People who help bring the arts to the Wabash Valley got a big “Thank you” on Thursday night from Arts Illiana and dozens of local arts supporters.

Arts Illiana, a 29-year-old not-for-profit organization, honored educators, volunteers, artists and others at its 15th annual Bravo Awards.

“The arts are wonderful and they are alive and thriving in the Wabash Valley,” said Sherri Wright, regional services coordinator for Arts Illiana and one of the award presenters at the event.

The 2009 Arts Educator Bravo award was given to Debra Goecker, an elementary music teacher at Terre Town Elementary School. Bev Cristee, a local real estate professional, was given the Volunteer Service Bravo and Clyde Kersey, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, received the 2009 Advocacy Bravo award.

“It’s a great honor to receive this award,” Kersey told the audience of about 120 gathered in a theater in the Indiana State University Center for Performing and Fine Arts. Kersey said he and other House lawmakers restored more than $1 million in arts funding that had been cut from the state budget by Gov. Mitch Daniels. “We’re going to do what we can to keep that money in” the budget, he said.

Terre Haute sculptor Bill Wolfe received the 2009 professional artist Bravo and Solly Burton, 17, of rural Sullivan County, received the Youth Arts Achievement Award.

“I’m really excited about winning this award,” Burton said. He and last year’s professional artist award recipient, Brent McPike, played two songs for the audience. McPike played guitar and Burton played his instrument of choice, the mandolin.

“We found a mandolin at a yard sale,” Burton said after the ceremony when asked why he chose the uncommon instrument. While many people he knew played the violin, “nobody played the mandolin, so I wanted to do that,” he said.

Burton, who started playing the mandolin at age 9 and has won numerous musical competitions, will soon be featured on the National Public Radio program “From the Top,” and has produced a CD of his music, which is available online at www.sollyburton.com.

The first song McPike and Burton played for the audience, “Don’t miss your turn,” was written by McPike for Burton. The second, “Grandfather’s Clock,” is an old classic tune.

Also Thursday evening, Baesler’s Market received the award for outstanding corporate contributions to the arts and Marilyn Pendergast was given a posthumous award for her years of contributions to the arts in the Wabash Valley. Wabash Capital, a local investment management company, sponsored the evening’s program, which also featured music performed by the ISU Student Steel Drum Ensemble.

Finally, Casey Chaney, program chair for visual communications at Ivy Tech Community College, received the 2009 lifetime achievement Bravo. Cheney, who has taught at Ivy Tech for 24 years, received a standing ovation for her efforts on behalf of the arts in the Wabash Valley.

“I am so humbled by this,” Chaney said after the awards presentations. “The arts feed our soul. That’s what keeps us going.”

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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