24 December, 2013
Here’s a copy of the latest blog-post that I wrote for Nevada Humanities.
For me, the past week or so have seemed to be all about awards. Firstly, there was Nevada Humanities’ own awards ceremony, which took place just before Easter in Carson City. It was my first experience of this biennial event and it was such a pleasure to be a part of. Not only did I get a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of the awardees, but I also got to mix with an audience made up of Nevada Humanities’ friends and supporters. The icing on the cake was seeing the beautiful pieces of work of the Nevada artist Anne Hoff being presented to the winners. (Since buying one of Anne’s prints myself a few months back, she’s become a friend and has also taken on the important role of my personal advisor on how to find the best trails around Las Vegas!)
The Nevada Humanities awardees were nominated by people from outside the organization, and as we were preparing for our own awards ceremony, I was also working on a similar nomination myself, only this time for the Nevada Arts Council’s Heritage award, which recognizes “master folk and traditional artists who, at the highest level of excellence and authenticity, carry forward the folk traditions of their families and communities through practice and teaching”. The person I’m nominating, in collaboration with Christina Barr, is Ofelia Perez.
Mexico-born and Vegas-based, Ofelia Perez is a remarkable woman. Now in her 81st year, she has been the matriarch of Danza del Carrizo, a group devoted to maintaining and performing Matachín dance traditions, for more than 20 years. These traditions, which are strongly influenced by Mexico’s mix of Spanish and indigenous heritage, have been in Sra. Perez’s family for generations.
Danza Del Carrizo has around 50 members, all of whom are part of the extended Perez family and all of whom have been encouraged and taught by Sra. Perez. In addition, Sra. Perez has been the group’s manager, mentor, and costumer since its inception. Under her guidance, Danza Del Carrizo has maintained its commitment to excellent and authenticity in the face of great cultural and social change, to say nothing of the practical difficulties it has faced over the years. For example, at one point, after neighbors complained about the noise created by the group’s rehearsals, members were forced to practice in the middle of desert despite the often highly inhospitable weather conditions.
The outcome of the Heritage Award will not be known till July. Of course, I have fingers and toes crossed for Ofelia Perez, but recognize that it can be very difficult to rate one contender over another. However, even with that caveat in mind, it does seem to me that the whole awards nomination and selection process offers us a very good opportunity to reflect on and consider what it is that we truly value and why.