Awards to recognize contributions to the arts 

Friday, November 14, 2014 5:32 PM EST

Five of Litchfield County’s unsung heroes of the arts world will receive recognition Tuesday night when the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council presents its new CultureMax awards.

The awards recognize artists in all disciplines, heritage professionals, cultural organizations, volunteers and businesses that have elevated the stature of arts in Northwest Connecticut.

The 2014 award winners are Sharon Dante, founder of the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Torrington in the artist category; Catherine Fields, executive director of the Litchfield Historical Society in the heritage professional category; Janet Rathbun of Colebrook in the volunteer category; Five Points Gallery, founded by Judy McElhone in Torrington, in the cultural organization category; and the North End Store in Barkhamsted, run by Brenda Pelletier, in the business category.”

“We had thought about doing some kind of regionalized recognition for some time but had never done it,” said Amy Wynn, executive director of the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council. “We almost overthought it and finally, this year, just made a decision to go ahead. The council decided to commit this year after realizing that no other event existed in the region to honor those who make Northwest Connecticut such a culturally exciting place to live.”

Wynn said a small committee was formed from the Arts Council’s board of directors and nominations were sought for five categories.

“We were pleasantly surprised at the number of candidates nominated for each category,” Wynn said. “I think we had 31 nominations in all. The committee had quite a difficult time deciding. … I was so glad I wasn’t allowed to vote. There are a plethora of very qualified individuals and institutions here.”

“It was a very challenging process, agreed Vanessa Giannasi, board chairman and a selection committee member. “There are so many incredible artists and arts professionals in the area it made it quite a challenge. I think we picked the best people and best organizations.”

“It was great to see such a wide range of folks nominated,” said committee member Steve Criss. “I was excited to learn or discover things about Litchfield County that I wasn’t aware of, to learn about people who went above and beyond to push cultural initiatives forward. There was such a wide reach of people and each had an amazing story.”

Added committee member Michael Quadland, “We rose to the challenge but it was not easy. We had extended discussions. I wish we could have given several awards in each category, but it is our intention to continue these awards each year. A lot of these people are unsung, they do great works behind the scenes and no one knows about it.”

Giannasi said that even choosing the design for the awards was fun. “We were not just picking the winners, we were picking the design of the award. Dennis Bialek did an incredible job and every single award is an individual piece of art designed for the recipient and made of solid bronze and stone. They are little jewels themselves.”

Bialek of Torrington specializes in contemporary sculpture and is a self-taught artist who has worked in metals for more than 40 years. His works have been exhibited extensively in the Northeast.

The Northwest Connecticut Arts Council serves as a source for cultural information for 25 towns, providing free services such as networking and roundtable sessions and guidance about available resources.

If you go

The event will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Infinity Hall in Norfolk. Tickets are $25 or $20 for council members. Group tickets are available at the member rate. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling the council at 860-618-0075 or visiting