Viola Awards celebrate Flagstaff’s arts and sciences

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The leading men and women of Flagstaff’s arts and sciences gathered for an evening of fun and frivolity at the High Country Conference Center for the fifth annual Viola Awards.

Named after the late Viola Babbitt, a painter and avid supporter of the arts, the Viola Awards gives recognition to those in Flagstaff who positively contribute to Flagstaff’s arts and science community.

The host of the Viola awards, Flagstaff Cultural Partners (FCP), is dedicated to recognizing excellence in the arts and sciences in the Flagstaff area.

“We just felt that there were so many talented people in this community that deserved recognition, and we wanted a way to honor them and recognize them and celebrate them,” said John Tannous, executive director of FCP.

Overall, the Viola Awards was a grand affair, which has often been dubbed the “Oscars of Flagstaff.” It was quite a turnout with 550 people in attendance, including Mayor Jerry Nabours.

A panel of 25 previous Viola award winners chose the six nominees for each of the 11 categories. With categories in science and art education, leadership, literature, performing arts, visual arts and music, recipients and the contributions to the community varied.

Science Educator Award

The award went to Bryan Bates, a professor at Coconino Community College (CCC) who has dedicated his life to the education in the scientific fields. Besides his teaching at CCC, Bates is a member of the Friends of Flagstaff’s Future Water Policy committee, and many other programs within the community. Even after giving so much to the community already, Bates says he’s not done yet.

“I’ll spend the rest of my life working on archeo-astronomy and the development of science in other cultures, because science is a human endeavor. It’s a process by which we try to gather information from the natural world to improve our lives,” Bates said.

The Performing Arts Award

This year’s winner was Tony Sutera, a retired public-school teacher. He has been in two local productions in the past year, and is a

huge contributor to the NAU theater program and theater programs in Flagstaff and Sedona.

The  Organization of the Year award was given to the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA). According to US News &World Report, FALA is ranked fifth overall of the state’s high schools.

“I feel like we all celebrate this award because we’re surrounded by working artists who understand how important it is to have arts in schools and they’ve contributed to our success,” said Becky Daggett, executive director of FALA.

The Mayor’s Lifetime Contribution

William Lowell Putnam was given the Mayor’s Lifetime Contribution to the Arts and Sciences award. Putnam is the Trustee of Lowell Observatory, and instrumental in its work.

Putnam has worked diligently as the lone trustee of the observatory, bringing widespread attention into Lowell’s outreach programs visitor facilities, especially the Steele Visitor Center constructed in 1994. His work has put both Lowell Observatory and Flagstaff on the astronomical map, leading Lowell to be included on Time magazine’s “100 Most Important Places” in 2012.

Viola Legacy Award

The Viola Legacy Award was given to the late Clifford E. White, known for his dedication and service to the NAU theater department. White was responsible for developing the first speech and theater curriculum and contributing to the development of communication and broadcasting at NAU.

Music Award – Jim DeBlois

A long-time outstanding member in the Flagstaff arts scene, DeBlois has been a staple in the Northern Arizona music scene, entertaining both adults and children with humor and guitar talent. He is an inspiration as both a source of strong communal support for Flagstaff arts and an avid participant as a musician.

Visual Arts Award – George Averbeck

A local glass blower for over 30 years, Averbeck has made a commitment to excellence both in his communally inspired art and contribution to Flagstaff organizations. His participation both in donation and personal effort to non-profit organizations includes Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, Second Chance Animal Shelter and Flagstaff Medical Center. His beautiful blown glass fixtures and selflessness make Averbeck highly deserving of the Visual Arts Award.

Arts Educator Award

Janeece Henes combines dedication and passion in her pursuit for quality arts education at FALA. As well as being an educator, she has led her students in many philanthropy projects, including the 11th Annual Empty Bowls Event. Active both inside and out of the classroom, she has set a high standard for arts educators within the community and for future Arts Educator Award winners.

Emerging Artist

NAU art professor Ryan Lamfers is versed in many mediums of visual arts, specializing in sculpture. His work has been shown at the national level, but mainly here in Flagstaff and Coconino County. His artwork is predicted to have a lasting impact in the community.

Organization of the Year Award – (FALA) Becky Daggett

FALA is committed to enhancing the lives of their students as well as the community. In 2012 the school was ranked fifth of all Arizona schools and 34th charter school in the nation. FALA offers a wide range of art classes from the performing arts, music, creative writing and visual arts.
“All of the artists and performers in this community have given so much to FALA, and they have enriched FALA in such a way that I feel like we all celebrate this award because we’re surrounded by working artists who understand how important it is to have art in schools,” says Becky Daggett Executive Director of FALA.

Literature Award

NAU graduate and humor writing professor Jill Divine displays an excellence in literature that is all too obvious. She teaches poetry to the inmates of Coconino County jail, and in 2012 published a book composed of their poetry. She is also the owner of 311 Martin street gallery.

Outstanding Event Award

After 10 years the Recycled Art Exhibition was finally officially recognized for its excellence. Artists’ Coalition of Flagstaff puts on the exhibition. All of the artwork displayed in the show is composed of at least 80 percent recycled material, and is supposed to promote more sustainable lifestyles.

Leadership Award

Journalist Betsey Bruner’s has been a catalyst in promoting the art scene in Flagstaff.  She is Arts and Cultural Editor for The Arizona Daily Sun, and has been accredited for much of the artistic success the community has become known for.
All of the Viola Award winners are dedicated to making Flagstaff a cultural beacon for the arts and sciences. For the full list of Viola Award recipients, visit



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