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Constance Alexander: Governor’s Awards in the Arts ‘celebrate the talents of so many Kentuckians’

Sunlight streamed through the stained-glass dome as snippets of conversation echoed in the hallowed halls of the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. A statue of native son Abraham Lincoln stood in the center, calmly observing the increasing hubbub while guests and recipients assembled last week for the Governor’s Awards in the Arts 2022.

The speeches — including a flurry of official statements from Kentucky Arts Council board officers and cabinet officials representing Tourism, Arts and Heritage — began as soon as Governor Andy Beshear arrived.

Murray Art Guild Executive Director Debi Henry Danielson accepts the Community Arts Award on behalf organization (Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet)

The tone shifted from formal to heartfelt when Governor Andy spoke. He praised the opportunity to “celebrate the talents of so many Kentuckians,” and described the arts as “transformative.” The governor also referred to the role of the arts in the healing process related to the aftermath of last year’s floods in eastern Kentucky and the tornados that ravaged western Kentucky in 2021.

The REAL celebration began with a stunning invocation and musical performance by Fred Nez-Keams. Born and raised in a border town between Arizona and New Mexico on the Navajo Nation, he has lived in Mercer County for the past 16 years.

Each Governor’s Award 2022 recipient received one of Nez-Keams’ handmade Navajo storyteller flutes, each one fashioned by hand from red cedar of Mercer County.

“Every flute I make carries a piece of me,” Nez-Keams said.

He shared his culture by continuing in Diné, his Navajo language, honoring the clans on both his mother’s and father’s sides. He ended with, “Aheé heé,” or thank you.

As he played a piece dedicated to his wife, Anige Nez-Keams, the sound filled the space and floated 180 up, all the way up to the dome. The interplay of notes sounded like a conversation. At the end of each phrase, an identical one-note was repeated, with slightly different intonation each time.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Nine awards were given in recognition of individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the arts in Kentucky. Murray was well-represented by the Murray Art Guild, lauded for its work in Community Arts.

In accepting the award, Executive Director Debi Henry Danielson cited a series of examples that illustrate the range of individuals and audiences served by MAG. She started with the annual Empty Bowls project, organized in partnership with Need Line of Murray, as part of a national effort to combat hunger.

Her official statement declared that receiving the Community Arts Award “fully validates our efforts towards our mission of community arts development. As we support artists and creative endeavors in the area, one of our biggest pleasures is bringing people together through art. We know that art can foster communication and understanding, build confidence and relationships, and express feelings, ideas and experiences. With this recognition we hope even more people will get involved in our workshops, exhibitions and events, and that the arts will continue to thrive in Murray and Calloway County.”

The Business Award went to another west Kentucky organization, Independence Bank of Graves County. Accepting on behalf of the bank, President Darvin Towery referred to the historic tornado that devastated the downtown of Mayfield.

“Although the bank only received slight damage,” he said, “many other businesses and families lost everything. For the last year the Graves County bank has been on a mission to help Mayfield get through its worst natural disaster, with one of those ways being through art. The Horses of Hope project brought attention to the need for relief efforts and contributed funds to the Mayfield Graves County Art Guild, which had lost its location at the historic Ice House gallery.”

The awards ceremony wrapped up in an hour, but a reception allowed for more extended conversations and congratulations.

Afterward, Fred Nez-Keams, musician and flute maker, expressed regret “for not thanking all the ones that got me where I am today. My wife, family, friends, mentor, and supporters.”

“I am truly blessed from the Creator,” he added, a sentiment that sums up the blessings the arts yield every day, even when there is no applause, no awards.

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