Connecticut Arts Hero Awards

Past CT Arts Heroes

2022 Connecticut Arts Heroes

  • Sosse Baker of Chester. Sosse is described as a cultural icon in Chester. With her late husband Jack, she founded Chester Gallery and made it the center for the local arts community where, for 36 years, newcomers were welcomed and introduced to the community. Sosse is an internationally known basketmaker, and she enthusiastically donates her work to charity, and has traveled to Uganda to help local makers create baskets that would be marketable to global consumers. For 17+ years, she has curated The Postcard Show featuring postcard size art by local artists. Through her ingenious Creative Challenge to Artists, which links town history with art, Sosse raises funds for the Chester Historical Society while bringing out the inner artist in others.

  • Matt Conway of East Granby. Matt is a community developer, public art & placemaking innovator. He is Founder and Executive Director of The RiseUP Group. RiseUP's mission is to empower communities to imagine new possibilities. He has organized hundreds of public art projects and created significant paid opportunities for professional Connecticut artists who use public art to uplift communities. Matt launched the Creative Leadership Internship Program, a safe and creative space where youth are exposed to real life public art opportunities and are mentored working alongside professional muralists. His latest projects are The Studio CT labs which are physical creative incubator spaces in Hartford and Bridgeport and The Art Club with the goal of cultivating a creative community where artists can collaborate, learn, and create together.

  • Kevin Diaz of New Haven. Kevin’s efforts in the community are 100% to keep the Afro-Puerto Rican/Caribbean culture alive. He is the Founder and Director of Movimiento Cultural Afro-Continental Inc, a community-based organization with a mission to educate people about Puerto Rico’s rich African-based folklore, music, dance, and other art forms, especially the Bomba. Bomba, which is one of the oldest musical traditions dating back to the 17th-century and rooted in slavery is a playful exchange between dancers, singers and drummers. Kevin's multifaceted commitment to Bomba artists is due to his selfless character and his vision of sharing a safe space for healing, learning and cultivating awareness, and self-esteem from one another. He has the doors open to anyone who wants to learn about the Afro-Puerto Rican culture or needs a place to strengthen their performance skills. There is no request too small for Kevin, he will always make you feel seen and heard.

  • Jim Felice of Ridgefield. Jim is a sculptor, a musician and a friend to all. At his Jim Felice Studio, you will encounter a full spectrum of art works ranging from graffiti to live performances to monumental sculpture. Jim is a “go-to” individual for established artists as well as amateur, emerging and unknown artists. He founded The Trailer Box Project to showcase the work of groundbreaking artists. The Trailer Box Project approaches the art gallery as a conceptual work of art where ideas are exchanged and curator and artist work together to create immersive exhibits. Jim is equally dedicated to bringing an audience to the artists whose work graces the walls. He has created a dynamic social hub with an environment of generosity, both for artists and for the surrounding community.

  • Bill Geddes of Woodbury. Bill has spent his life inspiring others through his passion for the arts.  His years as a high school music teacher were inspirational to his students, yet they were just a prelude to a new and unpaid “career” that has impacted every segment of the community.  Bill is the founder and current president of the Woodbury-Bethlehem Community Music Foundation, which provides financial support for music education initiatives. As founding director of the Arts Alliance of Woodbury, Bill created the Woodbury Arts Festival, Arts Meet & Greets and Arts Walks. At the height of the pandemic, when public performances of all kinds were shuttered, Bill donned a kilt and carried his Highland Bagpipes to the end of his driveway where he played daily at sunset, lifting the spirits of neighbors and others who came to listen from their cars.

  • Maricarmen Godoy of Norwalk. Maricarmen is a journalist, artist manager and philanthropist. She belongs to the fifth generation of a family of musicians from Ecuador. Maricarmen began singing sacred music from an early age, and made a living as a singer while she finished her journalism degree from Universidad Central de Ecuador. She migrated to the United States in 1997 with her daughter, Angie, who is an award-winning violinist and cultural entrepreneur. As a citizen artist and cultural promoter, she saw a need to advocate for emerging artists who have are pursuing their international careers. Her community work began at the Ecuadorian Civic Center in Danbury, Connecticut and she is a founding member for what is now the Ecuadorian Civic Committee of Stamford.In 2021, she founded En Vivo con Maricarmen, a non-profit organization that uplifts Latin-American artists. Throughout the pandemic, her philanthropic work directly supported musicians, sound engineers, and video editors in times when the stages were closed and artists were in crisis. As a journalist, Maricarmen amplifies community arts and cultural events. She is an editor for La Voz Hispana de Connecticut, a Spanish newspaper based in New Haven, and the anchor of En Vivo con Maricarmen, a Spanish radio news show on 103.5FM La Voz Radio. Maricarmen is a contributor to the Fairfield County Catholic newspaper, where she writes articles in Spanish. She serves as a volunteer bilingual translator and artist liaison for INTEMPO in Stamford.

  • Cristin RIvera of Niantic. Cristin is a talented designer and an all-around creative person.  She designs and creates beautiful and unique clothing, femme comfort for all people. She hopes to empower individuals through fashion. Cristin is the glue that holds together The Annex, an artist space co-founded and operated by local artists for the community to shop authentically and support local artists. She is described as an individual who has endless energy and creativity. She curates storefront displays, arts shows and installations and creates new clothing lines all while working full-time and caring for her family. She has been referred to as a Superwoman who knows how to connect and grow projects flawlessly.
  • Richard White of Coventry. Richard is an artist, photographer and teacher. He serves as President of the Coventry Arts Guild and has donated years of his time advocating for the arts and expanding public access to the visual arts in Northeastern Connecticut.  Richard curates a large outdoor public art exhibit in downtown Coventry, spearheads the annual Coventry Arts on Main event and has mentored young people in the visual arts and design for decades. Richard invests considerable energy into animating the arts in Coventry for the betterment of residents and visitors.

  • Stewart Wilson of New Hartford. Stewart has been fostering art in the community for 40 + years, founding three arts organizations, Public Image (1980-1984, NYC) and Artwell Gallery (1995-2011, Torrington). Stewart, the artist, is known for the Personas, his wrapped representatives from another dimension. He created over 31,000 Persona sculptures in human and animal form which has been exhibited in museums and galleries world-wide. The Personas have “come alive” in Stewart's latest project, Personaland – an online global arts village showcasing nearly 500 artists from 52 countries in 15 group and 37 individual artist galleries. In addition, you can enjoy movies, dancing flowers, a wishing well and challenging art games. He is known for his unflagging good humor and as a visionary artist who believes art is for everyone.

2021 Connecticut Arts Heroes

  • Jasmin Agosto of Hartford.  Jasmin’s vision for Sageseeker Productions was born out of a lifelong mission to build community through Black and POC-centered creative space. She has been organizing cultural events, festivals, and exhibitions alongside other artists, students, elders, community organizers, and through schools and nonprofits in Hartford since she was a teenager. After over 10 years of work, she continued to see a lack of performance opportunities for womxn of color, especially queer womxn of color, and after establishing her company, put together the first La Sala Femme event in May 2018.  La Sala Femme is a performance series where a diverse group of artists and healers come together to produce public experiences that release grief, inspire joy and cultivate curiosity with the community.  By day, she develops creative and intergenerational programming through her position at the Hartford History Center at Hartford Public Library. As a producer and curator, she brings to the forefront Black womxn, womxn of color, non-binary and queer artists with the goal of fostering nourishing collaborations across the state of Connecticut and setting a standard for care in curation and equity in paid creative work.

  • Andrew Camacho of New London.  Andrew, artistically known as Suave-Ski is a successful hip-hop artist, actively involved in the New London arts community (recently voted into the Cultural District Commission). From recording music to producing videos, graphic designs and websites for local artists and companies, he works to highlight musicians and events in the spirit of unity and collaboration.  He is all about community and is described as an all-around prolific artist and inspiration. He will soon be launching Artflame, a non-profit music mentorship program he created to provide a comfortable and creative environment for area youth to pursue their passions and promote positivity, artistic growth, and collaboration through the music-making process.

  • Shelby Davis of Waterbury.  Shelby is a life coach, author, theater enthusiast and educator with a love and passion for helping others.  He established City Youth Theater, a theater company committed to challenging each student to perform at their highest level on and off the stage.  Aside from impacting young adults through theater, Shelby has touched the lives of many through his books Meet Wyatt BrownEverything My Parents Taught Me in 6 Steps, a book centered around guiding, encouraging, and motivating individuals to believe in themselves and to reach for their goals. 

  • Marti Etter of Stamford.  Marti is co-founder and executive director of The Ballet School of Stamford, a non-profit devoted to nurturing young dancers through a disciplined and focused training program that brings out the best of their natural talent.   Students are never turned away because they cannot afford classes – Marti finds a way to provide scholarships to all those who want to dance. She is passionate about arts education and the change it can bring to a child’s life.

  • Kerry Kincy of Middletown.  Kerry is an artist with a strong commitment to bringing expressive arts into all spaces and all communities, particularly in underserved and invisible populations who are not traditionally served by arts organizations. Ms. Kincy is a core faculty member with New Haven Ballet’s Shared Abilities Program where dancers with and without physical disabilities work in partnership to create performances. She provides the vocabulary and the tools to utilize the transformative power of movement /dance to both typical and differently-abled communities, in schools, colleges, Alzheimer's residential programs, hospitals, correctional facilities and with veterans with PTSD.  Kerry is the Founder and Director of Free Center Middletown and facilitates free programming with all ages, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to move together as a tool to strengthen social and cognitive abilities and an awareness of the mind/body connection as a path to healing. Kerry is an Expressive Arts Consultant to organizations and institutions,collecting data to understand the efficacy of their programming.

  • Angaza and Effie Mwando of Torrington.  Effie and Angaza use the arts as a way to connect the community.  They are described as the most loving, positive, accepting and inspiring individuals who work tirelessly (in their "retirement") to promote the celebration of all cultures and encourage people of different backgrounds to come together.  Through their work, they highlight and educate the community about black culture and have risen to the forefront of advocacy for cultural unity.  They also work with schools to bring diversity programming into the classrooms, and they encourage local groups to share with each other through art.

  • Daniela L. Sikora of Ridgefield.  Daniela is a musician, vocal teacher/coach, artistic director and conductor of the Ridgefield Chorale and the Founders Hall Singers. Throughout her career, Daniela has championed artistic collaboration and community access to the arts in Ridgefield and beyond. She believes that the arts are a necessary and vital part of the human experience, foster positive social interactions and are major economic drivers in our communities.

  • Kim Weston of Guilford.  Kim is a mother of six children, photographer, artist and teacher who has dedicated her life to sharing fine art and photography to people of all ages and abilities regardless of their circumstances or resources. She encourages students to aspire to use their craft to express their emotions and feelings to process experiences and explore their environments. Not only does Kim teach her craft with an enthusiasm that is infectious and inspiring, she also enlightens students on how to be successful and create a fruitful living doing so. She is deeply dedicated to serving her community by developing artists from within the community and preparing them for the next step in their artistic journey. She is in the process of opening Wábi Gallery in downtown New Haven that will feature fine art and photography from Connecticut artists, national emerging artists and a photography mentorship program for teens.

2020 Connecticut Art Heroes

  • Brian Cohen of Chaplin. Brian is an artist and a coordinator and promoter of art and artists. Through his work through Positive Expressions 93, he encourages youth to be creative, have pride in their artistry, and appreciate the art of others. Brian has donated his artwork to libraries, schools and other non-profit organizations. His proudest donation is to Camp Harkness in Waterford where three of his cedar sculptures help anchor the Enchanted Sensory Garden.

  • Semina De Laurentis of Torrington.  Semina is the founder and artistic director of Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury.  She has devoted herself for the past 30 years to making a difference for thousands of people by ensuring that the theater and all its activities are accessible and open to all.  Through her work, Semina reaches out to all demographics with diversity and openness in casting, programming, volunteerism and employment.

  • Lucy Gellman of New Haven.  Lucy is a tireless advocate for the arts. She is a reporter, critic, "under-dog cheerleader" and mentor.  She is described as "a magnifying glass, flashlight, amplifier and connector for all who care about the arts".  Lucy is the editor of The Arts Paper, a publication of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, and she is the co-founder of the Youth Arts Journalism Project that creates a pathway for youth to gain journalism skills.

  • Edward Lent of Guilford.  Edward, also known as Ezra Lovecroft, is a published poet with a devotion to spreading love of the spoken word.  He coordinates events (kids painting to poetry, open mic poetry nights, writing workshops for seniors) that bring together people of all ages, backgrounds, culture and race to feel heard, "to be honest to the point of tears or laughter" and to "shed the masks that we so often hide behind everyday can be remarkable!".  He donates all proceeds from his events to homeless shelters, food pantries and local farms growing pollinator pathways.

  • Marilyn Malcarne of Deep River.  Marilyn is a dedicated, passionate and loving artist who understands that creativity at an early age motivates children to love art throughout their lives. She is a sculptor, painter, photographer, certified milliner and polymer clay artist. Marilyn's career was spent as an art teacher at Regional District #4 for 37 years,1 1/2 years at John Winthrop Middle School and taught ceramics at Middlesex Community College. In addition Marilyn has been involved with the Deep River Junior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps for the past 38 years holding the position of Director for 34 of those years. Since 1995 Marilyn has had Starry Night Studio in Chester, where dozens of children spent weeks immersed in art, science and nature every summer.

  • Terry Starks of Hartford.  Terry is the co-creator of Hartford's Proud Drill Drum and Dance Corp, a non-profit with the mission to use sound, movement and artistry for personal development among youth. Founded in 2013 with co-creator/husband Duffy, Hartford's Proud aims to keep Hartford youth safe and out of trouble by giving them something to do during the times they are not in school.  Terry has given thousands of young Hartford residents a creative outlet through drums and dance, as well as a safe space of their own where they receive support and guidance on life.

  • JoAnne Torti of Bethlehem.  JoAnne is the founder and executive director of ASAP!, an educational organization that fosters creative, hands-on learning through the arts. She believes that when we honor children’s imaginations, invite them to create, encourage them to take risks, and trust their resourcefulness, they will become the empowered, resilient, and compassionate adults the world really needs.

  • Brian Walters of Bethel.  Brian is the co-founder and curator of the In View Project of Danbury. This is a storefront art project that welcomes local and regional artists to showcase their work in vacant storefronts in greater Danbury at no cost for a two month period. Brian has long advocated for artists in the community and collaborated with area artists, businesses and local government to build a sustainable arts and culture scene in Western Connecticut. Beyond that Walters has maintained a sculpture studio since 2003. His work has been exhibited internationally. Brian specializes in interior scaled work made from salvaged metal that he collects throughout Connecticut.

  • Derron Wood of New London.  Derron is the founder and artistic director of Flock Theatre in New London.  He believes that theater can make a difference in the lives of people and is an tireless advocate for making theater accessible to all members in the community.

2019 Connecticut Arts Heroes

  • Andrea Aron of Madison.  Andrea is an artist and an arts advocate who has dedicated her life to learning the arts and passing her knowledge onto the next generation. She advocates for the arts to be on the top of the priority list in Connecticut and is dedicated to ensuring that everyone has an equal change and ability to experience the arts.
  • Rebecca Atkins of Norwich.  Becca uses the arts to change people's lives. Through Artreach's music/comedy/performances, she promotes recovery, increases resiliency and enhances the quality of life for so many. She is true inspiration who uses the power of the arts as a healing tool.
  • Chris Belden of Ridgefield.  Chris' compassion for those that are often ignored in society shines through with the dedication he brings to the inmate at Garner Correctional Center during his weekly volunteer creative-writing sessions. He believes all people deserve the right to express themselves, he allows that freedom to the inmates.
  • Bill Dougal of Lebanon.  Bill provides laughter, creativity and smiles from ear-to-ear to children at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC). His talent for creating a caricature at lightning speed has children in awe and helps them forget why they are in the hospital for a little while; and that means the to world to the children and the parents.
  • Jason Farquharson of HartfordJason believes in his hometown of Hartford and in the beauty of the people who reside in its different neighborhoods. His Hartford Paint the City project focuses on the people and Jason celebrates them through his magnificent murals. He wants to change the way people think about Hartford by changing the way they see Hartford.
  • Judith McElhone of Torrington.  Judy is a force! She has created a hub for visual art in NW CT and has created opportunities for artists in every stage of their career. She is self-less, kind, generous with her time and talent and has been a force in making the careers of young artists come alive for decades.
  • Luciana McClure of Hamden.  Lucy is an inspiring leader, a selfless advocate and a fierce motivator of social change through artistic expression and activism. She is the founding organizer of the Nasty Women Movement and leads Nasty Women Connecticut. She unites communities, amplifies the voices of minorities and raises resources for countless organizations throughout Connecticut.
  • Rene Soto of Norwalk.  Rene uses arts to heal, unify and inspire other artists. He has made the Rene Soto Gallery a home for artists to express themselves and share their work. It has become a welcoming home for local and international artists, poets, dancers and more.
  • Chase Taylor of Waterbury.  Chase is a passionate young artist and author of engaging children's books that encourage a love of learning and imaginative play. He has championed the hurdles of his Autism diagnosis and is an inspirational role model to many; proving that having a disability does not mean a person is incapable of achieving big goals and dreams.

2018 Connecticut Arts Heroes 

  • Kim Stroud of Madison. Kim is a dancer, dance teacher and the director of the arts at CREC Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts.
  • Shanna Melton of Bridgeport. Shanna is a poet, curator and leader of the Writer's Group based in the City Light's Art Gallery in Bridgeport.
  • Calida Jones of Hartford. Calida is a violinist, a violin teacher and the artistic director of Bravo Waterbury! at the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra.
  • Dr. Jose Gonzalez of Quaker Hill. Jose is a poet, writer and professor of English at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
  • Mark Aldrich of Newtown. Mark is the founder of THE GARNER PLAYERS, a playwriting and performance program at Garner Correctional Institute. He produces plays written and performed by inmates through the Theatre Arts & Opportunities Foundation and volunteers at the Alternatives to Violence Project at McDougall, Cheshire and Garner Correctional Institutions.
  • Leslie Elias of West Cornwall. Leslie is co-founder and artistic director of the Grumbling Gryphons Traveling Children's Theatre, as well as a published playwright, director, actress, storyteller and teaching artist.
  • Elizabeth Morgan of Middletown. Elizabeth is a youth advocate and a former board member of Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown, where she also served as the volunteer executive director. 
  • Mohamad Hafez of New Haven. Mohamed is a Syrian-born artist, architect and co-founder of UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, a multimedia installation that seeks to humanize the word "refugee."
  • Kerri Quirk of Willimantic, with her escort Tom Menard. Kerri is a visual artist and a person with autism who is deaf. Kerri's art is her voice.

2017 Connecticut Arts Heroes

  • Adam Atkins of Winsted. Adam has taught music at The Gilbert School in Winsted for over 20 years. He is an educator who is highly dedicated to his students' success and devotes significant time when the school day ends to support his students.
  • Bruce John of Willimantic. Bruce is the founder of the Breadbox Folk Theatre, a music and open mic venue whose concerts have raised over $40,000 to feed individuals and families in need throughout the Windham region and provides funds to offset the cost of heating the No Freeze shelter in Willimantic.
  • Suzanne Kachmar of Bridgeport. Suzanne, a self-proclaimed "Bridgeport Art Lifer,” is a pioneer and leader in the Bridgeport arts community. She created the Bridgeport Art Trail, a four-day celebration of all things creative, cultural and arts-related in Bridgeport.
  • Lynnette Letsky Piombo of Waterbury. Lynnette is a long-time volunteer in the Waterbury arts community, advocating for and participating in a diverse set of arts-related projects, programs and organizations.
  • Wendy Black-Nasta is the founder of Artists for World Peace, a group of artists and activists who promote peace and support some of the world's greatest challenges.
  • Dayna Snell of New Britain. Dayna is the executive director and co-founder of Queen Anne Nzinga Center in New Britain where she promotes positive youth development among children of all races and abilities.
  • Allison Stockel of Ridgefield. Allison is an active community participant and supporter of the arts who volunteers her time and expertise to The Ridgefield Playhouse as the executive director. She also supports the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, Ability Beyond Disability and the Keeler Tavern Museum.
  • Joy Supples of Groton. Joy is an art instructor at the Ella T. Grasso Technical High School in Groton where she has taught studio art since 2005. Joy is the founder of the Connecticut Submarine Trail which raises the profile of the region's military heritage.
  • Aaron Jafferis of New Haven. Aaron writes and teaches poetry, spoken word and hip hop to middle and high school students in the City of New Haven, where he organizes two citywide poetry jams and runs The Word program, which engages hip hop artists to work as teaching artists in the New Haven public school system.

2016 Connecticut Arts Hero

The first Arts Hero Award was presented in 2016 to the Connecticut Office of the Art’s grant administrator, Lourdes "Lu" Rivera, who has worked in the state's arts office, through its many name changes and merges, for over 25 years. In 2018, she celebrated her 30-year anniversary with the arts office.