

This year, seven recipients, including one family, who have had a major impact on Allentown’s arts community will be honored with awards from The Allentown Arts Commission at a ceremony, 5:30 - 8 p.m. Sept. 27, Ballroom, Renaissance Allentown Hotel, 12 N. Seventh St., Allentown.

Honorees are the Butz Family, Legacy Award; Peter Gourniak, Outstanding Achievement in Visual Arts; “Blues, Brews & BBQ,” Outstanding Achievement in Performing Arts; LGBT Library at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Outstanding Achievement in Literary Arts; JoAnn Wilchek Basist, Civic Theatre, Outstanding Achievement in Arts Education; Jessica Bien, Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance, Outstanding Service to the Arts, and the Alternative Gallery, Outstanding Emerging Artists.

The commission also will award scholarships for outstanding achievement in art, music and theater to students from Allen, Dieruff and Central Catholic high schools.

Jane Heft, chair of Allentown Arts Commission, said the awards are the main focus of the commission and serve to advocate for and recognize artists in the community.

“Moving forward with the city’s revitalization, recognizing artists shows that the community supports them and recognizes they are trying hard to improve the community,” Heft said. ”It is so important that people realize the quality of artists’ work and their dedication to the city.”

Heft says the awards this year are “really kind of special.” She says attendees will be treated to a demonstration of slam poetry and a sneak peek at Zeke Zelker’s new film “Billboard.”

She says the ceremony, previously held in April, was moved to September to coincide with the new season of arts in the fall.

“Everything starts then, from Civic’s season to the Symphony Orchestra,” she says. “It was a better fit for the roll out and everything seems fresher in the fall.”

The Butz Family, which has a long history of general contracting and construction management in the Lehigh Valley and beyond, has shown dedication to the redevelopment of downtown Allentown and are frequent sponsors of art events.

Lee Butz is a photographer who takes photos of theater productions, notably the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales University, for which he has also provides sponsorship.

Lee Butz and his son Greg Butz have served on boards of arts organizations. Greg Butz is co-chair of the Civic Theatre of Allentown’s Capital Campaign. Eric Butz and his wife, Deborah Roberson, are supporters of the Allentown School Foundation, as well as architects whose design work is evident at the Allentown Art Museum, Miller Symphony Hall, the Baum School of Art and Civic Theatre of Allentown.

Peter Gourniak has spent his nearly 40-year career working in Allentown as a multi-media painter, photographer, event planner, chef, videographer, corporate production designer, talent scout and guitar player.

Gourniak was chosen to document the construction of the PPL Center through photographs, which became the first exhibit at Mezz Gallery at the Renaissance Allentown Hotel. His newest project is Artica Content Studios, a production house in Allentown that will create, develop, and acquire entertaining and educational content for the web, TV, and film.

The “Blues, Brews & BBQ” festival in center city Allentown was created 11 years ago and has grown from attracting 3,000 to drawing more than 25,000.

The free festival has expanded its footprint along Hamilton Street from one stage in one block to multiple stages from Fifth Street to Ninth Street. It now attracts nationally-recognized blues musicians. Five years ago, Miriam Huertas and The Hamilton District Main Street Program, took over planning of the festival, making it a destination for music and food lovers.

The LGBT Library at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is a professionally-staffed library at 522 W. Maple St., Allentown, that has more than 2,200 books, CDs and DVDs celebrating LGBT literature, history, community, and culture.

Library programs include inter-generational community book discussions, author visits for book talks and signings and youth writing workshops for slam poetry. Through a partnership with the Digital Humanities Initiative at Lehigh University, the library catalog is available online.

JoAnn Wilchek Basist has been an arts educator for more than 40 years, not only in her career as a teacher, but also as the Volunteer Administrator of Civic Theatre’s Children’s Theatre School program, where she creates curriculum, hires teachers, supervises classrooms, writes original scripts, organizes showcases, and serves as a liaison with the Civic staff.

Also an actress, Wilchek Basist performs throughout the Lehigh Valley and is a role model to students of all ages. She performs as “The Cat In The Hat” in a reading program for area schools. She is mentor to three area schools for the performing arts in Allentown and Easton and is an adjunct professor at Cedar Crest College, teaching public speaking and acting classes.

Jessica Bien, General Manager of Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance since 2006, has been at the forefront of making performing arts programs accessible for the deaf, visually-impaired, and for persons on the autism spectrum.

Ten years ago, Bien coordinated the first audio-described and open-captioned performance in the Lehigh Valley at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. She works with Muhlenberg, De Sales University, and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council in providing accessible performances. She also set up the Lehigh Valley’s first sensory-friendly performance for children with autism at Muhlenberg, where she coordinates sensory-friendly performances. In addition, she created a class on “Accessibility and the Arts” at Muhlenberg.

The Alternative Gallery in the Cigar Factory at Fourth and Tilghman streets, Allentown, is a nonprofit art center which includes an art gallery, artist studio spaces, performance space and educational classes. Artists come from various disciplines, including sculpture, photography, comedy, theater, writing, painting and film.

Each fall, the gallery hosts Alternative Arts Fest, a free three-day arts festival in Allentown’s Cedar Beach Park that includes a skate park, giant graffiti murals, a break-dancing competition, music and dozens of artists displaying and selling their work.

Tickets: Allentown Arts Commission, third floor, 435 Hamilton St., Allentown;