The Arkansas Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, is pleased to announce the 2024 Governor’s Arts Awards recipients. The recipients will be honored at a ceremony on March 8, 2024, in Little Rock.
Since 1991, the annual awards program has recognized individuals, organizations and businesses for their outstanding contributions to the arts in Arkansas. Recipients are nominated by the public, then selected by an independent panel of arts professionals.
“The Governor’s Arts Awards recognizes and honors the supporters, patrons and artists who have helped build and strengthen Arkansas’s thriving arts community,” said Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. “This annual program gives us the opportunity to showcase their contributions to Arkansas’s arts and creative economy, improving the quality of life for all Arkansans.”
The 2024 recipients are:
Garbo Hearne of Little Rock, Arts Community Development Award
Garbo Hearne is the director of Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing and Hearne Fine Art. She has advocated for the advancement of African American culture through art and literature for over 30 years.
Since 1988, Hearne has welcomed and promoted both local and national artists and authors to her gallery and bookstore, now located in the historic Dunbar Neighborhood of Little Rock. Hearne’s commitment to the promotion of African American art extends beyond Central Arkansas. The El Dorado native has organized and installed museum exhibitions at the Arts and Science Center of Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff and the Delta Cultural Center of Helena-West Helena.
Virmarie DePoyster of North Little Rock, Arts in Education Award
Virmarie DePoyster, a native of Puerto Rico, is a multidisciplinary artist, educator and community leader whose work fosters creativity, healing and community engagement. DePoyster develops and implements art programs for adults and teens, as well as being a professional exhibiting artist. Since 2011, she has been instructing students as part of the Arkansas Arts Council's Arts in Education Roster. She created a therapeutic art program for at-risk youth in rural Arkansas that ran from 2012 to 2018. She provided arts instruction to thousands of patients at The BridgeWay, an acute care mental health facility in Little Rock, where she saw firsthand the healing power of artistic expression. She has also facilitated professional development workshops and collaborated on Cornerstone Assessments through an artist-teacher partnership with The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. In 2023, DePoyster started Healing Arts, a therapeutic art program for CARTI patients, caregivers and staff. Her dedication to the transformative power of art in both teaching and advocacy makes her an invaluable asset in the field of arts education.
General Mills in Rogers, Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts Award
General Mills in Rogers is a regional office of General Mills, Inc., an American manufacturer of branded foods sold through retail stores. Its local office has provided large-scale philanthropy along with employee volunteerism in the arts. General Mills has been a strong corporate partner of the Walton Arts Center for 21 years and has provided more than $4.8 million in corporate contributions.General Mills is a leading sponsor of Masquerade Ball, the Walton Arts Center’s annual fundraising event supporting arts education initiatives. In addition, a pledge of $500,000 to the Walton Arts Center's 2015 capital campaign supported the expansion of the performing arts center benefiting 100,000 annual patrons. General Mills pledged over $1.8 million to support the construction of the Walmart AMP music venue. The facility has become a premier destination for diverse, large-scale live music experiences in Arkansas. Walmart AMP named a portion of the seating area the General Mills Lawn. In addition, General Mills purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in tickets to arts events for their employees over the years, boosting revenue for local arts organizations. General Mills of Rogers is a dedicated advocate for making Northwest Arkansas a destination for remarkable, world-class arts experiences.
Pam Setser of Mountain View, Folklife Award
Pam Setser is a traditional folk musician and vocalist. Born in Mountain View, she has been singing since she was 5 years old. She is among the last practitioners of the Ozark Mountain Dulcimers in Arkansas. Setser, a left-handed musician, also plays the autoharp, guitar, spoons and upright bass. Setser is a past winner of the Ozark Folk Center Musician of the Year Award and a repeat nominee in the Arkansas Country Music Awards. She has appeared on “Hee Haw,” “The Tonight Show” and “Nashville Now.”
Stephen Driver of Ozark, Individual Artist Award
Stephen Driver is an accomplished potter, mentor and retired university professor. He began his career as a production potter in 1973. Moving to Arkansas in 1976, he transitioned into being a university art professor and studio potter. Ten years ago, after retiring from teaching at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, he started building two large-chambered wood kilns. Most of the materials came from the old, historic Camark Pottery location in Camden, Arkansas. Wood firing has been a consistent thread in his professional work.
Gay Bechtelheimer of El Dorado, Judges Recognition Award
Gay Bechtelheimer is an artist, curator, educator and organizer of community art projects. For over 20 years, Bechtelheimer has been instrumental to bringing quality art experiences to El Dorado and the south Arkansas region. In addition to being a practicing artist working in pastel, watercolor and mixed media, she retired from a distinguished career as an art educator in the El Dorado Public Schools.
He serves on the Walton Arts Center’s board of directors and their corporate leadership council. He has provided key leadership at more than 20 fundraising events that benefitted arts education initiatives and made personal financial contributions to the arts center. He is also a board member for Interform, a fashion and design nonprofit in Northwest Arkansas which sponsors NWA Fashion Week. His philanthropic and advisory involvement includes nationwide organizations. He was the first man selected to serve on the Asian Pacific American Women’s board of trustees and National African American Women’s Leadership Institute’s board of directors. Waller was taught early in life that to give real service you must add to the world something that cannot be bought or measured with money.
Tony Waller of Bentonville, Patron Award
Thomas Anthony “Tony” Waller is a spirited voice for arts, culture and access in Northwest Arkansas. He is the vice president of Constituent Relations and Racial Equity for Walmart in Bentonville. In his position, he works to expand organizational outreach and social investments in diverse and multicultural communities. He has been an ardent supporter of the arts since making Arkansas his home in 2006.
Charley Sandage of Mountain View, Lifetime Achievement Award
Charley Sandage is a storyteller, songwriter and native Arkansan. He is dedicated to promoting and preserving the stories and music of the Ozark region. He began his “Arkansas Stories” project, which includes songs about people and events in Arkansas history, in 1995. He collaborated with the Mountain View-based musical trio, Harmony, to write traditional Ozark string-band style songs.
Sandage produced three CDs with song subjects ranging from prehistoric Caddo people to the beginnings of rockabilly.
He is a regular contributor to Ozark Highlands Radio, produced by the Ozark Folk Center. The radio show, featuring Sandage’s segments about area history, lore and interviews with local craftspeople and musicians, is broadcast to over 125 stations nationwide. Sandage has a background as an educator, school administrator and a documentary producer for public television. He was the program director at the Ozark Folk Center State Park when it opened 50 years ago, and later a music programming consultant for the center. In later years, he performed in old-time string bands onstage at the Folk Center and on the historic court square in Mountain View. He continues to work with the Stone County Historical Society to create story and song presentations about the history of the region.For more information about the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards, to buy a ticket to the luncheon at noon March 8, and to read a list of past recipients, visit https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-art-council/aac-programs/governor's-arts-awards.