A little later but bigger than ever, the Arty Awards are here again. The annual salute to Mobile-area creative contributions has new digs, a new date and an array of old and new faces.
On Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m., Alabama Contemporary Art Center (301 Conti St.) gets its turn to host Mobile Arts Council’s annual “Oscar-style” ceremony honoring the Mobile-area creative community. Plans are to fill the night with suspense, congratulations and overall good times.
“We’re going to have an hour of music from the Tyler Mac Band, then the awards ceremony and then another hour of music. There’s going to be a surprise performance from some special guests, too,” Arty Awards Chairperson Devin Ford said.
It’s bound to be warmer than last year’s version, held on a frigid December night in the Gulf Coast Exploreum courtyard. Perfect for champagne, but heaters were a necessity.
Fairhope potter Susie Bowman created the physical award given to this year’s winners from among 27 nominees in nine categories. Two awards — Lifetime Achievement and Patron — have already been announced for Tut Altman Riddick and the Jake Peavy Foundation, respectively.
“We’ll have a slideshow and speak a little bit about each nominee, which we didn’t do last year. Plus, we’ll have their quotes flash while the band is playing and all that,” Ford said.
Organizers will rein in one of the trickier components of these affairs. Only Lifetime and Patron recipients are allowed remarks after winning.
“We’re trying to keep the awards portion short. It’s supposed to be more like a celebration of the arts so we want the event to be really fun,” Ford said.
Heavy hors d’oeuvres from Smith’s Catering plus wine and beer are included. Tickets are on sale through the MAC website at $30 each before the day of the event.
“Last time I checked we had a little over 200 tickets gone with sponsor tickets, sold tickets and nominees tickets. We have maybe 100 left,” Ford said last week.
The sound of Mobile’s soul
If seniority counts among the nominees, one has it over all others. That’s because Performing Artist nominee The Excelsior Band has been a Mobile tradition since 1883.
Formed at the Creole Firehouse as part of the celebration around founder John A. Pope’s newborn son, they started marching in parades the following year. Now few big moments happen in Mobile without them.
“We do so many weddings and second lines that we probably do 500 gigs a year. There’s weddings most every week, conventions, parades and things for the city. A lot are private affairs so people don’t realize how much we play,” bandleader Hosea London said.
A Winter Haven, Florida, native, London moved to Mobile in 1976 and began a 25-year stint at the Albert P. Brewer Center. Looking to keep his trumpeting chops in shape, the instructor joined Excelsior around that time.
“The leader back then was James Seals, the band director at Bishop State. He kept doing it until he passed away and I took over about 15 years ago,” London said.
The Excelsior Band is listed on the website for the Alabama State Council on the Arts, is in the Encyclopedia of Alabama, was inducted into the Gulf Coast Ethnic and Heritage Jazz Festival Hall of Fame in 2012 and is enshrined in the Mobile Carnival Museum. Excelsior members have taught in the Alabama Folk Arts Apprenticeship programs and have been included in numerous promotional materials for Mobile tourism and Mardi Gras.
They were recently featured on Catt Sirten’s television program “Live from Avalon,” itself another nominee for an Arty Award.
“We’ve got our annual Mother’s Day concert coming in Oakleigh and Catt’s big band concert in Daphne,” London said.
London listed Excelsior’s 10 members with ease.
“Trumpeters Leroy Bosby, Danny Mosely and me, sousaphonist Charles Hall, saxophonists James Moore and Theodore Arthur, trombonists Carl Cunningham and Laquin Cannon, drummers Leon Rhoden and Jerome Bryant. They run from their early 30s to way up past retirement age. It impresses me a band can stay together this long because musicians can be kind of crazy. The guys trust me, though,” London said.
It’s obviously a lifetime commitment. London has put 40 years into it.
“My predecessor played until he passed away. Most of the time, that’s how we step down,” London said.
A native New Yorker, Bob Spielmann spent a life in sales before he moved to Mobile to become WKRG’s national sales director. He wasted little time helping the arts.
“I moved here in 1982 and got involved with Mobile Jazz Festival in 1984 or ’85. J.C. McAleer was in charge then. When he left about five years later, then I became president,” Spielmann said.
He remained at the helm of the organization for the next two decades. The last big event staged by the group was a multi-day show in Cooper Riverside Park in conjunction with Mobile’s Tricentennial Celebration.
“We also had the National Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, too, which ran in conjunction with the Mobile Jazz Festival, when we used to have all these different colleges in,” Spielmann said.
Long retired from WKRG, Spielmann was quick to throw in his efforts when the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed arose in 2001. He’s been on MOJO’s board of directors since it began.
On the cusp of his 91st birthday, Spielmann is remarkably active, mobile and vital. Most Mobilians have encountered him with little realization.
“I’ve been ushering at the Saenger, say, 16 years. Actually I started because I wanted to get involved with the symphony and then I got involved in all the other events that were happening there,” Spielmann said.
He went on to usher for Mobile Opera when they still utilized the Mobile Civic Center.
“With [Retired Senior Volunteer Program] RSVP we do all that stuff with the Joe Jefferson Players and the Mobile Theatre Guild. We do ushering or whatever they want us to do because they need all the volunteer help they can get. I’ve even run the elevator at JJP,” Spielmann laughed.
It’s apparent why he earned a nomination for the Artys’ new Art Soldier category, an honor intended for essential but low-key personnel normally behind the scenes and nearly anonymous to the general public. He was shocked at the nomination.
“All of a sudden I got this big envelope in the mail all about the Artys and I saw my name on it and I was absolutely floored. I said, ‘This can’t be right, there’s a mistake in it somewhere. I don’t even know what an Art Soldier is,’” Spielmann recalled.
His wife Margaret was just as excited.
“Oh, she’s calling up everybody and telling the kids and whatever, telling them, ‘Your father’s going to be a celebrity.’ I said to my son Scott, ‘If I should win this thing, I’m going to have to come over to your house and show you my Arty.’ And he said, ‘Oh Dad, you get so dirty,’” Spielmann laughed.
A great life
There are few artistic Mobilians who haven’t encountered Dorothy “Tut” Altman Riddick. The recipient of the Artys’ Lifetime Achievement Award has her hands in a lot of mediums.
She’s a painter, sculptor, writer, poet, photographer, printer and patron. A sign at the door of her home welcomes visitors to the “Riddick Fun House.” It’s noted for its wealth of art and creativity, on every surface, in every direction. Paintings, sculptures, fabrics, photos, you name the medium and it’s present.
Plenty of the talent is homegrown — Charles Smith, Bertice McPherson, Dale Lewis and so on.
“I think it’s very important for us to think in terms of supporting the person we know,” Riddick said.
Hailing from tiny York, Alabama, in Sumter County, her parents’ divorce meant she grew up in the care of her grandmother and her Aunt Elizabeth, both strong-willed, both creative. Her aunt would regularly take her to the theater in Birmingham and she was encouraged to read as widely and often as possible.
“I was surrounded by art growing up because my grandmother had a degree in painting from Judson College and all the paintings in her house she had hanging up. So I was always drawing and carrying on like that,” Riddick said.
Her headstrong nature emerged early.
“My real name is Dorothy but everybody always called me Tut all the way through high school. My mother was Dorothy and I didn’t want to be a ‘Little’ anything,” Riddick said.
She attended Huntingdon College and Livingston University before transferring to the state university, where she was active in theater and became part of a national championship debate team. Riddick came to Mobile and taught at Glendale Elementary School and Murphy High School.
“They said if I taught art for a year then the next year they would be able to afford to get me to do debate team. You know, I started teaching art and I found another niche. Then is when I really got into painting myself. I went to the art students’ league and I went to the Penland School of Crafts, I even went to Paris one time,” Riddick recalled.
She met a young Harvard-educated lawyer named Harry Riddick and they married within a year. Harry’s status allowed Tut insight into local spending habits.
“I’m not against Mardi Gras because it’s another art form, but so much of people’s money in Mobile goes into it. I do wish people would maybe support in their homes some local artists, because we’ve got some damn good ones,” Riddick said.
Riddick has published several books. She returned to York to found the Coleman Center which houses the city library, a small art museum and a crafts workshop.
In 2012, she was the focus of the exhibit “I Am York. Tut Altman Riddick: My People and Places” at the Mobile Museum of Art. The retrospective included more than 60 of her works covering more than a half-century of production.
The University of West Alabama unveiled a Dorothy (Tut) Altman Riddick Mezzanine Art Gallery in 2015.
“In 2013 I was made a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame, right there with George Washington Carver. I’ve had a great life and I’m still having a great life,” Riddick said.
ARTY AWARD NOMINEES
Browne is theatre director at Baker High School FAME Academy. The Baker Theatre Department earned “Best in Show” in Studio Theatre at the 2016 State Trumbauer Theatre Festival plus 10 other trophies and recognitions. Browne also directed at Joe Jefferson Playhouse and was guest director at Theatre USA.
Holm is a professor of music and head of the piano division at the University of South Alabama, principal pianist for the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, pianist at Dauphin Way Baptist Church and served as past president of Mobile Music Teachers Association.
Vitulli has taught at the University of South Alabama more than 15 years. She is currently an associate professor in the College of Education’s Leadership and Teacher Education Department and program director for the Art Education Graduate Program.
Barrett is the creative mastermind behind much of Mobile’s Mardi Gras, overseeing ball decorations, costumes, floats, backdrops and sets.
Gustin is the manager of graphic arts at Visit Mobile as well as a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and cartoonist.
Jayson D’Alessandro and i-Team Mobile
The Mayor’s Innovation Team adds capacity to city government by introducing design thinking and data-driven solutions to look at old problems in new ways.
Dr. Steven Alsip
Alsip is an active volunteer with the Chickasaw Civic Theatre as a board member, performer and crew and has more than 60 stage credits from area community theaters and Mobile Ballet. He spearheaded CCT’s fundraising campaign “Light a Fire,” was an adviser for area youth performance activities and helps with the McGill-Toolen drama department.
Red Cup Revolt
Red Cup Revolt is an art-based cultural movement whose mural work can be seen at 401 Dauphin St., Zander’z Sports Bar and Grill, Kazoola’s, Paparazzi Hookah Lounge and more.
Fry Building Project
The Fry Building Project is a mini movement of decorative downtown window displays. The windows throughout downtown have included more than 20 artists and contributors.
Live from Avalon
Live from Avalon is a live music program recorded in Mobile’s historic Bernheim Hall, exclusively featuring local performers and original music that is then broadcast on Alabama Public Television.
The Lost Garden
The Lost Garden is a group effort from dedicated volunteers. Karen Bullock oversees general operations by connecting various artists and discussing various possibilities for the project.
Wind Creek Hospitality
Gaillard is writer-in-residence at the University of South Alabama and winner of the Lillian Smith award for best Southern fiction. His 2016 work “Go South to Freedom” is the story of a self-emancipated slave family.
Perez is a satirical playwright who produces works with The South of the Salt Line Theatre. He has published several books of memoir and fiction; his 2016 work, “Sister Mary Bartholomew’s Basic Training Manual for Religious Tyrants,” is a humorous look at parochial education.
Sledge is senior architectural historian with the Mobile Historic Development Commission and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. The latest of his five books won the Clinton Jackson Coley Award from the Alabama Historical Association. His next book, “These Rugged Days: Alabama in the Civil War,” will be published in 2017.
Dr. Thomas Rowell
Rowell is the Coordinator of Vocal Studies and directs USA Opera Theatre. He teaches studio voice, vocal pedagogy and song literature. He has performed locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Woods is in her 11th season as a principal dancer with the Mobile Ballet Company and has studied in New York at the Joffrey Ballet School, Steps and Ballet Arts at City Center, in addition to American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive at the University of Alabama and Charleston Ballet Theater.
Mobile Big Band Society
Mobile Fashion Week
Mobile Museum of Art