A Rising Star

A local nonprofit organization aimed at fostering a love for art, music and creativity in the Jamestown area has achieved regional recognition.

Arts Services Initiative of Western New York has named Infinity Visual and Performing Arts the winner of the Rising Star award in its inaugural “Spark” Cultural Awards – beating out more than a dozen other nominees for the honor.

The “Spark” awards were established earlier this year by Arts Services Initiative of Western New York as a way to “celebrate those who ignite arts and culture.” More than 100 Western New York organizations from five counties were nominated in six award categories.

Shane Hawkins, executive director of Infinity, said these figures alone speak to the significance of Infinity winning the Rising Star award.

“We were really surprised to hear that we won this award because we never expected to be chosen,” Hawkins said. “This was open to all of Western New York, so there were over 100 nominees; and (the Rising Star category) had the most nominations and was the most coveted topic. I think we’re doing great things but all of Western New York is a big place, so we were very surprised and very happy.”

According to Journey Gunderson, a board member of Arts Services Initiative, Infinity’s selection is significant.

“As a board member of Arts Services Initiative of Western New York, I think it’s important to note that this is huge,” Gunderson said. “This was an extremely competitive selection process; about 14 other organizations among five counties were nominated in this category alone. So, it’s extremely important, and it’s a huge win.”

Gunderson added that the reasons for Infinity’s selection are numerous.

“Anyone who’s been (to Infinity) knows that, when you’re there, you can feel the magic of the place that has become the heartbeat of arts and culture in downtown Jamestown on a daily basis,” she said. “The growth in the number of Infinity students under Shane’s tenure has been exponential. It’s a beautiful harmony of arts and culture, and those are alive and well in Chautauqua County as a result of the seeds that Shane and Infinity are planting now.”

The “Spark” Cultural Awards also named winners in five other categories, including Lifetime Achievement, Advocate for the Cultural Sector, DEC Program of the Year, Supporter of the Cultural Sector and Unsung Hero. Six additional awards were given in the categories of Artist of the Year and Cultural Organization of the Year.