Arts Award Honorees: Part 3

The Arts Award has been presented since 1976 to recognize individuals and organizations whose vision, commitment and leadership have enriched the cultural life of Westchester and its citizens.  Nominations come from all sectors of the community and chosen winners will be honored at ArtsWestchester’s annual luncheon, emceed by CBS reporter Tony Aiello on April 10 at Brae Burn Country Club. ArtsNews has already reviewed the organizations and Advancing Equity awardees. See below for three individual honorees:

Arts Award Honoree Jorge Otero-Pailos

Artist: Jorge Otero-Pailos
Jorge Otero-Pailos of Rye is an American-Spanish artist, preservation architect, scholar, and educator who is renowned for pioneering experimental preservation practices. He employs artistic methods—informed by advanced technologies, materials research, and interdisciplinary collaborations—to expand the range of objects that are valued as cultural heritage, and to develop new ways of caring for those objects. His wide-ranging artistic practice finds expression through materials like airborne atmospheric dusts, smells, sounds and architectural fragments. In his capacity as an artist, he has saved from landfill fragments of historical fences at the former U.S. embassy in Oslo by transforming them into sculptures that are now the subject of solo presentations on Park Avenue, NY, and at the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington D.C. Otero-Pailos is a licensed architect who studied architecture at Cornell University and earned a doctorate in architecture at M.I.T. His works have been commissioned by, and exhibited at, major heritage sites, museums, foundations and biennials.

Arts Award honoree Lee Balter

President’s Award:  Lee Balter
Lee Balter of Tarrytown, NY is a 91-year-old entrepreneur who feels his place is behind the scenes as an eminence grise of the arts.  As a champion of the idea that communities of color should have access to the arts, Balter co-founded and funded Arts 10566 with sculptor, Wilfredo Morel, in a public housing space in Peekskill called the Kylie Youth Center which now serves 500 children a year and is self-sustaining.  From there was born Arts3D, a funding non-profit organization that seeks to identify community-based/grassroots organizations and provide funding to help them build and serve their communities.  Balter’s visionary mission has already transformed the City of Peekskill and impacted three other places — Bronx, Ossining, and Yonkers – with plans to replicate his model of making the arts accessible to communities of color everywhere.  With a passion for public art, in 2002 Balter secured several grants from New York State and devoted himself to filling New York State parks with sculpture. His world-renowned Tallix Foundry in Beacon, has played a key role in the production of some of the most iconic works of contemporary sculpture.  There are few individuals as generous and committed to arts accessibility and arts education as Lee Balter. However, of all of his many achievements, Balter says, in his own words: “My best accomplishment is my four children and seven grandchildren.”

Arts Award Honoree Elizabeth Diaz

The Larry Salley Photography Award:  Elizabeth Diaz
Elizabeth Diaz is a professional photographer working out of Yonkers, NY. She identifies as a first-generation American constructed by her Salvadoran parents. Her photographic work revolves around narrative storytelling, lively aesthetics and social activism. She is recognized for her powerful portrait series, Baby’s Breath, which celebrates and brings visibility to the Transgender community. Of the series, she says: “I began photographing Trans people as a way to elevate their perseverance, beauty and worth in the midst of volatile political debates over their right to merely exist… Baby’s Breath, the flower, has often been used to symbolize rebirth, innocence and everlasting love. The theory behind the flower’s name comes from how delicate and small they are in contrast to the flowers they are supposed to accent. Using the Renaissance era of painting as my inspiration, I have incorporated the same near religious reverence that was placed on the subjects [of that time period] into my photos by using Baby’s Breath and halos to adorn Transgender people. I have also taken inspiration from Renaissance paintings’ usage of botanical and color symbolism.”

Photo credit: Jorge Otero-Pailos in front of his art installation. Distributed Monuments: American Academy in Rome in 2022; Lee Balter (on left) with his oldest friend, Reed Rubin; Elizabeth Diaz.

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