WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — The Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture hosted its inaugural Arts and Cultural Empowerment awards on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, at the Wichita Falls Regional Airport.

The Alliance Senior Program Director, Margie J. Reese, summed up the purpose of the awards with one statement.

“You must support artists, who are indeed the soul of any community,” Reese said.

The Alliance has been a catalyst for creativity in Wichita Falls since organizing as a non-profit in 2014, which is why it hosted its first award ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

Over 70 businesses, artists, creatives, local leaders, and elected officials were nominated for the inaugural ACE Awards. Of those, 20 were selected as finalists.

Mary Ferguson, the President of the Alliance’s Board, said the ACE Awards are a reflection of the Alliance’s overall purpose; to support, strengthen, and honor those making our communities more vibrant.

“One of the main parts of our mission of the Alliance of Arts and Culture is to celebrate art in all of its various forms,” Ferguson said. “I think to celebrate art, you have to celebrate the artists, the makers, the doers, the people who support it financially, emotionally, physically, because art is what is building the character of our community.”

Building a vibrant community starts with building artists at an early age, which is why the Alliance awarded the Outstanding Arts Educator award to Hirschi High School’s Jessica B. Johnson.

“We’re just trying to get the kids out of their comfort zone and be able to express themselves freely and have the confidence and build the confidence in order to do that,” Johnson said.

Johnson was one of three educators nominated for the award. And, in a serendipitous moment, she won the award over her former art teacher. The student became the teacher, and she gave him all the credit.

“He was one of them that inspired me to keep doing art,” Johnson said. “To stay in the art classroom and keep creating art. It was just a means of me coping through things.”

Kids who love the arts grow into adults who love the arts, like local business owner Danny Martinez of Trueheart Brands, LLC.

“I come from a very artistic family,” Martinez said. “So arts and entertainment have always been very instilled in us, ya know, that is just what we do, and I try to incorporate that in all of our businesses and, ya know, create that environment for everybody.”

And for his work creating alliances with arts and cultural organizations, Martinez was named Business Champion of the Arts.

“Recognition, especially from the group of people that I was nominated with, it’s always an amazing thing,” Martinez said. “It really shows us that what we’re doing in the community is really impacting the community in a great way.”

Perhaps nothing has put Wichita Falls on the maker’s map quite like the Art Battle.

Bob Barrow was the man who made his dream of the Art Battle in Wichita Falls a reality. He was personally chosen by the Alliance Senior Program Director Margie J. Reese to receive her namesake Innovation Award.

“It has been so neat to get people behind this and support it because it was a longshot,” Barrow said. “It’s been great for the growth, I believe, of our cultural community of the artists.”

The Art Battle and its influence have grown beyond the city limits. Wichita Falls is the home of the National Art Battle, gaining attention across the world.

“Not only in Wichita Falls, but people from around the state, around the country, actually around the world, know that we are a cultural place and we support our artists,” Barrow said.

The impact of the arts on Wichita Falls is evident everywhere you look, and the Alliance is at the forefront, continuing to foster local creativity.

Ferguson said they’re excited for the future of the arts in our city and they’re ready to acknowledge the next wave of artists, business owners, and community leaders who will make it all possible.

The full list of the 2022 ACE Awards can be found below:

  • Outstanding Arts Educator – Jessica B. Johnson, Wichita Falls ISD
  • Business Champion of the Arts – Danny Martinez, Trueheart Brands, LLC
  • The Maker Award – Katie Britt, Katiedid Designz
  • Distinguished Artist of the Year – Mishic and Val Liberatore, Wichita Falls Ballet Theater
  • Distinguished Cultural Organization – Arts Council Wichita Falls Area, Inc.
  • Inclusion Advancement Award – 9th Street Studios
  • Margie J. Reese Innovation Award – Bob Barrow, Art Battle

Additionally, Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana presented the Mayor’s Choice Award to the Museum of North Texas History. This award, which he selected, was to be presented to an individual or an organization that has made a significant contribution to the arts and cultural climate of the City of Wichita Falls.  

The Alliance is conducting a survey to help shape the future of Arts and Culture in Wichita Falls and the surrounding area. The survey represents a first step toward identifying community goals and priorities for Arts & Culture in your area. 

By sharing your experiences and ideas for Arts and Culture, we can be certain that we are delivering programs and services that will benefit you and your family.

The survey can be found on the Alliance’s website.