HPAAC recognizes 2017 Art Heroes

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The Hastings Prescott Area Arts Coalition honored three individuals at their sixth annual gala on Friday, Nov. 3.

Judy Johnson, Debbie Saunders and Allen Saunders were awarded the Arts Heroes award. Each year, the new arts heroes are chosen by those who have already received the award. The decision is based on the amount and quality of service that the new arts hero has given to the arts in their community.

Johnson, founder and director of the Great River Road Theater in Prescott, has been named a 2017 Arts Hero at the same time as the 25th anniversary of the Great River Road Theater. Johnson began the group in 1992 as a way to raise money for the Prescott Chamber of Commerce. The first play was performed in an open courtyard in what is now the Brickyard Restaurant. Today, the Great River Road Theater is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing classic musicals and comedies to the Prescott area.

Johnson believes that the arts have had a powerful effect on her life and in the lives of others. She has seen and encouraged many talented individuals in Prescott. She has helped individuals who never believed they could act or speak in front of others emerge as performers on stage. When Johnson is not working with the Great River Road Theater, she bakes weddings cakes, cares for an elderly neighbor, mows her acreage, gardens and more.

Debbie and Allen have been married for 40 years and together they support and make an effort to make a place for the arts in Hastings and Prescott. The effort that Debbie and Allen put into HPAAC does not feel like work to them.

Debbie has made HPAAC a full-time job even though it is still volunteer work. Allen said that she puts in about 8 hours a day and is still sometimes on the computer later into the night working on grants or organizing materials.

Debbie was involved with the initial discussion about promoting arts in the community in 2007. A board was organized and laid the foundations of what developed into HPAAC.

Allen headed up the Summer Arts Program funded by HPAAC in conjunction with other Hastings organizations this past year. Free programs were offered for children including Hip Hop dance, theater skits, percussion drumming, chalk art and more.