Updated: Oct 14
The five honorees who will be recognized Oct. 17 at the 23rd Orange County Arts Awards hail from distinctly different artistic sectors: flamenco dance, theater education, professional music performance, stimulating children’s creativity, high-profile performing arts organizations.
But whether they are individuals who create, or organizations that facilitate the work, the five share a connection that goes beyond the obvious one of being involved in the arts.
All, in some fashion, are dedicated to using their talents or expertise to help inspire or provide the opportunity for people to be better versions of themselves.
That is more evident for some of the honorees. Like Claudia de la Cruz, a flamenco dancer and teacher whose conviction that flamenco can provide a key to unlocking the human soul radiates from her like a beam of light. Or Chantrell Lewis, a talented multi-hyphenated artist and theater educator who has experienced the transformative power performance has had in her life and is committed to giving as many people as possible the opportunity for a similar experience. Or the Child Creativity Lab, a nonprofit that engages children’s creativity to help them learn scientific concepts with the added benefit of helping them learn about themselves.
Even the two honorees whose work deals more with supporting artists or the institutions that hire them – the union that represents Orange County musicians, and Jane Fujishige Yada, a longtime patron of the arts and recently-named chair of the Segerstrom Center Board – play a part in elevating the cultural consciousness of the county by making it possible for so much expression to be heard and seen.
OC Arts Awards 411
The annual OC Arts Awards recognize the arts organizations, artists and patrons in Orange County whose work during the past year, or over many years, has impacted the Orange County arts community. It will be co-hosted by Richard Stein, the president and CEO of Arts Orange County, and Diana Farrell, the founder and artistic director of the Lyric Opera of Orange County.
The 2023 awards will be held Oct. 17 in the Samueli Theater, which is part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Tickets start at $40 for balcony seating for the ceremony and admission to the after-party. All proceeds help fund Arts OC’s advocacy work in arts and arts education, as well as its public arts engagement programs, including the Imagination Celebration, Dia del Nino and VOICES: Veterans Storytelling Project.
HELENA MODJESKA CULTURAL LEGACY AWARD HONOREES
Claudia de la Cruz
Flamenco dancer, choreographer and artistic director; Founder, Claudia de La Cruz Flamenco Institute, Santa Ana
To say Claudia de la Cruz was born with flamenco coursing through her veins is stating the obvious. Though she was born in Mexico, both her mother and grandmother were from Andalucía, the southernmost region of Spain where flamenco was born hundreds of years ago. But it wasn’t the ancestral connection that drew de la Cruz to flamenco at age 5 or that has made it her life’s work as a performer, choreographer, teacher and business owner; it was the freedom that flamenco offered.
“To me, flamenco is the only form of dance in which you can express exactly how you are feeling in that minute, whatever season of your life or story, whether it is softness, joy, anger, happiness, excitement, celebration, anything,” says de la Cruz, who has studied flamenco in Mexico, Madrid and Seville and trained or performed with some of the world’s most renowned flamenco dancers, including Belen Maya, Domingo Ortega, Andres Peña and Juana Amaya before opening her studio in Santa Ana in1999.
Additionally, she has brought renowned dancers like Ivan Vargas and Adrian Santana to Orange County and Los Angeles for workshops, master classes and performances. But whether studying, performing or teaching flamenco, de La Cruz finds it "converts into a healing art form. It is very therapeutic and healing when you have that freedom of expression, because what happens is you start connecting with your true self, your true soul, who you really are.
“For me, the most important mission we have in this life is to know who we are. It’s so easy to lose sight of that when life can be so demanding, but through flamenco, you can find it. It’s not the only way, but it’s the way I know best, and every student I have I want them to experience the feeling of the journey that I have taken.”
De La Cruz still frequently performs, choreographs and directs. Her institute is staging a night of flamenco dancing Oct. 21. It also offers introductory and advanced flamenco classes for adults and for kids ages 5 and 6, 7-12 and 13-17.
She believes that anybody can learn flamenco, from as young as age 5 to seniors. And she also believes that the art form that has brought so much to her life can do the same with anyone with an open heart and mind.
“Embracing flamenco's pure essence is a transformative journey,” de la Cruz says. “It peels away the layers that dim your inner light, dissolving the fog that obscures your path. Through this process, you connect deeply with your soul, unveiling profound insights about yourself. It reveals your strength, demonstrates the significance of belonging – whether to your family or chosen tribe – and surprises you with the courage that resides within. Most importantly, it teaches you the beauty of self-love, unveiling the depths of your own magnificence.”
Orange County Musicians Union Local 7, American Federation of Musicians
Visionary Arts Organization
You could call this a lifetime achievement award if a local union chapter were a living thing. But the musicians who have been part of Local 7 since it was chartered 100 years ago, and who have helped sustain viable careers thanks to its support, certainly had their lives impacted greatly by the union.
Originally known as the Musicians’ Protective Association, the chapter, which is affiliated with the national American Federation of Musicians, was started by local professional musicians seeking standards that would ensure they could make a living performing, as well as to provide a death benefit for their spouses.
It represents musicians ranging from the Disneyland Band and Pacific Symphony to those performing in the pit at Broadway shows presented at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, as well as other venues and recording studios both internationally and locally.
This year, the union, which currently has about 900 members, expanded to include the greater Long Beach area, which now brings musicians who perform in the Long Beach Symphony, Long Beach Chorale and Long Beach Ballet into its fold.
The union extends benefits to its members ranging from health and instrument insurance to legal referrals, a pension and free rehearsal and performance in the local’s Milton Frost Hall, which can accommodate up to a full 80-piece orchestra. It also offers job referrals and an emergency relief fund to help members in financial need.
The union is also active in the community, presenting concerts in elementary schools since the 1970s, and it produces the OC Legends of Jazz Concert Series, which raises scholarship money for high school students.
And while the union doesn’t directly impact the lives of non-members in ways similar to some of the other honorees, the fact that it has helped keep musicians working in Orange County for 100 years has immense indirect benefits.
“I call us second responders,” says chapter president Edmund Velasco. “We have the first responders, who are so great at helping people in emergencies, that we couldn’t live without. But while musicians may not save lives, I like to think that we help make life more bearable.”
Jane Fujishige Yada
Visionary Arts Patron
Chairwoman of the Board, Segerstrom Center of the Arts
It’s conceivable that Jane Fujishige Yada could have received this offer before she stepped into history and became the chairwoman of the board of the Segerstrom Center of the Arts. Elected in 2020, when Yada’s tenure began in 2021 she became only the second woman to ever serve in the position, and the first woman of color.
Yada is being honored for more than 20 years of philanthropy and support for high-profile arts organizations.
But prior to that, her support and impact on the arts was enormous; when it comes to Orange County history, it would be difficult to tell much of it, from demographic change to women-owned businesses, without mentioning Yada or her family.
She is the eldest daughter of Hiroshi Fujishige, a Norwalk farmer who during World War II was a member of one of the most decorated military units in U.S. history – at the same time as many of his family members were incarcerated at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. After the war, he and his brother bought 58 acres of farmland in Anaheim on Harbor Boulevard where the 5 Freeway ended. Three years later, he watched a new neighbor move in next door and for the next 50 years, he and his family had front-row seats to the evolution of Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center.
One of Yada’s earliest memories, as she told a blogger in 2020, was working the family farm, but her advocacy of the arts was ignited early in life as well. As a student at Ball Junior High in the late 1970s, she went on a field trip to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and watched Robert Goulet and Marsha Mason in a production of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” (She also remembers seeing a production of South Coast Repertory’s “A Christmas Carol” very early in Hal Landon’s 40-year run as “Ebenezer Scrooge). She was hooked on the arts and would eventually receive her bachelor’s in literature from UCLA with the goal of becoming a mystery writer.
But the family business called. By the time the family sold its original farm to Walt Disney corporation in 1998, shortly before her father’s death (the purchase allowed California’s Grand Adventure to be built as employee parking was switched to the former farm) it had expanded, and Yada had become co-manager of its estate portfolio, which now included multiple agricultural, residential, industrial office and hospitality properties, as farms in Orange Ventura and Santa Cruz counties.
She joined the board of what was then known as the Orange County Performing Arts Center in 2001. She served as vice chair of the facilities committee and re-committee, was an active member of the center’s support group, Angels for the Arts and co-chaired its annual fundraiser, the CHOC gala.
But her impact isn’t limited to the Segerstrom Center. She is also on the board of Pacific Symphony and this year co-chaired both its gala as well as the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s. She also serves on the boards of CHOC Children’s Hospital Foundation and Chapman University. Her involvement has also extended throughout the region to such institutions as City of Hope, A3M, Hoag Hospital, Second Harvest Food Bank and numerous other organizations.
OUTSTANDING ARTS ORGANIZATION
Child Creativity Lab
Since 2012, this Santa Ana-based nonprofit has been focused, as the words on the landing page of its website, say: “Fostering the next generation by giving children the gift of STEAM.” STEAM is an educational teaching method that takes the “A” in art and adds it to the acronym STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The integration of artistic elements and principles into the learning of STEM-related subjects is designed to promote creativity and critical thinking skills.
Child Creativity Lab was launched in 2012 as a response to what founder Peter Chang saw as a creativity crisis affecting American youth, Child Creativity Lab has partnered with local schools and other organizations and introduced more than 140,000 children, most between the ages of 5 and 12, to its unique version of STEAM.
Instead of learning about concepts like gravity through reading a textbook or watching an instructor diagram on a whiteboard and then being assessed by taking a standardized test, students learn by doing. They are exposed to the concept and then given a kit of unconventional recycled building materials, all of which are donated by individuals or corporate partners instead of winding up in the dump. The children must then figure out how to use those materials to design a three-dimensional model that shows a real-world application of the concepts.
STEAM’s basic premise is that by integrating the creativity and thinking-outside-the-box mentality required for designing art with the teaching of STEM-related subjects, those subjects will be made more enjoyable and accessible for more students, leading to more of them pursuing careers in those fields.
“For many children, unless their parents are scientists or engineers, STEM fields can seem very remote,” says CEO Tracey Hill. “But by getting them to learn about these concepts through playing and designing projects, we are planting seeds in their minds that might inspire them as they get older to study robotics or coding or AP Biology.”
But cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers isn’t the only goal of CCL’s programs. Because while giving children the opportunity to flex their creative muscles to solve problems helps them to learn about STEM-related concepts, they’re also learning about something else: themselves.
As an example, Katy McInnes, director of partnerships, references a 7-year-old named Dante she had recently observed in a class visited by CCL’s Makerspace on Wheels program, a mobile STEAM lab that visits schools and community centers.
“The subject was gravity and he had to figure out a way to launch a marble a certain distance,” McInnes said. At first, he didn’t have any idea how to do it, but then there came a moment when he discovered the angle he needed. It’s that moment when a student takes agency over problem solving, where they start finding the inner confidence that they are capable of figuring anything out if they don’t limit themselves to just one way of looking at something. That confidence helps build their self-esteem and that is something that will help them in so many situations they encounter in life, regardless of whether they pursue a career in a STEM-related field, or art.”
EMERGING ARTIST/ARTS LEADER
Theater Educator and Advocate
Founder, Jar of Sunshine
Describing Chantrell Lewis as an emerging artist or arts leader is a little bit like describing the Grand Canyon based on images seen through one of those old-school Disneyland View-Masters. You have some sense of what it’s all about, but you don’t have anything close to the whole picture.
In Lewis’s case, it is accurate that the theater educator, advocate and founder of a nonprofit dedicated to exposing underrepresented communities to the performing arts has emerged, or come to be more noticed, in Orange County arts over the past year. But it’s not like she was being ignored. Lewis has only been in Orange County since 2020, when she moved from Cleveland to pursue her graduate degree at UC Irvine. But though she may have been new to Orange County, she had long since established herself as an artist.
Since she started taking classical singing lessons at the age of 8, Lewis has immersed herself in the arts.. As a theater performer, she is as comfortable doing musical theater as Chekov or a contemporary playwright like Lynn Nottage. She is also a singer, model and voice-over actress. She has authored several books, written and performed poetry, and filmed a short documentary, and is working on another.
And then there is the whole teaching side. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Kent State University, Lewis was accepted by UC Irvine into its MFA acting program, earning her master’s in 2022. The year before she received a certificate from UC Riverside in social and emotional learning – an educational strategy that promotes emotional intelligence, empathy, and interpersonal skills as part of a person’s educational and personal development. Lewis has incorporated SEL into her teaching philosophy in her current teaching gigs at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts and the Orange County School of the Arts.
It wasn’t hard for Lewis to adopt SEL objectives into her teaching – after all, she’s been using its core skills of self and social awareness all her life as a performer and in the work of her nonprofit, Jar of Sunshine, which uses the arts to promote literacy and wellness in underrepresented communities.
“That’s very important to me because I know the transformative power of the performing arts in music, dance and drama,” Lewis says. “I’ve seen it in real time; it’s what has made me able to communicate and to learn other life skills that were developed through my involvement with the arts. And I want to make sure that everyone who wants to have access to that valuable life skill will have them regardless of income.”
While those skills may be developed in a classroom or a stage, they aren’t confined to any space.
“The performing arts call on you to look deeply into yourself, to be honest and open and vulnerable,” Lewis says. “And that fosters a higher level of self-awareness. It increases your ability to reflect, how you communicate with the people in your life and engage with everyone. It allows you to explore the words you use when communicating with people and even your posture, your physical presence and how comfortable and confident you can feel in multiple spaces.
“That’s what the arts have given me, and I want everybody else to have the same opportunity.”