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Spokane Arts’ 2021 Arts Awards recipients are Inland Northwest Opera, Stage Left Theater, Kate Lebo and Darrien Mack

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 19, 2021

Spokane Arts announced the recipients of its 2021 Arts Awards on Saturday during a small, private celebration for the nominees as the full event was canceled amid increased public health issues related to the COVID-19 delta variant.

The Arts Awards recognize the accomplishments of creatives, arts and cultural organizations and local individuals committed to enriching the community through the arts.

Nominations were submitted in an open call for community members to submit nominations.

The four award categories reflect the values of Spokane Arts: leadership, collaboration, imagination and inclusion. Nominees were reviewed by a panel of arts commissioners and community arts representatives, and they selected the winners.


Inland Northwest Opera has been named the leadership winner. INO was a key advocate for performing arts in the state, petitioning Gov. Jay Inslee to find ways to include performing arts in reopening plans. INO worked to find new ways to safely bring music to the public. Starting with Opera Grams in the summer of 2020, INO spent 2021 building an Opera Truck to serve as a mobile concert stage and hosted free performances in parks and neighborhoods.

Dawn Wolski, INO general and artistic director, said in the leadership nominee video, “Our mission is to bring beauty and joy and incredible music to the entire Northwest, so how we did that changed a bit, but why we do it and what we’re doing hasn’t changed at all. When people couldn’t come to us in the theaters, we came to them.”


Stage Left Theater has been named the inclusion winner. Stage Left has been part of the theater community for a decade and recently took strides in building an inclusive theater under the leadership of executive director Jeremy Whittington, including new and creative collaborations and focusing on sharing new and uncommon stories.

Stage Left pivoted in 2020 to create performances that could be livestreamed, focusing on one-person shows and other projects that could be successful in changing COVID-19-related restrictions.

One nominator wrote, “The constant creation of online productions during the pandemic reached thousands of people who had been confined to their homes, bringing art and joy into the lonely seclusion of the past year. Truly, this little theater included everyone at a time when everyone felt cut off and alone.”


The imagination award recipient is Kate Lebo, whose latest work is “Book of Difficult Fruit,” a collection of essays with recipes. Lebo is a writer, cook and cooking teacher, and her work is united by her curiosity to explore the connections that food creates and supports.

One nominator wrote, “Her blending of personal essay, natural history, folklore and functional recipes was like nothing I’ve ever read before. Kate has been a vibrant part of Spokane’s literary (and culinary!) scene for many years, and it’s exciting to see her reach the next level in imagination and creativity with her new book.”


The recipient of the collaboration award is Darrien Mack, whose creative endeavors span a range of mediums. Mack is a filmmaker, dancer, DJ, storyteller and designer.

One nominator wrote, Darrien is a “multidisciplinary creative with a strong commitment to his own unique aesthetic, always holding every project to the highest quality standards.” His work at Community-Minded Television as well as his collaborations with community groups and artists means that he is behind the scenes of many Spokane projects.

In addition to the four main categories, the Karen Mobley Impact Award, which is not named every year but is reserved to recognize extraordinary impact on the arts community, was given to Don Hamilton of Hamilton Studios for his decades of work as a creative and in his generosity in supporting other artists and arts organizations.

“Don Hamilton is amazing and supports organizations big and small at no cost or very little,” said Ben Stuckart, executive director of the Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium and a former Spokane City Council president, in Spokane Arts’ news release. “I have always wondered how they stay in business because he is always giving. Don is a community treasure.

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