Each year the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts presents the “Sally Awards,” naned for Sally Ordway Irvine, who founded the center. Four awards are given to people or institutions who’ve played a significant role in the state’s cultural scene. The categories are Vision, Commitment, Initiative and Education. This year’s winners are:
For Vision: VSA Arts of Minnesota
First up – Vision In the category of Vision, VSA Arts of Minnesota won for creating a community where people with disabilities can learn through, participate in, and access the arts. Not just accessible to wheelchairs, but things like large print programs, and creating opportunities for people who are blind to touch works of art. In other words, finding ways to making performances and exhibitions come alive for people with disabilities.
For Commitment: Myron Johnson
Johnson said while accepting his award “Theater saved my life. I had a very difficult family situation, and if it weren’t for theater I doubt I’d be alive, let alone standing here accepting this award.”
Myron Johnson first tried out for a play when he was seven, and he’s been involved in theater and dance ever since. His company “Ballet of the Dolls” combines his love of ballet with his love of fashion, imagination and storytelling. And he says he’ll never leave the Twin Cities:
I would never consider being anywhere else – this city has been so supportive of me, my work and my ideas. There’s nothing I can say about what Minneapolis and St. Paul mean to me – they mean everything to me. My work with Ballet of the Dolls is my life – they help me make dreams come true. For a child who couldn’t speak, I’ve learned to talk – and that’s because of the arts, and theater.
After the awards ceremony, I asked Johnson what it felt like to receive such a mainstream award for his anything but mainstream art.
It’s so awesome. It’s shocking to me – I’m sort of the bad boy. The next show I’m doing is “The Dance of the Pink Flamingoes” inspired by John Waters. It’s just so great that I’ve been able to do whatever comes to my mind and people support it here. I didn’t try to win an award – I just did what I loved.
Johnson actually met Sally Ordway Irvine when he was a kid working at the Children’s Theatre Company. He thinks she’d be happy to know that a kid who got his arts training at an organization she so believed in went on to win an award in her name.
For Initiative: Bedlam Theatre
A literal hotbed of theater and community engagement, Bedlam has grown from a budding experimental theater company to a place to hang out, eat perogies, and get involved. Many of the folks who work at Bedlam also work at Seward Cafe. Bedlam core member Maren Ward says the cafe’s ethics and values have strongly influenced the theater’s own work.
Bedlam lends its community space out for classes, meetings and workshops. In addition it hosts an on-site bicycle workshop and outdoor performances near the Cedar-Riverside LRT stop. The theater gives discounts for audience members who arrived by bike or LRT, and its restaurant offers a local food menu.
In 2004 Bedlam was named by American Theatre Magazine as one of 12 innovative companies to watch nationwide, and McKnight Foundation’s Neal Cuthbert says other theaters are looking at Bedlam’s model to see how they can engage their own audiences.
For Education: T. Mychael Rambo
T. Mychael Rambo is an actor, a singer, a writer and a motivational speaker. He can often be found talking to students at Central High School or Gordon Parks High School. Rambo is not just a believer in the transformational power of the arts, he has experienced that transformation first hand.
In a moving acceptance speech, Rambo recalled a much darker time in his life, when he was sleeping at Dorothy Day Center and spending his days sitting in Rice Park, just outside the Ordway. Rambo said he couldn’t have imagined back then he’d one day stand on an Ordway stage to accept an award.
“Art is to service what bud is to flower” said Rambo, “and my transformation speaks to the power of art.” Quoting Martin Luther King Jr he went on to say “‘We may not remember the words of our enemies, but we remember the silence of our friends’ – this is a room filled with people who recognize we cannot be silent.”
Each awardee of the Sally Awards receives a cash prize in support of their work.