The Council recognizes that the arts in Alabama thrive and prosper through the efforts
of artists, educators, philanthropists, administrators and other supporters. Since
1971, when the Council presented its first Certificates of Distinguished and Loyal
Service, this tradition of honoring significant contributions to the arts has evolved
into the biennial Celebration of the Arts, an event that brings arts enthusiasts
together to appreciate an exceptional group of Alabamians and their work in support
of the arts.
In 1972, Nancy Hanks, then Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts visited
the state. Council Chairman, Mrs. David Roberts of Birmingham presented Chairman
Hanks with a kiosk for use outside the Endowment Offices in appreciation for the
NEA’s assistance to Alabama artists and arts organizations. A few months later,
the Council presented an identical kiosk to Governor George C. Wallace, who had
it installed in a prominent place outside the Department of Education for use by
arts groups around the state.
A more structured awards program took shape at the first Alabama Arts Convention,
held in Selma in 1974, when local arts councils across Alabama nominated leaders
in the arts for statewide recognition. Council Vice-Chairman Aubrey Green presented
Merit Awards to Emily Eastborn (Performing Arts Association of Foley), Emil Hess
(Greater Birmingham Arts Alliance), Helen Johnson (Decatur Arts Council), Betty
Jones, (Cleburne County Arts and Crafts League), Doris Leapard (Arts and Humanities
Council of Tuscaloosa County), Annie Bestar Mitchell (Sumter County Fine Arts Council),
Donald Smith Sr. (Allied Arts Council of Metropolitan Mobile), Lloyd B. Tygett (The
Arts Council of Huntsville), and Beth Wallace Yates (Sylacauga Area Council on the
Arts and Humanitites).
The Alabama Association of Community Arts Councils was an outgrowth of that convention,
an organization which later became the Alabama Assembly of Community Arts Councils.
The Assembly’s annual convention included a luncheon which featured the presentation
of the Council’s Merit Awards. A second group of awards, the Media in the Arts Awards,
was added in 1976. In subsequent year, the two awards categories were merged in
to an annual program to recognize “. . .outstanding service to the arts through
news media coverage or other community activities.” Recipients of the Media Awards
that year were: The Anniston Star, The Montgomery Advertiser, the Tuscaloosa News,
The Hartselle Inquirer, The Azalea City News (Mobile), WKRG-TV (Mobile), WSFA-TV
(Montgomery), WHMA-TV (Anniston) and WKLH-FM (Montgomery). The Council presented
as many as 25 community and media awards for the next four years.
In 1980, the Council combined these to award categories to create the Governor’s
Arts Award Program. The first Governor’s Arts Award recipients were: M.P. Wilkerson
(Montgomery) University Television Service (Tuscaloosa), Parisian’s (Huntsville),
Alabama Shakespeare Festival, (Anniston), Fantasy Playhouse (Huntsville), The Birmingham
Ballet, Alabama Dance Theatre (Montgomery), The New Cadek Piano Quartet (Tuscaloosa),
The Mobile Opera, Kentuck Association (Northport), Eastern Shore Arts Association
(Fairhope), Macon County Fine Arts Manifesto (Tuskegee), and the Jasmine Hill Arts
Council (Wetumpka). Each year, between 12 and 15 Governor’s Arts Awards were presented.
Yet another category was added in 1986 when the first Lifetime Achievement Award
was presented to James Hatcher of Birmingham. Mr. Hatcher, long-time director of
Birmingham’s Town and Gown Theatre, was instrumental in establishing the State Arts
Council. In subsequent years, the Council honored the lifetime achievements of Jonnie
Dee Little (Auburn), J.L Lowe (Birmingham), Wynton Blount (Montgomery), Louise Rodgers
(Huntsville), Hugh Thomas (Birmingham), Allen Bales (Tuscaloosa), Jack Warner (Tuscaloosa),
Elton B. Stephens (Birmingham), and James Nelson (Birmingham), Phillip Sellers (Montgomery),
Gloria Narramore Moody (Birmingham), Robert P. Gamble (Greenville), Dot Moore (Guntersville),
Joe McInnes (Montgomery) and Lyndra Daniel (Birmingham). This diverse group of artists, arts patrons, civic
leaders, and educators represent lifetimes of effort toward the advancement of the
arts in Alabama. In 1989, the Council voted to name the Lifetime Achievement Award
in memory of the first recipient, Jonnie Dee Little, a former member of the State
Arts Council who was well known for her advocacy of the arts in Alabama.
The year 1987 saw some changes in the awards program. While the Council continued
to award Alabamians for their service to and accomplishments in the arts, the program
became a biennial event. The number of Governor’s Awards presented was gradually
reduced, with four or five presented every other year. The separate category for
Media and the Arts was eliminated, but media with significant accomplishment in
the arts could still be recognized with a Governor’s Award.
In the same period, the Council established the Alabama Folk Heritage Award to honor
master folk artists who have made outstanding contributions to the state through
the practice of their artistic traditions including shape-note singing, quilting,
basket making, old-time fiddling, pottery, blues, and bluegrass gospel. Japheth
Jackson (Ozark), was the first Alabama Folk Heritage Award recipient. Others include
Johnny Shines (Tuscaloosa), Nora Ezell (Eutaw), Noah Lacy (Ider), Gail Thrower (Atmore),
Lomia Nunn (Graham), Bettye Kimbrell (Mt. Olive), Arthur Deason (Centreville), the
Sterling Juliblee Singers (Bessemer), Bo McGee (Tuscaloosa), Jerry Brown (Hamilton),
Margie and Enoch Sullivan, (St. Stephens), Jerry McCain (Gadsden), Willie King (Old
Memphis), James Bryan, (Mentone) and The Excelsior Band (Mobile).
The Council added the Distinguished Artist Award in 1995 to recognized Alabama artists
who have made significant contributions to their art forms and to the arts in Alabama.
Actor Jim Nabors (Honolulu/Sylacauga) received the first award. Other recipients
include William Christenberry (Washington D.C.), Frank Fleming (Birmingham), Fannie
Flagg (Birmingham/ Fairhope), Albert Murray (New York, N.Y.), George Lindsay (Jasper/Nashville),
Nall (Troy/Fairhope), Beth Neilsen Chapman (Montgomery/Nashville),Rebecca Luker
(Birmingham/New York) and Rick Bragg (Piedmont).
The Council welcomes nominations for the awards program. Please click on How to
Nominate for more information about making a nomination.