Wilson, Grisham, Bucci tapped for arts awards

Published 10:48 pm Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, best-selling author John Grisham and visual artist Andrew Bucci are among those who’ll receive the state’s top arts honor in 2009.

Also to be honored will be Wolfe Studio in Jackson, the WINGS Performing Arts Program of the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport and the University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.

The Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts are presented annually by the Mississippi Arts Commission.

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“It just makes you proud,” said MAC executive director Malcolm White. “And it makes me continue to be amazed by the product and the artists that we produce from this place.”

The honorees will receive their awards at a Feb. 26, 2009, public ceremony at Galloway United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson.

The awards recognize individuals and organizations for outstanding work in visual, literary and performing arts, community development through the arts and arts patronage. Honorees must have significant ties to Mississippi.

Bucci, a Vicksburg native now living in Fort Washington, Md., will be honored for lifetime achievement. He’s had paintings featured in venues such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, both in Washington, D.C.

“When I first saw his work, I guess 25 years ago, maybe longer, I was blown away by the simplicity of this man’s brushstrokes, and yet they conveyed so much … movement,” Jackson art gallery owner Mike Nunnery, who nominated Bucci, said. “His paintings are fresh and alive.”

Grisham, a household name for the success of his legal thrillers, will receive the award for literary achievement. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law and a former state representative. He now lives in Charlottesville, Va.

Wilson will be honored for artistic excellence in music. A singer, songwriter, producer and Jackson native, Wilson was slated to receive a Governor’s Award in 1997, but a hectic schedule prompted her to send regrets to the ceremony. Recipients must agree to receive the award in person.

A success on the New York jazz scene, Wilson returned to her home state to establish Ojah Media Group to document and market music from Mississippi.

“She’s internationally renowned and at the same time, she’s local, and she’s performing this quintessentially Mississippi product,” White said. “It’s blues and jazz and it’s of Mississippi.”

The award for artistic excellence of visual arts will go to Wolfe Fine Art Studio, a pioneer on the Jackson art scene and a vibrant outlet for original paintings, prints and ceramics since Karl and Mildred Wolfe established it in 1946. It’s now operated by their daughter, Bebe Wolfe, also an accomplished artist.

“I have long thought that my parents needed to receive this kind of award,” said Bebe Wolfe, who will receive it.

Karl Wolfe died in 1984 and Mildred Wolfe, now 96, is housebound. “It is a historic kind of recognition of my parents and the contribution they made to Mississippi art, which I think is substantial.”

The nationally recognized WINGS Performing Arts Program at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center will receive an arts in education award. The program, now in its ninth year, reaches schoolchildren, elementary through high school, on the Gulf Coast. It received the national Coming Up Taller Award, presented by First Lady Laura Bush, in 2007.

The USM Symphony Orchestra will be heralded for leadership in the arts. Established in 1920, it’s the oldest orchestra in the state and a leader in the region, and has performed with such international classical superstars such as Placido Domingo, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma.

Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts winners are nominated by members of the public, who also supply details, support materials and letters of endorsement. The six for 2009 were selected from more than 45 nominations, by a panel of experts that included past recipients and those who’ve worked in the arts for years.