Last minute Vallejo arts awards

Last week I was reminded about the [tag]Annual Vallejo Commission on Culture and the Arts Awards[/tag] when I saw a small notice in the Vallejo Times Herald about the awards ceremony to be held tomorrow evening, (Thursday October 12, 2006) at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum right down the block from my little office. I knocked myself on the forehead when I saw it and asked myself ‘how could I have forgotten?’

What’s the big deal? You might well be asking yourself that right now. Unfortunately, the answer is that it is anything but a big deal. In fact it appears to be more of a well kept secret. The big deal is that no one, and I mean no one, appears to have given it much thought.

I’m not on the [tag]Vallejo Commission for Culture and the Arts[/tag]. No one at Listen & Be Heard is. But for the previous three years, we took it upon ourselves to get nomination forms from the City Clerk’s office and distribute them widely. We put notices in our publications about the awards. The result was that the Committee received numerous nominations in all the categories. They chose the winners in each category from the nominees. The Committee itself did little to nothing to publicize either the need for nominations or the awards ceremony which, according to members of the committee themselves, was thrown together at the last minute. Indeed, last year the awards were not even engraved yet, and had to be returned at the end of the night.

Although we ourselves were recipients of awards, I wrote an editorial last year in which I proposed that it would have been a great thing if the members of the committee had actually visited each of the nominees and learned something about them. It was hard to understand how they could choose winners without ever actually visiting them in their artistic domain or even directly speaking with them.

So, I knocked myself on my forehead because I knew that because, I Martha Mims, was too busy and had forgotten about the Annual Vallejo Commission on Culture and the Arts Awards Ceremony, and hadn’t called the real grapevine into action, that the Vallejo Commission on Culture and the Arts would have no nominations to choose from. Do you think this is my ego speaking? Let me assure you it is not. I attempted to prove myself wrong.

Last week I asked Cyndi Combs to call around and try to find out who the nominees are this year. That’s because even though our office is right here in downtown Vallejo, and any one of the members could have dropped off a press release at any time with that information, we did not have a list of nominees, or any information about the ceremony. On Tuesday morning, having received no reply from anyone, she once again made some calls. Finally, in the afternoon, she received a list of the winners, who of course, an hour or two later we were asked not to reveal ahead of time. But honestly, who cares? Who even has an inkling what the point is? Why did we get a list of winners instead of nominees? Because there were virtually no nominations. So the Vallejo Commission on Culture and the Arts chose a few winners from among the people they knew, and called it a night. On my advance copy of Thursday?s program is a note that there will be a raffle that night to raise money for student scholarships. Rick Mariani Photography has offered to match all funds raised from the raffle. Too bad we didn?t know anything about that either.

Now if I was an artist, and I had an ego…it would be feeling bruised and beaten by the city that claims to have plans for a downtown arts revival. If you are an artist and don’t already understand what’s wrong with this picture, then maybe you are also a victim of the last minute approach that is depriving you of the reward of actually fulfilling worthy goals. No one asked me, but here once again are some of my thoughts on what a Commission on Culture and the Arts with a laughable budget could still accomplish in one year. But first let me just say that anyone applying to the city for a seat on the commission should be required to commit themselves to the following suggestions, or some other clearly defined program. If they claim that they do not have the time, then they should not be allowed to serve on the Commission. The word volunteer does not mean unprofessional.

The Commission could assemble a press list of all the appropriate media outlets in the bay area. In January they coul send an e-mail press release (free) to every media outlet (including of course Listen & Be Heard, Arts, Culture and Entertainment Magazine,) notifying them of the need for citizens of Vallejo to nominate artists deserving recognition for their work. Nomination forms should be readily available by January and distributed in all the arts venues in the city, where patrons of the arts would presumably pick them up, fill them out and send them in. The deadline should be set for around June or July.

While waiting for nominations to come in, the committee could have one meeting in which they discuss ways to work on making the ceremony grow from year to year. The goal should be to gain wider recognition in northern California for the Arts in the City of Vallejo. Some suggestions. Reach out to local businesses for meaningful donations, or useful awards to the artists being recognized. Reach out to local organizations that are already supposed to be promoting Vallejo’s Downtown, and other city arts organizations like Vallejo Community Arts Foundation, and ask for assistance in spreading the word about the awards. These organizations could include the ceremony in their announcements, and the winners’ names in their promotional literature etc.

A month later, have another meeting in which the members plan ahead for the ceremony. At this meeting they can decide what entertainers they will invite. They divide the tasks among them of contacting the performers, collecting their bios and pictures, putting together another press release and having it ready for when they have a list of nominees.

As soon as they have the final list of nominees, the committee can meet for a third time. At this meeting they assemble the final press release for the big day, and delegate the responsibility for sending out another free e-mail press release to the media which includes details about the ceremony, a list of nominees and information about the awards that will be given out. They look at the list of nominees. They divide the list and delegate groups of three or four members to do some research and learn more about each of the nominees and come back in a month with a short list of possible winners.

Meeting number four. The Commission gets together, they decide when they can actually visit each of the nominees on the short list, or in some way have a direct experience of their work. Over the next couple months they accomplish the visits and then have a final meeting when they decide who the winners are. The awards are ordered with everyone’s names on them. Invitations are also ordered. In early September a final press release is sent out with the final details about the ceremony, invitations are sent to all the nominees, nominators, and as many people involved in as many local and regional arts organizations as possible.

Four meetings and a little time in the field. Some well timed e-mails and suddenly the award winners, and the entertainers who donate their time on the night of the ceremony can all bask in the recognition which is supposed to be the point of the whole exercise. A commission without a budget can create a memorable awards ceremony in which an artist winning an award, (even if the award itself has no real value), can feel some pride in being truly recognized for their efforts. What’s about to take place tomorrow night will do little to serve the future of the arts in Vallejo or even anyone directly involved in the ceremony.

Yours in Poetry and Freedom of Expression
Martha Mims

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