By Barb Van Atta
The Broome County Arts Council’s Heart of the Arts awards returned today (Sept. 4) with tributes to four members of the local cultural community. Honorees were announced at a 10:30 a.m. press conference at the BCAC offices in downtown Binghamton, hosted by arts council executive director Sharon Ball and BCAC board president Jim Rollo.  They are:

• HOTA Lifetime Achievement Award — Albert Hamme, jazz musician and educator;
• Heart of the Arts Award – Judy Berry, soprano and former marketing director and interim general director of Tri-Cities Opera, and Joshua B. Ludzki, BingSpot co-creator, promoter and media personality;
• inaugural Frederick R. Xlander Emerging Artist Award – painter Gianna Putrino.

Created in 2004, the HOTA program honors individuals who have made their mark on the arts in Broome County. Following a public nomination process, Lifetime Achievement winners, honored for long-term contributions, are chosen by a vote of the BCAC board of directors and HOTA winners, honored for more recent contributions, are chosen through a ballot vote among the BCAC’s 118 member organizations, arts businesses and individual artists.
Nominations for the new Xlander Award, named in honor of arts patron and former BCAC board president Fred Xlander, come from BCAC visual artists and visual arts organizations, and the winner is chosen by the BCAC board. Candidates must be 18 to 39 years old as of Sept. 22, the date of the HOTA awards ceremony, and have lived and worked in Broome County continuously for one year prior to that date. They must have “a demonstrated history of producing original works of visual art” but have never had a solo exhibition in a gallery. The award was created to “recognize and encourage a visual artist with the demonstrated intention and recognized potential to develop as an artist and as an active participant in the arts community in Broome County.”
Lifetime Achievement Award
HOTA Al HammeJazz was always part of Al Hamme’s upbringing. His father played saxophone and clarinet with big bands. His private teachers had their own combos. But the “a-ha” moment came when he was in junior high and starting to get asked to play gigs.
“One New Year’s Eve, I filled in for my father and was amazed at the way in which the older players could not only read music, but also played very well without it,” he recalled recently. “When midnight came, the band played Auld Lang Syne, and, after a few choruses, the tempo picked up, and each member in turn stood up to play solos. I had no idea what was happening, but when the leader pointed to me, I panicked and shook my head in a negative fashion. He insisted, so I finally stood up and tried to play like the rest of the musicians had done before me. Well, I never felt such a surge of freedom!”
Despite this lifetime love affair with what he calls America’s indigenous music, Hamme was still surprised that a HOTA Lifetime Achievement Award would go to a jazz musician. “I’m still not sure that I should be the first jazz performer to be chosen for this award even though I’ve spent a lot of time and energy in the promotion of the various forms of jazz. I did it in part because I felt that the art form needed more exposure in our geographical area, but I was also doing it so that I would get a chance to perform with better and even well-known musicians, those who possessed superior technical facility and the unique talent to worship the muse on the highest of plains.”
Hamme founded the jazz program at Binghamton University in 1964 and directed it for 33 years. The BU professor emeritus also directed the concert band and wind chamber music programs and served terms as director of undergraduate students for the music department and chairman of the department. He served as the director of the Cornell Jazz Ensemble for six years and was chosen to be the first artistic director of the School of Jazz Studies for the New York State Summer School of the Arts Program.
A woodwind (saxophone, clarinet, flute) artist, producer, arranger and composer, Hamme has performed and recorded with many jazz and big band greats. He is a founding member of the Presbybop Quartet, a jazz quartet that specializes in music for worship, and currently is a member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Repertory Orchestra, which is in residence at Marywood University. In 2012, the Binghamton Jazz Festival at July Fest presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Hamme for his “contributions to the performance, education and appreciation of jazz music in the Greater Binghamton area.”
Hamme currently serves on the board of directors of the Goodwill Theatre, where he is the jazz consultant and hosts jam sessions at the Goodwill’s Schorr Family Firehouse Stage.
Hamme was nominated for “his 50 years of contributions to the knowledge and enjoyment of jazz in our community, its schools and colleges, and his encouragement and development of succeeding generations of performers of jazz, America’s unique music form.”
“The teaching of music was my vocation” he told BAMirror, “but performance, organization and the experiences that accompany these tasks were not only my hobby but my passion.”
Heart of the Arts Award
The 2014 Heart of the Arts recipients are almost flip sides of a coin. One has delved into every aspect of a single art form; the other has focused on the singular need of every art form.
HOTA JUDY BERRYJudy Berry’s 35-year association with Tri-Cities Opera began as a coloratura soprano. In recent years, she turned her talents to various production positions at TCO including assistant stage director, marketing and development director and, most recently, acting general director. She was the creator and coordinator of such TCO community outreach programming as FLASH MOBperas and the free Clinton Street Cinema Series as well as fundraising events ranging from New Year’s Eve galas to MUTT-ropolitan Opera Dog Calendars. Her focus on opera extended to her private voice studio and her work as a German diction instructor on the music faculty of Binghamton University.
She was nominated for “tirelessly” working to “render opera accessible both onstage at The Forum and beyond,” for leading TCO “through a demanding and trying time,” for “bringing opera out into the community,” for “investing herself behind the scenes in most every aspect of opera production: staging, vocal and diction coaching, make-up, lighting, rehearsal (and) scheduling” and for being the “grit and brains behind the glamour.”
Berry and her husband Reed Smith (former general director of TCO) have just relocated to Alaska where she is the new director of patron relations and he is the new general director of Anchorage Opera. In fact, she received Sharon Ball’s phone call about the award while driving up the “AlCan Highway.”
“My first thought was how dramatic it was — positively ‘operatic’ — to be honored in such an incredible way while journeying 4,300 miles to begin a new life. What an amazing ‘parting gift’ it is to know that members of the arts community in Broome County, my colleagues and peers, nominated and then chose me to be the recipient of this great award,” Berry said earlier this week. “Reed and I moved to Alaska, but I left my heart in Binghamton with TCO, and now I have a ‘HEART’ of the Arts Award to show for it.”
Not surprisingly, Berry will not be able to attend the awards ceremony, but she will be sending an acceptance video to be played at the event.
HOTA Joshua BWhereas Berry is being honored for doing a variety of things for TCO and opera, Joshua B. Ludzki is being recognized for doing one thing – promotion – for a large and diverse range of cultural organizations. A web and graphic designer, photographer and media personality, “Joshua B” is the co-creator with Michael Grasso of the lifestyle blog BingSpot (, designed “to serve as a guide to arts, culture, nightlife and a vast number of local events in Binghamton.”
By emphasizing social media, BingSpot creates excitement and immediacy in its promotion of downtown happenings. Ludzki was cited in his nomination for generating collaborations and support for many successful cultural ventures, including Masquerade at the Mansion with the Roberson Museum and Science Center; Binghamton’s Martini Walk, Wine & Tapas Tour and Restaurant Week; and the STAP Rock Star Celebrity Bartending Bash.
Ludzki, whose day job is marketing and PR manager for WSKG, photographs First Friday Art Walks, theater-related events, parades, gallery openings, concerts and more to share with the 11,000 followers of BingSpot’s Facebook page. He was nominated for his “passion, commitment and devotion” to promoting, documenting and helping to generate arts and cultural events in downtown Binghamton and for fostering “an enthusiastic response to all the exciting events in Binghamton.”
His reaction: “I’m hugely honored to be recognized, but the reality is that Michael and I have the easy job. The artists are the ones out there making it happen …we just had to spread the word a little further. And there’s a ton to spread the word about. I couldn’t believe how vibrant the art scene was when I moved here eight years ago from Jersey. We’re just two guys that like to talk a lot and try and make people listen. There’s ALWAYS something to post about.”
Xlander Emerging Artist Award
HOTA Gianna PutrinoGianna Putrino, who recently received a BFA in Studio Art from the State University of New York at Oswego, has been an active leader in the arts communities of both Oswego and her hometown, Endicott. She has participated in such events as street painting, local art exhibitions and mural projects. Although for the past four years she has worked primarily in drawing, Putrino recently developed a strong interest in painting. In her senior year, she found her focus as a realistic, figurative artist and plans to continue her education and exploration of realism in painting.
Putrino recently began a part-time job as a front desk attendant and junior museum educator at the Roberson Museum. As the Xlander Emerging Artist, she will receive a $500 stipend sponsored by BCAC board member Susan Kirkland, a free one-year BCAC membership and the opportunity for a solo exhibition in the BCAC gallery space.
“I am very excited about the award and the opportunity it presents,” Putrino said this week. “This incredible award is helping to jump-start my career as an artist, and I am so honored to have been chosen for this opportunity.  My art has never been recognized at this magnitude, and it’s both scary and exciting that I am starting this new chapter of my life as a BFA graduate and being presented with this award all at the same time.”
About the awards ceremony
The 10th annual Heart of the Arts Award Celebration and $10K Challenge will be Sept. 22 at the DoubleTree Hotel, 225 Water St., Binghamton. A 5 p.m. cocktail hour will be followed by a 6 p.m. celebration featuring performances by GalumphaMiles AheadTri-Cities OperaSRO Productions III, Binghamton Youth Symphony‘s Eli Holmes and Binghamton Poetry Project.
Cost: $45 ($40 for BCAC members). To buy tickets, call 723-2460 or visit Proceeds from the event will benefit the 2015 United Cultural Fund, BCAC’s annual campaign for the arts in Broome County.