20th Anniversary Annual Orange County Arts Awards
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Honoring our Stars and their Outstanding Contributions to the
Orange County Arts Community

Join us!


Ernesto and Socorro Vasquez, Visionary Arts Patrons
As devoted philanthropists and patrons of the arts, Ernesto and Socorro Vasquez have channeled their professional and personal passions into support for non-profit causes that enrich and enhance Orange County's communities and youth. CEO of SVA Architects, Ernesto Vasquez is a renowned community advocate and leader and a proponent of healthy communities and revitalized urban centers. He is known for creating environments that are socially and environmentally responsible, and economically viable. Recipient of numerous prestigious awards in the field of architecture, Vasquez has been widely recognized for his innovative work. Socorro Vasquez is a life-long advocate for the arts. Socorro and Ernesto met in high school and upon Ernesto's graduation from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, they moved to Orange County. Socorro studied interior design at Cal State Long Beach and later initiated a volunteer-led art program at her son's school along with the first annual Student Art Showcase. As her children moved on to college, Socorro searched for creative engagement in the community and found it at South Coast Repertory, Orange County's Tony Award winning professional theatre company. The idea of impacting a whole community gave way to Socorro immersing herself in their programs such as Nuestro Teatro, Una Noche de Teatro, Neighborhood Community Outreach classes, serving on the Board of Directors, Gala décor committee and twice chairing the annual fundraising Gala. It was during this time that Socorro and Ernesto were introduced to St. Joseph Ballet, an afterschool dance program in Santa Ana for underserved youth, today known as The Wooden Floor. Socorro saw an opportunity to capture the interest of these students through the art of dance and utilize the experience to motivate scholastic achievement at the same time. Inspired by the vision of founder, Beth Burns, and a dedicated Board of Directors, Socorro joined this organization with equal zeal. She helped to elevate the quality and visibility of the annual concert receptions in a way that broadened the recognition of The Wooden Floor in Orange County. (From its inception, The Wooden Floor has evolved from an after-school program designed to help students avoid inner city trouble - to a broader mission with 100% graduation rate and scholarships for all students continuing to college.) Socorro is proud to be among the individuals who worked diligently to successfully distill the vision of its founder and ultimately elevate the dignity of a community. Ernesto's and Socorro's joint philanthropic affiliations, past and present include: UCI, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Orange County Museum of Art, Smithsonian Latino Center, South Coast Repertory, The Wooden Floor, Arts Orange County, Orange County Community Foundation and the Orange County Hispanic Education Endowment Fund. Socorro and Ernesto live in San Clemente and share their philanthropic passions with 2 adult children (and their respective spouses) and 4 grandchildren.

The Wooden Floor

Cherie Kerr, Artistic Visionary
Cherie Kerr is a founding member of the world-famous L.A. Groundlings, and founder, in 1990, of the Orange County Crazies sketch and improvisational troupe in Santa Ana, California. Born in Columbus, Ohio, to parents who were musicians, she grew up in the El Sereno neighborhood of East Los Angeles, moving to Orange County in 1968 where she has lived ever since. Cherie, named one of the "Top Ten Most Sensational People in Orange County" by Orange Coast magazine, has been highly lauded for her work as a comedy writer/director, having garnered "Best Sketch of the Year" from the Los Angeles Times for her quirky sketch, "Too Much Shoulder Pad." Cherie has won numerous accolades and rave reviews for her work over the years as producer/writer/director and has now parlayed her expertise and creativity into the genre of film. Having produced several comedy shorts for the O.C. Crazies over the past 30 years, Cherie founded in 2011 Ree-invent Films to expand her efforts from comedy shorts to full-length feature films. Kerr's mission with Ree-invent Films is to provide full-length feature comedies that offer not only laughs, but moral/satirical messages that leave audiences thinking long after the laughter subsides. Cherie released her first film in May of 2013, We've Got Balls, a family-friendly comedy, at the 2013 Newport Beach International Film Festival. The film since went on to win numerous awards at Action on Film, Movieville International Film Festivals, All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival and at the 2014 WorldFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival. Kerr is currently in pre-production on her next feature-length project, Small Claims, a mostly improvised comedy. Cherie is the mother of filmmaker Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, and Breathe In, which debuted in 2014). She is the author of 12 books; Charlie's Notes (2004) was named a winner in the New York Book Festival. Two of her books include forewords by fellow Groundling alums and SNL players, Phil Hartman and Julia Sweeney. Over the years, Kerr has written more than 400 sketches, four screenplays, one full-length Broadway musical, and directed dozens of sketch and improv comedy shows. She also has starred in her own one-woman show, Out of Her Mind and has won awards as a lyricist and journalist, and her long-standing public relations firm, KerrPR, has also won awards for its work. In 1983 she started ExecuProv, a company that teaches improv comedy techniques to Fortune 100 and 500 companies. The company, like Cherie, continues to thrive. Cherie also served on the original committee of local arts leaders that was the catalyst for the formation of Arts Orange County.

O.C. Crazies

Jerry Mandel, Visionary Arts Leader
Jerry Mandel's impactful career spans four decades of leadership and embodies a life-long commitment to the professional performing arts and arts education. A graduate of California State University Long Beach, with a doctorate degree in organizational communications from Purdue University, Jerry served as Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University and then as Vice President, California State University Long Beach, where he led the fundraising campaign for the Carpenter Performing Arts Center. In 1994, Jerry became Vice Chancellor for Advancement at University of California, Irvine, where he developed the strategy for the naming campaign for the Claire Trevor Theater, served on the Board of Trustees, and concurrently was the Vice Chair of the Board at the then Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC). In 1997, Jerry became the President and CEO of OCPAC, now Segerstrom Center for the Arts, a position he held for 9 years. In this role, Jerry oversaw the operations of one of the nation's largest and most prestigious performing arts centers. His management initiatives included raising $200 million dollars and leading the design team and all key aspects of the building of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Jerry brought stellar artists to celebrate the opening of this new cultural treasure for the region including performances by the Kirov Opera, Symphony and Ballet from Russia together with the first presentation of Wagner's Ring Cycle in Southern California. While at OCPAC, Jerry also significantly expanded education and outreach to better serve the community. He retired from OCPAC in 2006 -- only to come out of retirement in 2015 at the request of the Irvine Barclay Theatre Board of Directors, to help guide the Theatre -- first as Interim President, and then in a permanent capacity as President and CEO. In his present role, Jerry continues to expand the theatre's programming with top quality artists, especially in the fields of jazz and other music, contemporary dance, and Broadway cabaret while deepening the partnerships with UCI and the City of Irvine. A consummate professional and indefatigable arts leader, Jerry is also an artist himself who began playing the saxophone professionally in 2008. Jerry was a founding member of Arts Orange County and currently serves on its Board of Directors. Other affiliations past and present include Irvine Public Schools Foundation; Laguna Playhouse; National Advisory Board for Jazz at Lincoln Center; Chapman University Board of Governors; Pacific Oaks College; Orange County School of the Arts; and the Dean's Advisory Board for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI. Jerry continues to build on his cultural legacy to Orange County.

Irvine Barclay Theatre

Carl St.Clair, Special Recognition -- 30th Anniversary, Music Director, Pacific Symphony
The 2019-20 season will mark Music Director Carl St. Clair's 30th year leading Orange County's Pacific Symphony, the largest orchestra formed in the United States in the last 50 years. Carl is one of the longest-tenured conductors of the major American orchestras, and the rapid artistic development of Pacific Symphony is credited in large part to his leadership. During his commanding tenure, Carl has become widely recognized for his musically distinguished performances, his commitment to building outstanding educational programs and his innovative approaches to programming. In April 2018, Carl led Pacific Symphony in its Carnegie Hall debut, followed in May of that year with the orchestra's first tour to China, its first international tour since touring Europe in 2006. The orchestra made its national PBS debut in June 2018 on Great Performances with Peter Boyer's "Ellis Island: The Dream of America," conducted by Carl. Among Carl's many creative endeavors are the highly acclaimed American Composers Festival and the opera initiative, "Symphonic Voices". Carl's commitment to the development and performance of new works by composers is evident in the wealth of commissions and recordings by the Symphony. Carl led the orchestra's historic move into its home in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, a move that came on the heels of the landmark 2005-06 season that included Carl leading the Symphony on its first European tour -- nine cities in three countries playing before capacity houses and receiving extraordinary responses and reviews. From 2008-10, Carl was general music director for the Komische Oper in Berlin, and he also served as general music director and chief conductor of the German National Theater and Staatskapelle (GNTS) in Weimar, Germany -- Carl was the first non-European to hold his position at the GNTS and the role also gave him the distinction of simultaneously leading one of the newest orchestras in America and one of the oldest in Europe. In 2014, Carl became the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Costa Rica. His international career also has him conducting abroad several months a year, and he has appeared with orchestras throughout the world. In North America, Carl has led the Boston Symphony Orchestra (where he served as assistant conductor for several years), New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver symphonies, among many. A strong advocate of music education for all ages, Carl has been essential to the creation and implementation of the Symphony's education and community engagement programs including Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles, Heartstrings, Sunday Matinées, OC Can You Play With Us?, arts-X-press and Class Act. Carl was named a Presidential Fellow by Chapman University for the 18-19 academic season.

Pacific Symphony


Grand Central Art Center
California State University, Fullerton
Santa Ana
Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) stemmed from an initiative in the early 1990's to revitalize downtown Santa Ana. In 1994, the city partnered with Santa Ana community activist and visionary Don Cribb and Cal State Fullerton Gallery Director Mike McGee to convert the old Grand Central building, originally built to house the central market for the Orange County region, into Grand Central Art Center. GCAC quickly became the center for a ten-square block area in the heart of downtown which would be designated as the Artists Village. GCAC's mission of creating exhibitions and dialogue that serves the Santa Ana community parallels the building's original purpose of providing essential services and acting as a social hub for the city of Santa Ana. For the past 20 years, Grand Central Art Center has been committed to the open exploration of contemporary art and visual culture and, and in light of the center being founded by locals, the provision of free public programming. Since 1999, GCAC has provided free exhibitions and programs to the public that are developed through socially engaged collaborations among artists, students, and the broader community. These collaborations provide opportunities to explore diverse artistic and cultural perspectives, take risks, and innovate creative expression that inspire dialog, connection and understanding among the varied and unique voices throughout Orange County and within Santa Ana and the California State University, Fullerton. In the past five years, GCAC has presented over 64 exhibitions, which have included the work of over 38 Orange County based artists. Sixteen of these exhibitions provided artists with their first institutional solo exhibitions, including Yevgeniya Mikhailik, Ashley Bowman, Cecilia Lopez, d Hill, Leonard Correa (collaboration with Aida Šehović), Nobuhito Nishigawara, and Jasmin Sanchez. In that same time period, GCAC has housed over 58 artists-in residence in the support and development of new projects. Nine of the artist-in-residence have been from Orange County, with the others representing 34 cities, 15 states, and 8 counties. GCAC is the home of Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble through Sara Guerrero; CREAR Studio through Sarah Rafael García and Dino Perez; García's Barrio Writers program, a free youth creative writing summer camp; Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco, and the newly formed OC theatre company The Wayward Artist. In the past few years, GCAC's innovative and collaborative projects have received both local and national acclaim including: The groundbreaking 12-episode broadcast opera Vireo, developed by Lisa Bielawa, broadcast by KCET, and nominated for two 2018 Emmys; David Greenberger's artist in residence project of conversations with senior citizens connected with local OC communities; recipient of the 2015 ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Multimedia Award; two major multi-year grants from New York based Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in support of the artist-in-residence program to foster emerging and underrepresented artists; in collaboration with Allen Moon, GCAC co-founded Santa Ana Sites, a community partnership, presenting contemporary performance in public and private spaces throughout Downtown Santa Ana; collaborating with Affordable Housing Access, GCAC piloted and co-founded Community Engagement to support engaged artists and arts organizations programs for residences of multiple affordable housing communities throughout Santa Ana; received recognition for collaboration with the Consulate of Mexico to present Wings of the City throughout Santa Ana; collaborated in the development with the Santa Ana Unified School District on the SanArts initiatives and the new Circulos High School which received an XQ Grant to rethink and redesign the American high school. GCAC's achievement is serving Orange County not only as a vibrant contemporary art incubator but also as an inclusive social hub that fosters cultural exchange and exploration to unite us as a community.

Grand Central Art Center


James Dinh
A landscape architect by profession, James Dinh also has a growing a portfolio of public art, and he has played a leading role in community-building in Orange County. An important aspect of James' work is its focus on bridging generational chasms, promoting inclusive dialogue, and advancing more nuanced understandings of the refugee/immigrant experience and the reverberations of war and displacement in postwar generations. His 2017 public art installation, Of Two Lineages in front of the iconic Asian Garden Mall in Little Saigon, asks us to consider Vietnamese American identity as layered with the richness of an inherited legend, but shaped by the resiliency of resettling in new lands. His design work the Viet Stories: Recollections & Regenerations exhibition at the Nixon Library (2018) and Vietnamese Focus: Generations of Stories at the Old Orange County Courthouse (2015) was widely celebrated and brought the art and history of this community to new audiences. A former Board member of the Vietnamese Association for Arts and Letters (VAALA), James continues to contribute his talent and creativity to the community through developing and initiating programs such as VAALA's current Illuminated Recipes project for youth, where 16-22 year-olds are trained to collect recipes and associated stories from their elders and create visual/multimedia art to interpret and share these stories. Illuminated Recipes, for which the organization received a University of California Critical Refugee Studies 2019 grant, begins with the intuitive understanding that food has been a means of forging relationships, generating stories, and often an expression of love in many families. As such, food has an incredible potential often untapped in arts and advocacy programs. James continues to serve on VAALA's Gallery beyond Walls committee and has a successful track record of visioning, designing, and implementing projects that serve the greater mission of cultivating a new generation of arts leaders. Project FOTO (2018), a mixed media and visual arts workshop for girls and female-identified individuals, was also James' brainchild and received generous support from the Garden Grove Community Foundation. Both James' art and his leadership impact Orange County youth as well as its landscape. Through the public art projects and his exhibition design work, James as left an indelible mark on the community's understanding of resilience after war and resettlement.

View Past Arts Awards Honorees


2018 Arts Awards Honorees and Emcees: Front row: (from L) Debora Wondercheck, Founder & CEO, Arts & Learning Conservatory & Arts Awards Co-Emcee; Yuka Ogino, Arts Commissioner, City of Brea; Mark and Jan Hilbert; John Danvers, Vice President-Land Acquisition, Shea Homes; Richard Stein, President & CEO, Arts Orange County & Arts Awards Co-Emcee.
Second row: Louis M. Rohl, Board Chair, Laguna Art Museum; Tom Donini, Arts Commission Chair, City of Brea; Sarah Rafael Garcia
Back row: Carol Saindon, Paula Tomei, Malcolm Warner, Executive Director, Laguna Art Museum; Marlo Bartels, artist, "Brea: Blackstone 2017"


Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award Honorees, Arts Patrons Mark and Jan Hilbert (L), with Presenters and Past Modjeska Honorees, Arts Patrons Charlie and Ling Zhang

Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award Honoree, Artist Carol Saindon (R), with Presenter and Board Member, Past Board Chair and Past Honoree Mary Lyons

Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award Honoree, Managing Director of South Coast Repertory Paula Tomei (R), with Presenter and Arts Orange County Board Chair Rick Smetanka

Malcolm Warner (R), Executive Director of the Laguna Art Museum, accepts the Modjeska Cultural Legacy Honor from Casa Romantica Executive Director Berenika Palys

(From L) Presenter and Arts Patron Wylie Aitken with John Danvers, Marlo Bartels, and Tom Donini, accepting the Honor for Contribution to the Built Enviornment for Brea: Blackstone 2017

Emerging Artist/Arts Leader Sarah Rafael Garcia (R), Author/Activist with Presenter and Arts Orange County Board Member Thuy Vo Dang

Emerging Artist/Arts Leader Honoree Brian Peterson, Artist/Activist

(from L) Mark and Jan Hilbert and family

(from L) Arts Orange County Emeritus Board Member John Stahr with Elizabeth Stahr

Doo wop vocal quartet The Alley Cats provide a musical backdrop to the pre-show VIP Reception

Pre-Show Dinner at Leatherby's Cafe Rouge (from L) Ernesto Maldonado, Scott Armstrong, Michael and Diana Rapport, Laura and Tom Myers

In the Samueli Theater Lobby before the show (from L) Rocky Evans, Ashley Thomas, Dennis and Charlene Ashendorf

Members of Arts OC's Emerging Arts Leaders - Orange County program
(from L) Wesley Pinkham, Emily Anne Tkaczibson, Nicholas Thurkettle, Lainey LaRosa, Marco Hermosillo, Kay Linan, Melisa Halfman

Latin Grammy-nominated recording artist Ciro Hurtado shares his original songs

Pacific Symphony violinist Jennise Hwang performs solo works by composer Astor Piazzolla

Star of Broadway's The Book of Mormon and new Director of Musical Theater at the Orange County School of the Arts Scott Barnhardt sings works by Sondheim

(from L) Talena Mara and Jason Holland, Segerstrom Center for the Arts

(from L) Larry and Sophie Cripe, Paula Tomei and David Emmes, Sally Anderson and Tom Rogers

The Irvine Barclay Theater Jazz Band accompanies the Ceremony's After Party

The After Party continues into the night!


The 2018 Arts Awards were made possible by the
generous support of our underwriters