A program of the Rotary Club of San Jose, the awards honor the legacy of late San Jose Mercury News columnist Leigh Weimers, a lifelong champion of the arts and longtime member of the club.
2020 Award Winners
Alex Arango is a Colombian American multi-instrumentalist living in San Jose. Born in a small town outside of Medellín, Colombia, his early musical influences included Cumbia, Vallenato, and Salsa music. After immigrating to the United States, he became drawn to Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Rock music. This eclectic palate of sounds developed his ear and musical taste, enabling him to collaborate with Folk, R&B, Latin, Jazz, and Tango bands. Alex graduated from UC San Diego, where he studied Music Technology as well as Jazz piano and composition under the tutelage of 2-time Grammy award-winning producer, Kamau Kenyatta. Currently, Alex works as a music educator, composer and producer and enjoys collaborating with musicians from a wide range of backgrounds. He enjoys meshing cultural influences and different musical experiences to create a unique sound.
Lydia Rae Black was born in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and moved to the Bay Area with her family at a young age, growing up in Morgan Hill. She graduated from San Jose State University in 2009 with a BFA in painting. With family still in the south, she has documented various features of their locale as part of her work, which has been focused on the consequences of materialism and time, as well as associations of possessions and identity. She has been active as an artist since 1999, and now works in the Art Department of SJSU, facilitating the use of the labs and graduate spaces. Lydia has also maintained a home studio, and has had a small space at The Alameda Artworks in San Jose for more than a decade.
The soulful, effortless sounds of vocalist and songwriter Amy D. envelop listeners in a dream-like fusion of jazz, soul, world, and R&B styles, bridging genres and generations alike. Combined with inspiring lyrics and heartfelt storytelling, her music is a timeless soundscape inviting reflection, healing, and growth. In a time where the world invites innovation and diverse influence, Amy D.’s songs imbue a multitude of juxtapositions: nostalgia with modern themes, powerful purpose with soft sophistication, lightness and warmth with cool, blue depths. First creating a stir in the San Francisco Bay Area and now beyond, Amy D. partnered with producer and master keyboardist Michael Aaberg (Goapele, Lalah Hathaway, Derrick Hodge) for her debut portrait album, LIKE YOU.
Justin Keyes is an actor, singer, former dancer, and private teacher born and raised in downtown San Jose. He graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with degrees in Musical Theatre Performance and Spanish Language and Literature. After 14 years in New York, he moved back to the Bay during the pandemic with a new found interest in dedicating his creative energies to service. In response to the pandemic, Justin Keyes, along with his collaborator, John Campione, created a commercial jingle podcast, POD HELP THE OUTCASTS, dedicated to creating musical content that is gifted to small businesses affected by the pandemic. Justin and John hope the jingles they create will help boost the online presences of the businesses they love and generate more traffic and revenue for them at a time when they need our help more than ever.
2019 Award Winners
Tasi Alabastro is an actor, online content creator, and multi-disciplinary digital artist whose work focuses on creating impact through visual storytelling. His latest project is a YouTube episodic vlog series which serve as research and development for a web show called Somewhere Street. The show will utilize dynamic storytelling with local artists to amplify the often marginalized people in the community. He is a proud member of the Red Ladder Theatre Company and is currently working with inmates in state prisons as part of the Arts-in-Corrections program; The program hopes to re-engage participants with their creativity and imagination. To find ways to support the journey, reach out by tweeting him at @tasialabastro. Huzzahs are always appreciated. LEARN MORE >
Isabel Bowen is an illustrator based in San Jose, California. She draws slice of life scenes in colored pencil often inspired by her day job as a tool technician at a major hardware store. At work, she fixes broken tools such as lawnmowers and chainsaws. Industrial settings like this have informed her illustrations since her first job in a wood and metal shop at her alma mater, the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where she drew still lifes of tools on slow days. Her work has been shown in the Society of Illustrators Student Competition 2016, “Alphabet Soup” at the Studio Gallery in San Francisco, and The Sanchez Art Center’s 50/50 show this year. LEARN MORE >
Victor Ruiz started his musical journey around age 10 sharing the same dream with a lot of people of becoming a famous rock star. And thus, he started learning classical guitar around 2011. Around his junior year in high school, a friend invited him to join a youth orchestra group called YMCO. And it was here where he started his musical journey as a classical bassists and decided to pursue music as his career in college. Today, Victor is one of the two classical bassists currently studying at San Jose State University under the instruction of Bruce Moyer. In addition, he has started expanding his musical knowledge by studying pipe organ with Harold Stuart and also performs music with his duet partner, Morgan Sonnenfeld.
Harumo Sato is a Japanese visual artist and has lived in Mountain View, California. After traveling and living in Japan, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, Spain, she earned a BA from University in Buffalo, NY 2015. Through experiencing sudden sickness and severe natural disasters in her early life, her work aims to seek coexistence with nature and to create peace in viewers’ minds by combining psychology and the spirit of prehistoric to medieval artifacts in the Mediterranean Sea and Japan. Her painting and hand-pulled screen prints are in public and private collections and have been exhibited California and New York. She was commissioned to make a mural/ installation by Pow! Wow! San Jose, Superfine! Fair in LA, Facebook Air Program in Fremont, and so on. Photo by: Arabela Espinoza LEARN MORE >
2018 AWARD WINNERS
Kate Targan is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and vocal artist currently performing and teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area. Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, she was recognized at a young age for her vocal abilities and started seriously studying voice and piano at the age of 10. After attending UC Santa Cruz she started her professional career in the local Bay Area music scene. An avid songwriter, in 2013 Kate wrote and released her first album “From The Light” to critical acclaim. She is currently in production on her second album, which is due out for release in early 2019. Her sophomore record is a deeply personal collection of original songs and a unique fresh interpretation of her music ranging from folk, pop to soul. LEARN MORE >
Davied Morales is an Actor and Rapper from San Jose, California; he goes by Dav @activepoet. He has been rapping for almost 10 years releasing mixtapes and singles within this span of time but just started taking his career seriously in music in 2016. Before that he spent most of time working on his acting career, getting his AA Degree in Theatre Arts from Foothill College and starring in short films, app commercials, and in various lead roles all around the Bay Area. Since the beginning of 2018 he has been releasing a song a week on his Soundcloud and supporting himself by working full time with the Red Ladder Theatre Company, which is a troupe of professional artists that teach Improv in Correctional Facilities through out California. LEARN MORE >
Sieglinde Van Damme, a Belgian native, is an internationally exhibiting artist specialized in video art, digital photography and alternative photo processes. Two themes consistently weave themselves into her work: identity and experience; inspired by her relocation from Belgium to the US in 1998, bringing along the need to adapt to a new society, its values, and beliefs.
In 2017, Sieglinde launched studiosiegXclusive, an art-to-wear clothing and accessory line based on her photographic work. With this, she brings down the social management of identity to its most rudimentary form, while allowing her creations to serve other people’s identity. LEARN MORE >
2017 AWARD WINNERS
Sheila Townsend earned her Bachelor’s of Music (Magna Cum Laude) in Musical Theatre from the esteemed Wanda Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University. In 2016, she was a Finalist for Theatre Bay Area's Titan Award and Winner of Joan Frey Boytim Award from the National Association of Teachers of Singing. She keeps herself quite busy as a full-time performer and voice teacher at her own Upper Floor Studio. Ms. Townsend will perform her solo show at City Lights Theatre Company in November and is excited to be bringing it to festivals across the country in the coming year with the support of the Leigh Weimers Emerging Artist Award! She also regularly enjoys doing vocal direction and master classes for local high schools and theatre companies. LEARN MORE >
Kenneth Ronquillo grew up in San Jose, California, eating funnel cakes in the summer at Great America and flan in his grandmother’s kitchen the rest of the year. He was a big boy. In 2014 he moved from Los Angeles back home to San Jose to help his mother care for his grandmother. Kenneth and his grandmother (“lola” in Tagalog) began painting together, and they started The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Lola begins each painting in watercolor, and Kenneth finishes each piece based on Lola’s stories. Lola passed in December 2016 and left behind all her paintings. Kenneth will finish everything she started. LEARN MORE >
Julianna Isabella Pollifrone, was born in San Jose, California in 1998. Known simply as “Jules,” she was a writer long before she’d ever set foot in a recording studio. Jules has performed at larger venues opening numerous times throughout Northern California for 80’s MTV legend and local radio DJ, Greg Kihn, along with other bands. Recording in various LA studios, like 17 Hertz and the historical Village Recorder, she consistently garnered the attention of other new producers wanting to record with her. One of which, Willie Donut (Justin Bieber and Fergie), produced the single “Pressure” to be released in early 2018. Jules is recording her second album with her writing partner Richard Harris and a handful of trusted LA-based writer/producers. Her touted debut single “Eyes Shut” written with Harris will drop November, 2017 in Downtown San Jose.
2016 Award Winners
Anna Cate, harpist/composer: Anna has been fascinated by the harp since she first saw one in concert at the age of 5. Raised in a small town in Washington state, she studied classical piano and harp starting in elementary school. elementary school through college. After college, she developed her own style of harp-based singer-songwriter music, bridging classical harp with a modern style. She used a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for her first EP, “Anna Cate,” and has since moved to the Bay Area from Seattle to continue her musical career. LEARN MORE >
Christine Herrera, choreographer: A choreographer from Los Gatos, Christine’s performance career began at age 7 when she performed in San Jose Cleveland Ballet’s Nutcracker under the direction of Dennis Nahat. She has choreographed numerous musicals in the Bay Area community as well as jazz and lyrical numbers for dancers who have won state and national titles. Christine works full time at Los Gatos Ballet as an artistic and marketing associate. Beyond her choreography and dance instruction, she is proud to work along with her fellow staff members for Los Gatos Ballet Foundation’s Leaps and Bounds program, which provides free classes and field trips to introduce ballet to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
Bonnie Smith, textile artist: A San Jose artist, Bonnie Smith’s art has been honored with the NICHE Award in both 2009 and 2015, and her fiber artwork, "Contemplate," was juried into Quilt National and 9th Quilt Nihon. Her “Swimming Upstream” series, created after a work-related injury forced her into a wheelchair and aquatic physical therapy, was honored in 2013 by Voters Injured at Work. She began her artistic life by taking a two-day quiltmaking class and soon discovered textile arts to be an outlet for self-expression and storytelling. “What I find interesting about art is that it leads you in a direction,” she said. LEARN MORE >
Demetra Theofanous, glass artist: Demetra Theofanous has been immersed in the arts from a very young age, starting with violin lessons at the age of 4. She sidetracked her artistic impression after receiving her business degree from the Haas School of Business, at UC-Berkeley. After some years as a tax consultant and CPA, she returned to her artistic roots, entering the world of glassmaking by creating glass beads as a hobby. Her work evolved into the creation of intricate nests, flowers, and branches, using a technique for weaving glass on the torch that she developed. In 2010, she was juried into the prestigious Higuchi class at Corning, learning the ancient technique of Pate de Verre. She was a 2010 GLANC Scholarship recipient, a 2012 Juror’s Choice Award winner from renowned collector Dorothy Saxe, a 2013 Glasscraft Emerging Artist Award winner, a 2014 NICHE Award winner, recipient of a Juror's Choice Award in an exhibition at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. LEARN MORE >
2015 Award Winners
Shannon Amidon is a mixed media artist from San Jose, California. She primarily focuses on “upcycled” book art and encaustic painting. Inspired by natural history and using environmentally safe and sustainable practices, she incorporates natural and repurposed materials into her artwork. She breathes new life into objects and materials that would otherwise be destined for a landfill.
Shannon's artwork has been featured in many solo and group exhibitions. In 2011 she was awarded the SV Creates Artist Laureate Fellowship Grant. Shannon has been an artist in residence at the Herhusid House Artist Residency in Iceland as well as the David and Julia White Artist Colony in Costa Rica. LEARN MORE >
Jake Heindel is a documentary filmmaker based in San Jose, California. After graduating from Leland High School in south San Jose, he went on to pursue a film production degree at Loyola Marymount University. Jake has been making short documentaries since high school. Jake spent summer 2015 as an intern for WMS Media, Inc. and has been a valuable contributor to many projects, including the recently produced documentary about local photographer Arnold Del Carlo.
Raymond 'NastyRay' Mora was inspired to dance at the age of 13, when he first saw some local Bboys performing at his middle school dance. In the years that followed, NastyRay developed his craft and ventured from his hometown San Jose, California, to travel the world to compete, judge, teach, and work commercially in all things dance.
He has worked with Justin Bieber, performing in the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards, as well as the ‘Justin Bieber 3D Never Say Never' tour and movie. That same year NastyRay appeared in the ‘Step Up 3D' film. In 2011 he performed on Fox Network's ‘So You Think You Can Dance,' ABC's ‘Dancing With the Stars' and most recently in the 2015 Euro Olympics held in Baku, Azerbaijan.
2014 Award Winners
Hip Hop Emcee, Community Organizer and Social Entrepreneur: these are some of the roles Demone Carter has played within the Silicon Valley Arts
and Education circles for the past 15 years. Performing under the name Dem One he has released several albums. Inspired by his love of Hip Hop culture and passion for working with youth Demone co-founded Unity Care's Hip Hop 360 after-school program. From 2004-2010 Hip Hop 360 provided over 1000 youth the opportunity to express themselves through the four elements of Hip Hop (djing,rapping,breakdance,and urban art). Demone is also Vice Chair for the community access organization CreaTV and is a graduate/Program Coordinator of the Multi Cultural Artists Leadership Institute (MALI). Demone was named ‘Silicon Valley's Best Mentor' for 2013 by Metro Magazine.
Genevieve Hastings is a multimedia installation artist living and working in the San Francisco Bay area. She received her BFA from San Jose State University in Photography and her MFA at San Francisco State University in 2014. In 2013 she had a solo exhibition at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art titled Recollections: A Series of Stratachronistic Rooms. Past exhibitions include, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Zer01 International Biennial, the Center for Photographic Arts in Carmel and her work was included in a SomArts (San Francisco) exhibition after receiving the Murphy Cadogan Award. She has also received a grant, participated in an exhibition at San Jose's City Hall and was included in a documentary short for The Healthy Art Program. LEARN MORE >
Nick Kumamoto is a theatrical lighting and projections designer based in San Jose. He is the resident lighting designer at City Lights Theatre Company and is a member of the Renegade Theatre Ensemble. He attends Santa Clara University pursuing a degree in mathematics. Recent design credits include lighting for City Lights' production of Amadeus and the Pear Avenue Theatre's production of Pygmalion, both winners of Silicon Valley Small Theatre Awards, and projections for Palo Alto Players' production of Big Fish. LEARN MORE >
Jeffrey Lo is a Filipino-American playwright and director. He is the recipient of the 2012 Emerging Artist Laureate by Arts Council Silicon Valley, the 2012 Theatre Bay Area Director's TITAN Award and "Artist to Watch for Next Season" at the 2012 Silicon Valley Small Theatre Awards. Recent directing credits include Some Girl(s) at Dragon Productions and The Drunken City at Renegade Theatre Experiment. Jeffrey has worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, TheatreWorks, San Jose Repertory Theatre, and City Lights Theatre Company. He is the FutureWorks Fellow at TheatreWorks, the founding artistic director of The 06 Ensemble in San Jose and a proud alumnus of the UC Irvine Drama Department. LEARN MORE >
2013 Award WInners
The three artists selected to receive the first round of awards are Lauren Baines, Jackie Gage and Charlotte Kruk. They were selected from 13 nominations in the fields of visual arts, music, written word and performance. The three artists each received an unrestricted $3,000 grant and presented their art on July 10, 2013, at the lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of San Jose. Funds for the awards were contributed by Rotary Club members, friends of Leigh Weimers and the Knight Foundation Endowment of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Lauren Baines is a dancer and choreographer, who graduated from Santa Clara University and was awarded the Anna Halprin Dance Award her senior year. She has been dancing professionally since 2004 and is currently a member of ahdanco and For Change Dance Collective and has taught dance and creative movement throughout the South Bay. Beyond her dance, she serves as project manager for education and artistic programs at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga and as assistant artistic director for the Cardboard Box Theatre Project. LEARN MORE >
Jackie Gage is a jazz vocalist and songwriter who has been heard with her band, JurassiC, at venues throughout the South Bay, including Blackbird Tavern, Cafe Stritch, 71 St. Peter, Arya Restaurant, Mosaic Lounge and the San Jose Jazz SummerFest. A graduate of Santa Clara University, Jackie also works as a marketing assistant for San Jose Jazz. LEARN MORE >
Charlotte Kruk is an innovative teacher and artist from San Jose who creates “wearable sculptures” — dresses, jackets and other clothing made out of colorful wrappers and packaging. A teacher of sculpture art at Lynbrook High School in San Jose since 1998, Charlotte's work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the Bay Area. LEARN MORE >