Aberdeen’s Doug Orr honored as part of the 2021 Governor’s Arts and Heritage Awards

The Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards (GAHA) recognize individuals and organizations for their significant contributions to Washington’s creative vitality.

This year’s eight honorees join more than 250 other individuals and organizations honored with a award over the past 54 years. 

This year, the GAHA Luminary Awards distinguish and acknowledge arts and heritage organizations and cultural leaders who stood out for their communities during the pandemic.

“The awards were suspended in 2020 because the world was still trying to navigate how to work during the pandemic,” said ArtsWA Executive Director Karen Hanan. “These Luminary Awards are a way of acknowledging how innovative and creative Washington’s cultural organizations, artists, and leaders have been during these stressful times.”

For their efforts, cultural organizations and artists who used their creativity and leadership to keep hope alive in their communities during the pandemic will be presented with a special Luminary Award for this year’s GAHA.

Two awards will be given for each region in the state, one to an individual and one to an organization. And there will be one Spotlight Award presented that is chosen by the Governor, to be announced soon.

The Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) is pleased to announce and congratulate the Governor’s Arts & Heritage Luminary Awards for 2021. 

Luminary Award – Central Region – Individual 

No nominations were submitted in this category

Luminary Award – Central Region – Organization

Gallery One Fine Arts Center (Kittitas County)

Gallery One has been a guiding light for the arts in rural Washington for over fifty years. During the isolation of COVID-19, the team at Gallery One kept the art community connected by rapidly learning new skills to put exhibits, openings, and free programming like PechaKucha and Droodle (a doodling duo) on their own YouTube channel. With the help of skilled volunteers, they even created a Variety Show to cheer the community when things were darkest. In an amazing year-long effort, the staff at Gallery One conceived of and created sixteen hundred Art 2 GO kits with materials and instructions. Six hundred bilingual kits were created so families could make art together at home.

Luminary Award – Eastern Region – Individual 

Jeremy Whittington (Spokane County)

Jeremy’s dedication to Stage Left and its mission has proven to be strong. Appointed to his position only months before the pandemic, he was in a precarious position when the theater was first forced to close. Instead of allowing a prolonged shutdown to threaten the theater, Jeremy quickly assembled a team of artists willing to push the limitations of theater past the traditional physical space and into the exciting new world of virtual production. Within a few months, Stage Left had produced multiple playwrighting festivals and special events on a virtual platform, as well as two full-length one-person productions, with two more scheduled for later in the season.

Luminary Award – Eastern Region – Organization

Spokane Valley Summer Theatre (Spokane County)

Spokane Valley Summer Theatre is a professional not-for-profit summer theatre and acting conservatory serving the Pacific Inland Northwest. Spokane Valley Summer Theatre will be returning to indoor productions with audiences of up to 550+ per show. Months of planning, amidst great uncertainty, went into their decision to take the chance on bringing the arts and culture community back together in person this season. It was of paramount importance to their company to return to producing high-quality musicals for their many arts patrons and to employ as many performing artists as possible.

Luminary Award – Northwest Region – Individual 

Akuyea Karen Vargas (Kitsap County)

Akuyea Karen Vargas is called “A Drum Major for Peace,” a force of nature, and an unwavering advocate for the underserved and for youth. She founded Living Life Leadership and Living Arts Cultural Heritage Center to inspire leadership, life skills, arts engagement, and cultural education. When the pandemic suddenly shuttered public schools and interrupted healthy social life, Akuyea realized that art is a healing force and could provide much-needed mental health benefits. She immediately reached out to dozens of organizations asking for help in reaching kids who were suddenly stuck at home. She organized several projects and online weekly zoom-meeting places for kids to help them through isolation, pain, and trauma.

Luminary Award – Northwest Region – Organization 

Path with Art (King County)

Path with Art (PwA) fosters the restoration of individuals, groups, and society from the effects of trauma, through arts engagement and community building. With the onset of the pandemic, PwA quickly recognized that their participants were disproportionately among those most detrimentally impacted, due to their age, economic status, physical and mental health challenges, and lack of access to social services and technology. Within weeks they launched “Evolving Creative Connections,” an online distance-learning program providing software-enabled tablets, free Wi-Fi, and hotspots and employed teaching artist to provide classes to help counteract isolation and reaffirm personal purpose.  

 Luminary Award – Southwest Region – Individual

Douglas Orr (Grays Harbor County)

A native of Aberdeen, in 2013, Orr acquired a 17,000sf historic downtown building and set in motion a dream to open the Aberdeen Art Center. Throughout the pandemic, Orr continued to hold socially distanced art events and offered “isolated painting” areas in his center for artists to use free of charge. He also moved forward with the installation of a local pocket art park.

 Luminary Award – Southwest Region – Organization

Asia Pacific Cultural Center (Pierce County)

Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) has been a center of cultural exchange for 25 years, providing programs and services that promote the art and cultural traditions of the Asia Pacific people, representing 47 countries and cultures. In response to the pandemic APCC staff immediately went to work to innovate and adjust programming to offer meaningful culture and arts activities in a safe way expanding their outreach program, providing communication in multiple languages, services, advocacy, and support for the Asia Pacific community.


More news about these honorees and the announcement of the Governor’s Spotlight Award will be available in the coming weeks.