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Fourth Annual Excellence in Arts Awards Celebrated Beatnik Style

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Amid a sea of berets, and a throwback to the fifties – Arts Council Wood Buffalo’s (ACWB) fourth annual Excellence in Arts Awards, also called the Buffys – were held on October 19, 2019 at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts. The theme this year was Midnight Coffeehouse, which paid tribute to the Beat Generation.

Local artists performed written, dance, and spoken word pieces, and delighted a full house. Val Gondek, music teacher at Thickwood Heights Public School, with a 32-year career in music received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Well-known local community leader, Rick Kirchner received the Arts Champion Award for his incessant support of multiple artistic endeavours like starting the Bridge 91.1 radio station, snapd Wood Buffalo newspaper, and most recently collaborating on District Recording Studio in partnership with the Fort McMurray Public School Division. The studio is located at Composite High School.

Mayor Don Scott congratulated all the winners, and the ACWB team for organizing the event, and fostering the arts.

“Thanks to the leaders gathered at this event, our arts and cultural scene is thriving. As Councillor Krista Balsom said to me just now ‘arts make Fort McMurray home,’ thank you for all you do.”


Congratulations to all the winners listed below:

Arts Administration: Sheri Donovan

Arts Education: Kelli Stewart

Craft: Ashley Laurenson

Creative Collaboration: Simma Downe

Indigenous Arts: Bernadette Dumais

Dance: Nikita Proulx

Literary Art: Theresa Wells

Media Arts: Steve Reeve

Ken Flaherty Music Award: Chris Pottie

Theatre: Zachary Barrett

Rising Star: Natalie Farahani

Visual Arts: Ruth Perry

Lifetime Achievement: Valerie Gondek

Arts Champion: Rick Kirschner


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.