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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 Malik-Khan is the Communications Manager for the Fort McMurray Public School District, and national award-winning communications professional. She is a freelance journalist, a communications professional, and a poet. She loves sharing stories about unique people, events, and organizations. Kiran is the co-founder and volunteer public relations director for NorthWord magazine, Fort McMurray's first and only literary magazine. She is also the President/Co-founder of World Hijab Day Fort McMurray. A proud Pakistani-Canadian who grew up in New Jersey, she is a fierce advocate of Fort McMurray, multiculturalism, women's rights, and equality for all. Got a story nobody is telling? Send her ideas: DM and follow on Twitter @KiranMK0822.

Website: twitter.com/kiranmk0822